I grew up on Star Wars – and yes, I am aware of the faint laughter I hear from “original” 1970s fans as I say that. But I’m as real a fan as a teenager in 2016 can be. My parents thankfully raised me on the original trilogy, and so when I heard that George Lucas had sold Star Wars to Disney, I cringed. I rolled my eyes at promotional merchandise and trailers and the spherical orange wannabe R2-D2.
But of course, on December 17th, I found myself at the premiere of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, robe-clad with lightsaber in tow.
The Force Awakens follows the journey of Rey, a spunky young heroine with a mysterious past from a sandy planet (eerily similar to Tatooine) and Finn, a rogue stormtrooper who abandons the totalitarian First Order (eerily similar to the Empire) amidst a galaxy-wide search for missing Jedi Luke Skywalker. The Resistance, headed by General Leia Organa (eerily similar to the Rebel Alliance) is seeking to destroy the First Order’s weapon of mass destruction, Starkiller Base (eerily similar to the Death Star). You get the idea.
So I’ll toss my review out there, even though everyone, their aunt, and their pet cats have already shared their opinions all over your Facebook feed. The Force Awakens met my expectations, which, granted, I kept pretty low, but I have to give J.J. Abrams credit for not completely trashing the saga. I appreciated the attempts at increasing diversity and breaking stereotypes, heavy-handed as they may have been. Leia is no longer a “princess,” but now a general. And Rey doesn’t need Finn’s help or affections to kick some serious butt in this movie. I’m all for a strong female lead, but we also don’t need J.J. Abrams hitting us over the head with how liberal his screenwriting is in every line of awkward Rey/Finn dialogue.
This is a Star Wars that does not take itself too seriously. One of the earmarks of the first 6 Star Wars movies was the fact that humor was limited to R2-D2’s antics, C-3PO’s flustered speech, and Han/Leia banter. The Force Awakens, however, gently makes fun of itself and is a lot more self-aware. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, but just makes it feel like less of a classic Star Wars episode.
The movie is pitched to nostalgic fans, but from my observation, has been most popular among newcomers to the franchise. The script is peppered with plenty of classic lines – “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” – but fans recognize that the movie is a better classified as an homage than as a new installment. If you feel extreme deja vu while watching it, remember that you’ve basically seen this movie before. The plot is very predictable and runs parallel to A New Hope. There’s a masked, morally-conflicted dark lord, Han/Chewie smuggling drama, and a scene in a cantina full of aliens. And (mild spoiler, although if you care about Star Wars I don’t know why you haven’t seen it by now) why on earth did someone think a third Death Star (let’s just call it what it is) was a good idea?! It didn’t work the first two times. Come on, bad guys. Get with the program.
I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be totally happy with any version of a new movie, so I can’t complain much. The Force Awakens is a good movie. I’m not sure it’s a great installment, but hey, if it’s better than The Phantom Menace, who knows what could happen with the next two?
Regardless, millennials, do yourselves a favor and watch the original trilogy and the prequels before watching this one. J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars movies aren’t the movies you’re looking for.