If you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet, maybe come back and read this once you have – here be SPOILERS!
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already have seen my first impressions of The Force Awakens:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens verdict: really good, with a couple of quibbles. Lots of shoutouts to previous entries. Room to grow the story!
— Ian Hecht (@ianhecht) December 18, 2015
I genuinely liked this movie – as someone else said, it’s probably the best Star Wars movie since Empire. As annoyed as I was with Disney’s decision to kibosh the entire Expanded Universe, I totally understand their decision to start fresh without being beholden to thousands of years of created history written by hundreds of different authors with different styles. That said, this movie is so attached to what has come before that I could never recommend it as someone’s first Star Wars experience – there’s too much in-universe knowledge required. From the opening crawl “Luke Skywalker is missing”, viewers must know what has gone before to know the importance of what’s in this film. Han Solo’s reacquaintance with the Millennium Falcon, Rey’s finding of Luke’s original lightsaber, and Princess Leia’s title of “General” are weighty things in this movie that just assume viewers have the prior knowledge to be able to understand why they’re so important. They’re great moments for fans of the previous films, but a new viewer might get lost.
All that aside, this is a great entry into the franchise – the action is almost non-stop, the actors are doing their best to sell the lives of these people who get pulled into an enormous fight between two opposing powers. The dialogue is better than the prequels (that’s not hard) and better even than the originals in some places (having just rewatched the originals this week, I feel pretty confident saying this). There’s a fair amount of humour present, too, which is presented far more naturally than anything “cute” in the prequels. Even BB-8’s “thumbs up” to Finn plays out way more naturally here, drawing laughs from the audience I saw the film with. The action set pieces are suitably enormous, and the Falcon chase in particular is amazing. As I said previously, there are some call-backs to the previous movies, including a trench run that brings back the feeling of watching Luke take on the Death Star all over again.
A couple of things I wasn’t too happy about: Luke being relegated to MacGuffin, and Rey’s Mary Sue qualities (a problem she shares with Episode 1 Anakin). They don’t really overwhelm the good stuff, but they did niggle at the back of my mind while watching. Hopefully, the sequels will sort this out.
So does this film fit with George Lucas’ vision for the story? He’s spoken a number of times about the symmetry he wanted to achieve between all the segments of the story. This is pretty evident if you watch the films in their numerical order – Luke’s journey parallels Anakin’s, to the point where their ultimate test comes when they’re tempted to seize power to protect members of their family. Anakin, seeing Luke choose more wisely than he did, fulfills the destiny he was born for in bringing balance to Force by ending the Sith order. So does the new film fit in with this? I suspect we won’t know fully until the trilogy ends in 2019 with the release of Episode IX.
There are some big hints, though. First of all, it’s a Skywalker drama. Ben Solo/Kylo Ren represents the third generation of Skywalkers to be tempted to the dark side of the Force. There are a fair number of people who think Rey might be Luke’s daughter (I’m hoping that’s not the case), which would make for another Skywalker-on-Skywalker showdown, like the end of Jedi. However, Kylo is a much more nuanced character than Vader in the original series: powerful, but unsure of himself, and his temptation between the sides of the force is better presented than Anakin’s turn in Revenge of the Sith. I don’t know if killing your father is something you can come back from, but if Jedi absolved Anakin of the murder of the younglings in Sith, then the potential for Kylo/Ben to be redeemed from stabbing Han with his lightsaber certainly exists.
All in all, I think this is a great follow-up to the Star Wars story, with some moments we’ll be talking about until Episode VIII comes out. I can’t wait for May 2017! Until then, I’m going back to the theatre to see this one again.