I’ve loved Star Wars for twenty one years. That’s a lot shorter time than some other fans have but also a lot longer time that other fans. It is not meant as a metric of how much more or less a fan I am than other people, just a way of saying Star Wars and I go a long way back.
I first saw the original Star Wars movie on December 11th or 12th, 1994 just days before turning nine years old. From there on it’s been an ongoing love affair, even though my interest has had its ups and downs I’ve always loved the original movies whenever I’ve sat down to watch them. I was young enough for the prequels to not HATE them in the theater but also old enough to be able to look critically at them today and realize they’re pure and utter garbage. All of them.
So the stakes where quite high when I first heard about a seventh movie being made. The first teaser trailer looked okay but didn’t really say anything about the movie, except for the important fact that The Millennium Falcon would appear. I did not, however, get my internal hype-machine up and running. Then came the second teaser and I got really excited. I literarily (yes literarily, not figuratively) cried when Han and Chewie showed up.
”Chewie, we’re home.” Damn right you are! My friends are home and we’re about to go on another great adventure like we did when I was young and life was simple. That’s how it felt. So I started anticipating the movie. And when I saw it’s release date I got so happy I almost cried again. It actually had its world premier on my 30th birthday!
My experience (spoiler free)
The big day arrived. I had given myself a ticket to the three p.m. show, the earliest in the theater in Falun, as a birthday gift and I was ready. I had done my very best to avoid spoilers beyond the second teaser. I hadn’t seen the actual trailer and I looked away whenever anything Star Wars related appeared online. I was pumped and ready.
And the movie delivered. I had hoped to be entertained. I was. I had hoped to see some visually thrilling scenes. I did. I had hoped for believable characters and an exciting plot. I was given that. And I had almost dared to hoped to laugh, cry, be on the edge of my seat and in the end just be almost cathartically happy. I did all those thing.
In the end I sat in the theater as the closing credits rolled with a happy grin on my face. The movie had made me feel like I was a preteen again. Like I wasn’t as cynical as I am. It had taken me on an adventures with my old buddies again.
Was it a flawless movie? Far from it it. I’m counting on the next one being better and I’ll likely find more flaws when I rewatch The Force Awakens but on that day it was everything I could have hoped for. Since it was preceded by me playing with my daughter, not yet a year old, and since afterwards me and my fiancé was able to go out, just the two of us, for a nice sushi dinner it all added up to being the best 30th birthday I could ever ask for.
Digging deeper (spoiler alert)
I had originally planned to write a thorough scene by scene review but as time has passed (it’s over a month since I say it) the memories are fading and I need to be done with this text so I’ll go over the high points and my main criticism of the movie.
There will be spoilers. If you haven’t watched the movie, stop reading and go watch it!
So, highlights it is:
The opening crawl
Well, how can it not be? You have the ”Star Wars” logo, the star field and the iconic, yes iconic, music by John Williams. The first seconds of any Star Wars opening is enough to open the door to my inner child. So it really takes a putz to screw it up. That being said the prequels did manage to screw it up, especially in The Phantom Menace.
The Force Awakens did the crawl well. It let me know who the good guys where, who the bad guys where, that there was a MacGuffin and that we needed to find Luke, fast. And that’s really all I needed to know.
The blood on Finn’s stormtrooper mask
It’s really the start of his hero’s journey, but more importantly it’s a reminder that there are actual people inside these suits. People that can bleed, that can be killed, that can be happy or sad, than can mourn or be mourned.
I also see it as a clear message from the movie makers to me and people like me who feel like one of the (many) problems of the prequels were that there were no stakes in the big battles. Soulless droids fought agains soulless clones and the audience where always given the impression that both the droids and the clones where cannon fodder and that we shouldn’t care about any individual one. The blood on Finn’s mask is a clear message that we should care. That there are no cannon fodder. That the battles have ramifications.
Rey and the introduction of her
How can I not love Rey? Finally there’s another woman in a Star Wars movie as badass as Leia. The introduction of her is great. The way she works persistently in silence, the way her actions rather then her words tell us that she is tough, that she’s someone we can count on in a pinch, but also that she has a troubled past and that she really lacks any kind of friends.
Kylo Ren’s voice and face
Kylo Ren the character is not that interesting to me in this movie, at least not until Han and Leia talks about him and clearly states that yes, he is their son. But his physical appearances is cool and his crude lightsaber is great as a symbol for himself as this unfinished, frustrated thing that’ll blow up any second.
The thing that worried me as he made his entrance was his voice. The last time I saw a bad guy in a mask in the theater I got super-annoyed by his voice and the effect treatment of it. I think Kylo Ren’s voice was a positive surprise. It sounded menacing without being overdone and silly.
I also like the fact that when he removes his mask he is not horribly scared in anyway. He’s just a frustrated young adult with an unhealthy obsession for his grandfather ”The Great Darth Vader” and therefore he also want to look badass. And it works, both as a way for him to look badass and as a way for him to appear more insecure and out of control.
I don’t need to elaborate on this, do I?
The ones involving The Millennium Falcon in particular. They look like the best parts of the battles from the original trilogy, only cooler. And the Falcon is just as much a ”hunk of junk” as before.
