First Impressions on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

jjabrams

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.

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8 thoughts on “First Impressions on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)”

  1. Well done. Nary a spoiler to be seen.

    I’ve been grudgingly accepting that I’d go, fork over the money, see the movie, but mainly out of some vague sense of obligation or inevitability. No real expectation that it would be any good. Now I’m feeling guardedly optimistic. I’m hopeful that I’ll actually like it. Of course, the odds of that increase a lot if I go on my own, rather than dragging along the wife, kids, cat, and guinea pig, who I fear will be less forgiving than I will. 🙂

  2. Thanks! Saw it a second time today, with the girls (last night was date night). Holds up well. I highly recommend a place with reserved seating, if available in Nashville.

    On the second viewing I could pick it apart a bit — but not much. It’s remarkably well crafted. Very much left me with a similar feeling to the first film, with touches of the second. I’m excited to see where they go in Episode VIII.

  3. im going to type a synopsis of a movie… dont worry, there are no spoilers, because WE HAVE ALL SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE.

    tell me which movie this describes:

    -=-=-=-

    a group of rebels are suddenly attacked by evil bad guys led by a head honcho bad dude in a black cape and mask. the rebels have vitally important information that absolutely cannot fall into the hands of the bad guys, so they hastily store the information in a droid and send it off at the last second. then the bad guys capture the head rebel and take them back to their evil base and torture them for the info.

    meanwhile, the droid is found by a scrappy youth (who is unknowingly strong in the force) on a backwater desert planet. the bad dudes come looking for the droid, but the youth and droid escape by the skin of their teeth in a shitbox spaceship owned by a roguish smuggler and his hairy friend.

    they finally link up with the rebels and the droid reveals its vital info as a glowy blue hologram. but OH NO the evil dudes base is a giant weapon that destroys planets! but all is not lost, it has a weakness, if only they can get to it to destroy it! and disable the shield generator, thats important too!

    unfortunately the head bad dude in the black cape and mask is all like ‘no way dudes im going to fight you’… this bad dude also has a long-standing deep personal connection to the central old-man good guy… an attempt at redemption is made but GASP no, that bad dude is just pure dag-nasty evil, and he kills the old dude! the old dude doesnt even resist! because he is so good, you know?

    then at the last moment, the shield generator is destroyed and the weak point of bad dude central is attacked, and the whole this goes BOOM!

    yay good guys win!!

    -=-=-=-

    deja vu much?

    1. —Minor Spoiler Alert—

      I’m going to guess you didn’t like his reboot of Star Trek, either.

      I get what you’re saying, but the same thing can be said for playing poker or doing karate. It’s always the same thing, yet some of us continually enjoy it.

      For me, the star killer thing was silly mostly because if you can drain a star, you don’t need to shoot anything. Just let the planets freeze/spin off into space.

      Now, would I have written it that way? Nah. Death Star III would not have been my choice.

      Hopefully they won’t continue the echoes in Episode VIII. If they make Ben Solo and Rey siblings, I’ll groan louder than you did at seeing Episode VII.

      But I’ll still watch it. 🙂

  4. the difference is, the star trek reboot was exactly that, a reboot. this was supposed to be a sequel, not just a retelling with names/genders/races changed… the force awakens would have been a fantastic reboot, but it makes for a pretty crappy sequel. i almost drifted off to sleep throughout the film, mostly because *ive already seen it*

    1. Yeah, I get your point.

      To me, it felt like a reboot for my kids’ generation — let’s have a chick hero, let’s have a major black character, let’s show war as brutal and the bad guy as a temper-tantrum throwing adolescent. I enjoyed it for that.

      I first experience things like this emotionally, and on that level, it worked well for me.

      If I were to approach it rationally, it would have major flaws (ridiculous star killer weapon, why bad guy ever wears a helmet while indoors/not on a battlefield, where bad guys get funding for said ridiculous weapon, how you could build such a thing in less than a thousand years with a relatively small terrorist group, etc).

      I found the three prequels so disappointing, emotionally, that this one soared for me. Loved the sensitive storm trooper, loved the chick, loved grandpa-fetish man-child. I felt for him, when he’s praying to the melted mask. I felt nothing for any character in the prequels. Absolutely nothing.

      So yeah… I see this as a reboot, not as fresh content—fair point on that. The guy directing the next one directed Looper, so I’m hopeful. If he echoes Empire… well, hell, that’d be fun, too. Rey trains with Luke, rescues Fin from bad guys, is frozen in Force-stasis until thawed out by Fin in Episode IX? Hope it’s a little smoother than that.

  5. well… at least it wasnt clearly designed to be a two-hour-long marketing tool solely for selling toys this time around… first time in 4 movies THAT happened.

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