I saw the original Star Wars — it wasn’t called “Episode IV: A New Hope” when it was released — a couple of weeks after my 11th birthday. Like JJ Abrams, I was the perfect age to experience it, and it shaped my idea of what science fiction, fantasy, and movies were all about for the rest of my life.
When I was 14, Empire Strikes Back had a particular impact on me, because my father had died the year before. At the age where I should be challenging him, I had only shadows to face.
Return of the Jedi, at 17, offered me reflection and personal redemption, played out in the lost son/dead father relationship of Luke and Darth Vader.
Then, the prequels came. Of course I saw them, but it was like trying to recreate something of a particular time and place, rather than moving forward. They felt constructed, a collection of complex parts imitating life.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has brought that original, life-giving feeling back, not by animating the backstory, but by moving forward with the people I care about, and introducing their children, both literally and figuratively.
Here are the things seeing Star Wars last night made me think of, in the order I thought of them. Turns out there are six, and I won’t pad it with four more to make a convenient title.
It’s the most psychologically adept science fiction/fantasy film I’ve ever seen. The characters’ flaws are genuine. They do not feel tacked on to make someone the good gal or the bad guy.
It’s not filled with wire-fu silliness, like the prequels. There are force powers, but they don’t involve turning jedi into magical gymnasts. In that sense, I feel Star Wars got back to its Western roots, and away from being pseudo-samurai films mixed with Hong Kong action films. Yes, Star Wars has universal appeal, and Lucas was hugely influened by Kurusawa, but it is a distinctily American series, and in this film it feels like that again.
It is both the most light-hearted, and most serious, of the series. (This insight belongs to a friend who is a much more serious Star Wars fan than me. I am only expanding on it.) The jokes are great, with nice touches for us oldsters, and the dark parts are graphically dark. When people are hurt in this film, they bleed. For example, you don’t just see a scene after the storm troopers attack, as in the original Star Wars — you see them murdering unarmed civilians. This film puts the War in Star Wars.
That midi-chlorian crap isn’t even mentioned. As far as I’m concerned, that was some kind of hardcore materialist influence that hit George Lucas and his screenwriters between the early 1980s and late 1990s. The Force is clearly a divine power, and the Jedi are space knights of an ancient, priestly (or monkly) order. Let’s quit retrofitting every powerful story with advanced tech into the hard scifi traditions of Clark and Asimov, or the pseudo-atheism of modern Hollywood. Star Wars was never meant to be that. It’s about good and evil not just as social constructs, but as living forces beyond human control which must be joined or fought. If that’s not a transcendent power in the Judeo-Christian sense, it’s a distinction without a difference.
The acting was superb.
The pacing is excellent.
It absolutely deserves to break all the box office records, not just due to fan-boy and -girl guaranteed attendance, but because it’s setting the standard for what scifi/fantasy films are going to be all about for the next generation.
The day after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I indeed have a new hope.