Seeing as the new Star Wars film has finally arrived and I saw the movie last weekend with my wife and family I thought I would offer my thoughts on it for my next blog post. Before I do so, I’ll tell you a little about my relationship with this universe and what it means to me. I should also say that I will be talking in graphic detail about the events in this movie so everything will be spoiled. And I do mean EVERYTHING! If you haven’t seen it yet don’t go any further, go and see the movie and then come back to see what I thought. You should experience it as unspoiled as you can, I did and I was glad! If you’ve seen The Force Awakens then please continue…
So, I am a fan of Star Wars. Not a huge fan, but a fan nevertheless. When I was quite young my mother, my brother and I would watch one of the original trilogy movies every Friday night while my dad was out playing squash with his friends. Consequently I saw them a great many times while I was growing up and I know them quite well. When the Special Editions were released I then saw SW in the cinema for the first time. And recently I revisited them in their original versions when I discovered that a friend had the versions of the DVD’s that came with the original prints. Having done that, I have to say that those versions of the movies remain the best ones, in my opinion. Nothing added to the movies since have improved them in any significant way, and some of the additions detract from the pacing of the movies. So, despite some shaky effects, I definitely think the originals are easily the best versions of the films.
Also, seeing the movies recently I revised my opinions of them significantly. I realised what a great piece of cinema the original Star Wars is, how quickly it zips along and how it expects the audience, despite being dropped into a new universe, to keep up. It treats them with respect and that pays off. The second film is quite brilliant and that movie was superbly directed by Ivan Kershner. Since then none of the subsequent movies has quite captured that excellence. Return of the Jedi is a car crash of a movie, especially given the information available as to what it could’ve been had George Lucas not fired the director and taken the reigns himself. Nothing in it works like the first two and most of the plot can be dismissed as silliness. Until my recent viewings I quite liked Return but having seen it as an adult with something of a film education, I now cannot see it as anything other than the disaster that it so clearly is. It sucks. I’m also not going to discuss the terrible prequel trilogy as the less said about those the better.
Anyway, onto The Force Awakens. Before seeing this movie I’d heard pretty good things. The critic whose opinion I value most, Mark Kermode of the BBC Radio 5 live show and Wittertainment, very much enjoyed The Force Awakens and so I went in with my interest piqued. My impression of the film wasn’t helped by the projector breaking fifteen minutes into our showing and my wife, my family and I then having to reschedule for a showing later in the day. Despite that I really did enjoy it. It was fun, it zipped along like the original and I had a really good time. The new characters were excellently played by the young cast and the original cast members all did their jobs well, helping to please returning fans. The effects were stunning, as they should be, and the joy of returning to this universe was tangible.
Focusing the plot on the new characters and only using the original cast members sparingly also worked really well and I’m glad this is the approach they took. Clearly, they want these new characters to be the next generations SW and for them to be integrated into the existing cast without the reboot that Star Trek required. And I can also see that Abrams and his team have achieved what they did with Star Trek by reinventing this universe for a new audience who’ve grown up with the prequels and cartoons available to the current generation. There’s no doubt that this movie has been handled well by a smart director with a good team putting together a modern version of Star Wars and that’s exactly what it is.
So, the plot twists, (and, as I said, SPOILER!) for some reason I managed to see them all coming and I am usually terrible at seeing things like that. My wife often figures out the twists before they happen but in this instance it was me who realised that Kylo Ren was either Luke or Leia’s son, that Han was going to be killed, and that Rey was also the offspring of another original cast member, most likely Luke. Despite seeing all of this coming, every twist still worked really well and impacted as it should. Killing Han echoes information available online for events that were in the original Return of the Jedi plot and making this movie about the offspring of the original characters gives the film a lovely legacy approach that I like. Actually, my other primary experience of the SW universe is in the SW Legacy comics, of which I own the entire run in nice hardcover volumes, and I can see the influence of this run in the movie. Besides focusing on a descendent of Luke Skywalker, the comics also include tales told from the perspective of Stormtroopers and that part of the movie feels directly influenced by Legacy.
But, despite all that I like the movie does feel like a very well done, modern Star Wars greatest hits with original cast members thrown in because to do otherwise would be silly. You have, among others, an attack on a new Death Star (which they even joke about), the goofball scene where Han and Chewy grapple with a monster (a la the trash compactor scene) and Rey running around inside an imperial base, avoiding stormtroopers in a manner similar to Episode IV. There’s little that I feel is new and that detracts from the experience somewhat. Of course, the scenes where Leia and Han interact are just superb and I don’t mind admitting that I shed a tear or two during them. I was also moved by Han’s death, as anyone who loves the original movies must surely be (where was his funeral?!?) and I look forward to seeing the impact of these events in upcoming films.
I guess that my overall impression of the movie is that I enjoyed it, it was tremendous fun and I came away thinking that it is definitely a Star Wars movie and that is a huge compliment. Not since the end of Empire has that been the case. But I was also a little underwhelmed, certainly more so than I had been during parts of the film when I had been immensely enjoying myself. Now that The Force Awakens has been released and Abrams and his team have established where things are and the new status-quo I would really like to see the next film exploring new territory and doing something more interesting than simply attacking yet another Death Star (even if they say that’s not what it was). It was still a lot of fun and a pleasure to see all of the characters that I grew up watching back on the big screen. I just hope that the next movie does something more with all that it has established. Here’s hoping!
Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!