So. Star Wars. It’s a thing. A big thing. A very, very, very big thing. If I have to explain Star Wars then you might need to get from under the rock you’ve lived in for the last 30 years. In short, Star Wars is a trope heavy sci-fi franchise that is well beloved, minus three entries and one entry in particular (looking at you episode III), and is a juggernaut. No doubt you have seen the advertisement, toys, games, fan recreations, books, and every other marketable thing from the series just shy of officially licensed lightsaber condoms. But the newest film in the franchise feels like a natural extension but with its fair share of problems.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens plots across familiar territory with new characters for the most part. There are a few changes to convention but really it is a distinct nostalgia trip where you follow characters you may feel like you’ve seen before. The film follows deuteragonist Finn and Rey in their quest to become characters in the Star Wars universe. I say this because characterization was not necessarily this movie’s strong suite. There were hints of interesting things being done with the characters but I’m sure they are being saved for the next two films in the franchise. To be fair, Finn being the malfunctioning storm trooper and Rey becoming basically Luke Skywalker was a good if not expected choice. Now there are some underlying theories that could be made based on these two but I’m going to keep this a face value for now. The showing of Finn being shellshocked from all of what was going around him that lead up to his defection was well done and showed that there is in fact a conscious there and how… well… war is hell. Finn’s quirks were also reasonable and rather funny, making him a comic relief while still portraying a multi-dimensional character. Rey is practically Luke. Really, she is and by that you could read into some meta commentary that the way to make a Jedi is to: live on a desert planet, kill off parents in some way, lose a father figure, go on a quest to find a legendary Jedi to learn from. It is rather paint by numbers but I see story potential for the next movie to diverge from the path it is on.
At least it all looks really pretty. The film is a treat to the eyes and ears as the cinematography is well done and stays in tune with the original films. Many of the modern conventions like shaky cam, obnoxious orange or blue film tint, or the JJ Abrams standard lens flare are (thank the force) missing from this film. The CG looks good and you can tell that is where a large portion of the budget went to. All of it felt like they belonged to the movie series without but so much modernization. The locations had a certain grandeur about them and the scale was massive. Again, a feeling of familiarity as we had the desert planet, the flora and fauna planet, the snow planet, and the giant make things go boom spherical object (that had a nod to one of the Star Wars games that is no longer considered canon mind you). However much the locations felt familiar, they were much grander and still were able to illicit wow from the audience. All of the design choices were made with the originals in mind and to that it benefited greatly. The combat was well done and there was heavy emphasis on Chewbacca’s bowcaster as he went on a tear with it many times. There were a number of large set piece battles that looked great and you could see the world deteriorate as the fighting went on in ways we really haven’t seen happen in the movies. The lightsaber duels were awesome and felt like they had weigh to them. Any time a lightsaber was on the screen it had impact and importance. The lightsaber encounters felt more like actual sword fights rather than the plodding pace of the original trilogy and less of the flips and more flips of the prequel trilogy. The dogfights, while brief, were great as well and gave a nice contrast between what tech was inside the newer flight vehicles and the classic Millennium Falcon and how archaic it is. The ship Kylo Ren flies in is impressive in the “How does that even work, it looks like a space taco” sense.
Ahhhh, Kylo Ren, one of the antagonists of this trilogy it appears. He as a character has some promise but in this film, I just didn’t see him as being the big bad until the last few minutes of his screen time. His place in the lore makes sense as a common theme with these movies is that every character is tied to another in some way shape or form but he was just somewhat ineffectual. Darth Vader had a certain presence about him and commanded a scene whenever he was around. He seemed like a natural fit for the bad guy that may not really been all that bad but in the end, villainy won out. Ren reminded me more of episode three Anakin. For example, there was a scene early on where the things didn’t go quite the way he wanted them to and he demolished a bunch of computers with his lightsaber. I felt like that little temper tantrum nicked his badassness a little and caused him to be less effectual as a villain. More like a Vader in training than the guy helping lead the First Order. The Force powers displayed were cool and they seemed more from the Force Unleashed School of powers but just a little bit “meh” with his character. Then there was the big scene between him and his father and it was telegraphed miles ahead of when it actually happened. There is foreshadowing and then there was this. As important of a scene as it was some of its impact was lost by how trope heavy it was and how obvious that was said character was going to bite the dust. It was at that time, however, his viciousness and any possibility of him being brought back to the light side was extinguished. Kylo is also the most innocent faced sith/dark side member I have ever seen even considering the old extended universe (rest in peace sweet prince) and I was downright gleeful when he gained a few more scars before the end of the film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a lot to live up to and in a way, it succeeded in what it needed to do; establishing a new universe and set the stage for new media to come from it. Even as we have until 2017 to see where this new series will lead, I am surprisingly optimistic. The characters have an opportunity to come into their own and the new expanded universe will fill in some of the gaps between the films and other media like Star Wars: Rebels. As much as this movie felt like a revision of A New Hope, that might be all it needed to be really to draw a new generation of fans into the fold while not alienating the old fans. Well, not alienating them anymore than Disney has with the death of the old expanded universe anyway. All I can really hope for is that the next movie brings more original elements into lore and provides a fresh take on the series. This is a trick that you really can only pull once in a franchise otherwise it gets old very quickly.
And at the very least, we have this movie to thank for this meme.