My Non-Spoilery Review of The Force Awakens
Posted on December 18, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 123 Comments
Super-short version: It’s not bad! Best since the original trilogy and arguably better than at least one of those. You’ll probably have a whole lot of fun with this film.
Non-super-short version: Star Wars is that friend of yours who you haven’t seen in a while, who was in a long-term relationship where everything was cool for a while and then things just plain went to hell, and the last time you saw them, they’d kind of hit the bottom. Now you’re seeing them again for the first time in years and before they show up you’re humming a little mantra that goes please please please please don’t let this be awkward and weird like it was the last time we saw each other.
And then they show up! And they look great. They sound great. You talk to them and slip into the groove with them, and they catch you up on what’s been going on in their life, including their new relationship with this fab-sounding person who seems to be doing good things for them. And you suddenly realize that for the first time in years your friend actually seems happy. They’re not exactly their old self again — who ever is, after all those years? — but the things you always loved about them are there once more, and you’re so happy to see them happy again that you almost want to cry.
So, yeah: If you’re a Star Wars fan, that’s how you’re going to feel about The Force Awakens.
This is an immense relief, but also, to use the words of a famous Mon Calimarian, it’s a trap. Because it’s Star Wars, and because you’ll have been used to Star Wars films being terrible for so very long, the highly-polished, super-competent and intentionally entertaining film that is The Force Awakens might feel something like a revelation. Finally, a Star Wars film you don’t have to make excuses for! That you don’t have to mumble something like “well, it’s part of a trilogy, you have to wait until the whole thing is done to see the entire structure” to yourself and others in a vain attempt to overlook massive flaws. This is the first Star Wars film in decades that you can relax into, and just sit back and enjoy. It’s not until the tension of having to pre-emptively rationalize your film choices is lifted that you realize what a burden it has been. The absence of that burden might just feel like greatness.
So: is The Force Awakens a great film?
No. It’s not on the level of great cinema. It’s not on the level of the original Star Wars (which I refuse to call A New Hope because fuck you George Lucas you’re not the boss of me) or of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not the best science fiction film of 2015, or even the best new installment in a long-running science fiction film series (say hello to Fury Road for both, although The Martian and Ex Machina are in the running for the former). It’s not a great film, and you shouldn’t be relieved into thinking it is.
But it is a pretty damn good Star Wars film, which at this point in the series is exactly what it needs to be. This shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
Things to love (or at least really like): The dialogue, by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt, which for the first time since Empire sounds like words that might actually come out of the mouths of actual thinking human beings, and not merely declamatory utterances designed to fill up space. The relationships, of which there are many — more and more believable relationships in this one single film than in the entire run of the series to date. The care with which even minor characters are developed and seem like actual people, rather than toy manufacturing opportunities given a line or two in the film as an excuse to make parents buy the action figure for a stocking stuffer. The fact that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s characters (as well as one other character, who you will know when you see the film) are believably young and act like young people do, ie, make some questionable choices, without doing stupid things entirely for plot convenience.
In short, most of the best things about this movie relate to the characters in it — and the care with which the filmmakers use to make them as real as possible. This is the one thing George Lucas could never manage on his own, partly because he’s a leaden writer (Harrison Ford once famously quipped of Lucas’ dialogue “You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it”), but primarily because I just don’t think he was that interested in it. He needed characters as chess pieces, not as people. In The Force Awakens, we get characters as people, and their game becomes more interesting.
Things not to like? Basically, the several points where the film has to bow to the tropes of the Star Wars universe mostly for plot convenience and fan service. Yes, yes, lasers and explosions and battles and the cute nods to the previous films, they all have to be in there. I get it (trust me, I get it). But for me all of that was a sideshow to the characters — and think about that! When was the last time you could say that about a Star Wars film? (Empire.) There’s also the fact that almost immediately after I left the theater there were a whole bunch of things about the film that I started to pick apart. Trust me, my friends, if you think the nitpickery of the Star Wars universe was positively Talmudic before, wait until the dust settles with TFA. There will be nitpickery galore.
