Some of you may have heard that the Force recently awakened.
But now the Force is awake, and most people are pretty happy to see it up and about. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has made every money, so it doesn’t really need me defending it. I saw it the Friday it opened, had a great time, debated it for hours afterward while drinking.
Yet some people have expressed reservations. Chief among them is George Lucas himself, who described Disney as “white slavers” he sold his “children” to. His complaint stems mostly from a point others close to me have raised: while he always strove to make every Star Wars film unique, The Force Awakens hews very closely to plots from the original trilogy.
While I agree with this, I disagree that it’s a problem. Several things make me say so, so I’ll run down the list.
1. This is what we wanted. I actually like the prequels. I’m not the only one to acknowledge there are good things–here’s The Nostalgia Critic with some backup–but I like them in general: they are legitimately entertaining films with lots of effort put into them by everyone who wasn’t in front of the camera, and a few who were (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson). As I think I’ve said elsewhere, I frequently prefer an ambitious, creative failure to a perfectly controlled success (I saw Pan for fuck’s sake, and I’m loving Chrono Cross). So Episodes I, II, and III are exactly my kind of mess.
But for those people who don’t agree, they fail to capture the magic of the original trilogy, and J.J. Abrams’s team were clearly sensitive to that. They made a movie that hews to IV, V, and VI in both narrative and visual style, and it doesn’t make sense to complain about the prequels being too different, then turn around and blast the sequel for being too similar. The Force Awakens had to find the middle ground, and I for one think it stuck the landing with aplomb.
2. Several things are distinctly different. Principally, the main characters. We’ve got three in the new generation: a young man from humble origins, an action-oriented young woman, and a hotshot pilot. Derivative as hell, right? Except the man, Finn, is not a farm boy dreaming of adventure, he’s a grunt for the enemy who discovers he lacks the capability to do evil. The woman, Rey, is an isolated, impoverished scavenger, not a diplomat royal, and the pilot, Poe Dameron, is a resistance team player, not a mercenary. The script makes good use of the changes.
Furthermore, we’ve got a real representative of life experience this time. Han Solo, aged thirty years, isn’t old like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda, with their accumulated mystical wisdom. He’s just…old. He’s fought his whole life. He decided years ago to do the right thing, and has nothing to show for it–his son gone, his best friend gone, the love of his life unable to look him in the eye. He’s tired. When he steps out on the bridge to confront Kylo Ren, you see in his eyes that he’s been prepared to die for a long time.
Speaking of Kylo Ren, he was almost the best part. Some people have mocked the scene when he pulls off his helmet to reveal Adam Driver, but I loved it for hammering home exactly what we’re dealing with: a guy who wants to be a great historical figure but knows, deep down, he isn’t good enough. That sense of inadequacy drives everything he does, which to me is a lot scarier than Darth Vader, a guy who kills because he has nothing left to feel.
Furthermore, in the original six movies, the light side doesn’t do any tempting. Everyone defaults to the light side and gets seduced by the dark side. It’s refreshing to see someone tempted to the light side for once.
3. They covered the entire original trilogy. Let’s recap what’s going on in The Force Awakens. A band of rebels has to stop a superweapon from destroying a planet–that’s A New Hope. A character deals with a relative turning to the dark side, while another learns to manage newfound magic powers–that’s The Empire Strikes Back, split between Han and Rey. The heroes infiltrate a planetary base to take down a shield for a space assault–Return of the Jedi. The main three planets even match: Jakku is Tatooine, Takodana is Endor, Starkiller Base is Hoth.
The amazing part is, all that stuff (except the planets) happens in the third act of the movie. The rest of it, for the most part, is wholly original interaction that gets the characters where they need to be. Why do they need to be there, you ask? People who say The Force Awakens is too much like A New Hope miss the fact that it’s burned through all three original trilogy films. In a single battle, they passed through all the charted territory, and are headed out into the unknown. There are no homages left to make. After the scattershot prequels, this movie has accomplished its mission of getting Star Wars back where it needs to be. From this firm footing, episodes VIII and IX can innovate all they want.
Oh, fine, Lando hasn’t shown up yet. But he’s probably dead, because Finn is around, and there can be only one black guy in the galaxy at a time. I like to imagine Lando was born the instant Mace Windu died.
4. J.J. Abrams is leaving. I love a lot of Abrams’s work. Super 8, the 2009 Star Trek, the first episode of Lost. But as Cracked points out, he only knows how to start things. Episode VIII is going to be directed by Rian Johnson, who, by contrast, can’t seem to make a bad movie: he’s done Brick, Looper, and the two best episodes of Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias” and “Fly.” If anybody can really strike out from the foundation established by VII, it’s him.
Not that Christopher Nolan wouldn’t also be cool. But he’s making a movie about the evacuation of Dunkirk, which I’ll probably hurl money at as well.
It’s not that I don’t think the movie had flaws. It does a bad job of explaining what the Resistance, the First Order, and the Knights of Ren actually are. It wastes Gwendoline Christie and Max von Sydow, and Oscar Isaac doesn’t get enough to do either, to say nothing of handwaving how Poe survived the crash. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that Luke would leave his closest friends a treasure map to find his monastery (my theory is that Han kept asking for money) or that R2-D2 only reactivates when it’s convenient. In my opinion, though, these missteps pale before the larger success.
So where does that leave us? Free to speculate about awesome stuff that can happen now that the Force is awake, of course. I think the next movie is going to start with Rey screwing up in a big way. Her power is growing faster than she can control, and Luke won’t be prepared for it. Meanwhile, Leia will have to rebuild the Republic from the ground up, but run into the problem of Ren: everyone wants her to have him killed, Finn and Poe have volunteered for the mission, but can he still be redeemed?
Also, I think Supreme Leader Snoke really is that big. Rey and Finn will have to climb around on him and stab his weak point, Shadow of the Colossus-style.