A long time ago, in a city far away, I was introduced to the world of Star Wars. The first movie came out in 1977, which means I was just barely old enough to know about it. I have better memories of The Empire Strikes Back, my dad taking me and my two brothers to see it in a drive-in theater.
In other words, I grew up with Star Wars. I had a plethora of the regular figurines, a few of the larger (including, I want to say, a larger doll-sized version of Vader and Leia), I owned a stuffed Wicket (until he was one of the many casualties of one of my two fires), and remember reading Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy with manic glee at the continued stories of our three heroes.
I also remember the anticipation for The Phantom Menace: how excited everyone was that we were having a new Star Wars movie after so long, and how the whole audience cheered at the 20th Century Fox logo and anthem.
Of course, the prequels are now acknowledged to be mostly a disappointment, not only failing to live up to the hype but also bringing up canon irritations such as Jar Jar and midichlorians. And so when Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas, and then announced there would be a new movie helmed by J.J. Abrams, there was much gnashing of teeth. Not only did the new movie need to live up to the world of the original trilogy, but it had to combat the negative reaction that the prequel trilogy got. I did not envy Abrams: as I wrote about Steven Moffat in my review of Doctor Who‘s 50th, “The Day of the Doctor”, no matter what he did, some fan was going to be more than a little upset.
So, I went into the film with a good dose of skepticism: I wanted to like it, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. After all, it’s hard to mend a broken heart. But I was encouraged: I caught it the Monday after it had opened, and so preliminary reviews were already trickling in, mostly positive. And the movie started, and I was happy.
The story is fairly basic: we meet Finn, formerly Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) who chooses to not be a mindless soldier and instead helps Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape capture. When they crash on a distant planet, the two (and Poe’s droid BB-8) get separated, and Finn meets up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman waiting for her family to return. The three then go on your standard adventures, none of which I’m explaining here as I don’t want to spoil any more of the movie than I already have.
Some of the reviews that have come out have complained about the plot’s ‘parallels’ to Star Wars: A New Hope. And I can’t fault them for that: when we get to the final battle plan, I commented to myself that it’s VERY similar to what we see them do in ANH. But you know what? I think that’s the point.
Here’s something controversial: the original Star Wars trilogy? It’s actually kind of mediocre when it comes to plot. It’s (intentionally) your standard hero’s journey story, with a plotline that has been seen from everything from The Wizard of Oz to the story of Jesus. Star Wars: A New Hope could’ve easily fallen by the wayside in 1977 as yet another cheesy sci-fi movie had it not been for two very important things: the production/special effects and the acting. (And in fact, that’s part of the reason I feel the prequel trilogy failed as much as it did: too much reliance on CGI, and Hayden Christensen was pretty much the ‘brooding emo teen’ for the entirety of his character arc.)
The original trilogy was dedicated to making the special effects believable, and the acting of our main trio worked on so many levels, using humor and anger and passion. We all knew someone cocky and yet still likable like Han Solo (and all had a car that was basically the Millennium Falcon). We all remember what it was like being a teenager like Luke and just wanting to escape where you were. And Leia was a direct descendant of the plucky take-no-prisoners ‘dame’ of the ’40s like Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, A New Hope was a love letter to the serials of the 30s and 40s – Buck Rogers and The Lone Ranger.
While the prequel trilogy gets bogged down in details, The Force Awakens is a love letter to the original trilogy. It also has the same sly humor, the same chemistry between our three heroes, and the same sense of that you’re along for the ride (rather than you’re watching someone else participate). In fact, one of the best bits is when our antagonist Kylo Ren is having a tantrum, slicing away at anything in his way, two Stormtroopers are walking down the hall, see what’s going on, and casually turn around finally learning that it’s best to avoid such situations.
I fell in love with BB-8 much like I did R2-D2, and I cheered that our main character is a female who (at least at this point in time) is NOT in a love story, and I both laughed and cried at the realization that this movie continues the basic theme of all six that it’s all about family.
Is it perfect? No. While the diversity in the cast is astounding, and we get more females in ‘background’ roles than we have in most other movies, the fact is that we’ve still got a long ways to go on that scale. (Especially on Captain Phasma, who I felt was vastly underused considering the hype her character got before the movie was released.) As with the other movies, the universe is apparently very small (especially if Rey is who I think she is). And yes, the plot is a bit predictable.
But that’s kind of what makes Star Wars, well… Star Wars. Lucas’ original trilogy was mythological in the literal definition, with fallible gods, endings that are just a little too neat, and just a hint of magic underneath.
As I said in my (spoiler-free) video reaction, the problem with the prequels was that it followed the letter of the law in terms of the original trilogy. Lucas was too focused on the little details and trying to make it be true science fiction, forgetting that the original trilogy was more space fantasy. The Force Awakens, however, follows the spirit of the law in terms of the original trilogy: remembering that it’s more about the characters (and those who are portraying them) and how they react to the situations rather than the situation itself.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best use of nostalgia, while still telling a (somewhat) new story. I eagerly await the next one, hoping it’s more of the same.
You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.