The references to the original movies
There were a lot of references for us old-time fans. And they walked the fine line between fun and tedious with grace.
This comes with an asterisk since I didn’t really notice the music during the movie. It was there, no doubt about it, but there were so many other things to focus on. But as I’m writing this I’m listening to the soundtrack on Spotify and it’s great. John Williams’ music is the one constant through all seven movies. It’s always been there, it’s always sounded like a genuine part of the Star Wars world and it’s always been amazing. It was one of the few bright spots of the prequels.
The lack of references to the prequels
This is certainly fanservice, but it’s hard to see this movie and not feel like the creative team wants us to know that they too hate the prequels and that they promise us that even though they may still be canon, let’s not speak of them again.
The special effects, both ”practical” and CGI
The movie looks great, as simple as that.
That Leia is old
We knew beforehand that Han would look like he spent the last thirty years being pulled behind a tractor on a corn field, having his face used as a plow (and looking amazing from it). We didn’t know what Leia would look like.
And I love the now old Leia. I love the idea that a woman is ”allowed”, for lack of a better word, to age in a similar way. She is wrinkled, her eyes are those of an old woman and her voice is filled with traces from Carrie Fisher’s own hard life. And all of that makes her more believable as a character.
As I’ve read the Expanded Universe books over the years it has felt like a given that Leia would end up president of ”The New Republic” but this movie proves how wrong I was in thinking that. Off course Leia won’t be a president sitting in her far away castle, she’ll be in the trenches, she’ll be digging the trenches. She’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder with Chewbacca and fight of impossible odds.
In a way I wish that she had been the main character, instead of Han, and that she had faced and been killed by Kylo Ren in the end. But maybe her confrontation with him will be all the more intense in a later movie. Now we know the stakes in such a confrontation. And we also know that Leia is a fighter and that she’ll be the last one standing regardless of the odds.
It’s also worth pointing out that the chemistry between Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford is just as good as ever. You can clearly see that these are characters that love each other, that can’t live with or without each other, so to speak.
There’s probably a lot more worth pointing out and I’ll likely do that once I see the movie again. (I’ll see it in iMax this weekend.)
The less good parts
I won’t dwell on this for too long.
The poor treatment of Captain Phasma
(I hope I got the name right.)
The shiny stormtrooper in the teaser got me really curious and when I watched the movie and we where told that the character was a woman I was happy. Yes, a badass evil woman in a Star Wars movie. The happiness stopped there since her role in the movie was minuscule. She gets captured in the silliest way possible1 and gets knocked out by Chewbacca.
Here’s to hoping she’ll be back with a vengeance in Episode VIII.
The rehashing of Episode IV and the high pacing
It felt like JJ Abrams had so much he wanted to say that the second half of the film felt rushed in times. There were so much to do for the characters.
It’s a nice contrast to the endless scenes of people sitting around and doing nothing but talking that’s infested the prequels. It’s also nice to see a movie that crams more than enough stuff for two movies into one, instead of the usual modus operandi of todays movie studios where source material, such as a single book, gets turned into two or more movies even though it could just as easily have been one movie that in itself had been more interesting. That being said, I do think some things could have been cut from the movie making it feel less stressed.
Which brings me to the Episode IV rehashing. The whole idea of this new super weapon (The ”Starkiller”) and the comparison between it and the Death Star felt silly. I think the plot didn’t need this. The search for the map to Luke Skywalker had been enough for me. That would probably also meant that the filmmaker had found a better way to get the story to the point of the meeting between him and Rey.
I do like the fact that Luke was missing for 99,9% of the movie though.
Some character, especially Finn, could have used a few more minutes on their story arcs as well.
Finn using a lightsaber
No. Just no.
Lightsabers should be the privilege of jedi and other force-sensitive people. And please don’t make Finn a future jedi. Please.
I’m having a hard time deciding whether I like the very end of the movie or not. The part where Artoo comes back to life and provides our heroes with the final map to Luke seems like Deus ex machina. Or if it should be explained in the movie, it happened because either Luke sent some kind of remote signal to Artoo, or he was aware of what went on around him even in his powered down state (maybe there’s midichlorians in his engine oil). Regardless of how it happened, Artoo ”woke up” because the force had awakened in Rey and she was ready to meet Luke.
I think subsequent watchings of this movie, and even more its coming sequels, will help me make up my mind on this matter.
So as I said in the beginning, I really liked the movie. It’s without a doubt at least the forth best Star Wars movie. Sure, that bar is quite low to pass but it still passed it with flying colors. It’s close to the original trilogy in quality and a few more viewings might even convince me that it is as good as Return of the Jedi. It is not, however, a new The Empire Strikes Back.
I think the best way to sum it up is to quote the line that made me tear up the most, and I did tear and choke up quite a few times in this movie. It’s when Artoo finally comes back to life and Threepio says
My dear old friend, how I missed you.
It felt so good to hear that line. It reminded me again of the close relationship that these droids have to each other and also, like the ”we’re home” line, reminded me of all the adventure these characters had brought me along for as I grew up. And now they are here again and they will bring me on for so many more adventures. I’m ready to jump into my imaginary spaceship and go wherever the Falcon heads.