Note: I wrote this on the 8th of January just after seeing The Force Awakens. Unfortunately a death kind of screwed up my posting of it.
Everyone and their dog, and possibly their dog’s fleas too, has written about Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (hereinafter referred to as TFA). Since my own dog doesn’t have fleas, and is somewhat lacking in the ‘able to write’ department, I guess it falls to me to write about the movie.
First, let’s set some baseline standards: I am a Star Wars fan of old, having first seen it in a Drive-In when it was first released. I enjoy the universe, and many of the spin-off stories and products. I’m not a complete fanatic having read very little of the Expanded Universe (dead though that is now), and I thought Episodes I – III were ‘ok’. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t hate Jar Jar, but I also can’t be bothered to try to defend them. And, to put it bluntly, I wasn’t really excited to see TFA. I wanted to, but maybe when it came to DVD. Or something.
So, with all that in mind … (One spoiler ahead. Hopefully not that big)
I was convinced to go see TFA while it was in the theaters and, specifically, one morning while most people would be sensibly nursing hangovers from the New Year’s Celebrations the night (sometimes morning) before.
This was a good choice since there were barely 20 people in the theater. While I didn’t see it in 3D, I did (through luck) manage to book a seat in a Cinema with comfortable, reclining chairs. That will always improve my opinion of a movie since I’m used to squeezing in with barely enough legroom.
To summarise: I liked it. For me, it hit a lot of the right notes.
I love the new characters (mostly, I’ll get to that later), and it was good to see some of the old characters. I was glad that, for the most part, they didn’t go overboard with callbacks, and didn’t let the old characters run the whole movie.
Having said that, this movie is very close to A New Hope in terms of plot, with a couple of elements from Return of The Jedi. Some have dinged it for this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a good move. It gave them a ‘comfortable’ structure off which to hang some of the new things they were doing. The new characters, setting up what the Universe is like now, and a couple of the surprises, were all more easily done for having an existing structure. Yes, they could have gone with an entirely new plot, but I think that would have made the movie much longer, or some of the exposition might have had to be cut. I don’t see either as being good things.
Still, as I mentioned, even with the ‘same plot’ albatross hanging around their necks (sorry, that metaphor got away from me), they did manage a few surprises, one of which I found very satisfying – at least in a story sense.
After the CGI fest that was the Prequel Trilogy, it seems they’ve scaled back on that aspect. Or they’ve got better at CGI to make it less noticeable. The effects in TFA mostly serve the story, rather than just being pretty. I do love some pretty CGI, but I prefer it to be effective and in service to the story. If I wanted just pretty CGI I could go look at graphics demos.
There were also a few missteps. They introduced a new, obviously high-ranking, Storm Trooper (Captain Phasma) and then did nothing with her. I suspect this is the best example of the complaint that “characters were created to sell toys”. To be charitable, it might be that she had a larger role in the original script, but it got cut for time, or to keep the momentum of the story going.
The other misstep, and this is going to be purely personal, is the reveal of the ‘bad guy’. The whole character felt very clumsy, and the reveal was a huge letdown for me. I think I can see what they were going for, and it was great to have some character development of someone who is ‘evil’. But in the end, it just didn’t work for me. I’m hoping in the next movie they can run more with this character and perhaps he’ll work out better.
However, I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it enough to write this article, instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying ‘Meh. It was ok.’ I’m actually tempted to see it in cinemas again, which is something I’ve only ever done once before (without protest).