Here’s the important thing about that last bit: On the drive home, I had things I wanted to nitpick — but the operative part of the phrase is “on the drive home.” When I was watching the film, I was in the film. I wasn’t focused on anything other than where I was. And that, my friends, is the goal. When I was the creative consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was actually my job: To read the scripts early and flag all the things that would throw people out of the story before the end credits rolled. It’s okay for the audience to be nitpicky, just afterwards. Managing that is not as easy as it sounds, and certainly the prequel trilogies never achieved it. TFA does.
Which is a testament to Abrams, his fellow screenwriters and to Disney. When Disney bought Lucasfilm I said that it was “the best thing that could happen, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan.” I said it because Disney, whatever other flaws it has (and it has many) understands better than almost any other studio that the audience must be entertained. You grab the audience, you carry them along for two hours, you keep them busy, and you drop them off at the gift shop when you’re done. Disney is relentless about this, and they’re not stupid about it, either, which is to say, Disney doesn’t treat its audience like marks, to be hustled. It treats them as opportunities for a long-term relationship, involving the transfer of cash to Disney.
Cynical? Well, yes. But, look, if what that means is we get good Star Wars films that aren’t painful to watch and tell a fun story while we’re shoving popcorn into our maws — stories with lightsabers — then I’m okay with that. Especially after having slogged through a Star Wars era where the only thing of interest was the merchandising. We’re getting more out of the Star Wars cinematic universe now than we were with Lucas. I don’t see this as a bad thing. “By the sweet and merry mouse above, you will be entertained,” I wrote, when the Disney deal for Lucasfilm was announced.
I was right. I was entertained. And because of the focus on characters in The Force Awakens — a focus I expect to continue through Episodes VIII and IX, and in the new “anthology” films — I am optimistic I will continue to be entertained in the Star Wars universe for a good while yet. I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me.
I don’t need greatness from Star Wars. I just want to have fun with it. And with The Force Awakens, I did. I’m glad my friend is back, and happy.
DO NOT POST SPOILERS OF THIS FILM. I will Mallet any spoilers I see, obviously.
Also, what I didn’t get into in the review above, but which I do think is important and worth noting, is that I think it’s pretty nifty that this iteration of Star Wars has diversity (in its representation of humans) as a given, i.e., it doesn’t make a big deal about it, it just is. This is how it should be done, and it’s nice to see it in what is certain to be one of the biggest films of the year.
Cool. At least this SW installment doesn’t suck. And I can settle for that. Goodness. Look how low my bar has fallen with the SW franchise . . .
That’s about the only review I’m going to read before seeing the movie. Thanks for no spoilers and declaring so in the title. With family obligations this weekend, it will probably be the middle of next week before I can see the movie.
You’ve taken your Roger Ebert lessons well, that was a well written review.
Pretty much everything you said. I don’t think it’s spoilery to repeat what Han Solo says in the trailer: “Chewie, we’re home.” Yeah, there are nits to be picked, but I didn’t care. I haven’t felt this delighted by the franchise since the opening fanfare in the titles of “The Return of the Jedi” (before I knew about Ewoks).
I was also lucky enough to see it at a company screening for Lucas employees (I am not cool, but I married cool. At the time, who knew?) which was filled with people who simultaneously are sound- and effects- and film geeks, and Star Wars geeks, and I swear everyone in the theatre was just as delighted as I was.
I walked out and turned to Danny and said “so next time we see it….”
Well, I was a professional film critic for years and have written two books on film. I know my way around a review.
Thanks for this John.
The early non-spoiler reviews had me oscillating between cautious optimism and cynical self-protection, but your thoughts here have (I think) finally allowed me to CALM DOWN and just look forwards to seeing it tomorrow
In your copious spare time, please review ALL movies from now on. That was the best, most useful review I’ve read since Roger Ebert was still alive. Just enough “inside baseball” to keep it interesting with the supremely important acknowledgement that it is “all about entertainment”.
I had quibbles about various things, but I LOVED the way the relationships between characters developed. Everyone had good reasons for forming intense connections, as opposed to the prequels where the reasons seemed to be, “well, we’re in this movie together, so…”
This sums up my feelings on The Force Awakens quite well. Thanks for sharing what’s in my head! :)
Appreciate the encouragement as well as the caution. I look forward to nit-picking it to death sometime in the future. Cheerio!
I love that you compare Star Wars to a friend that you haven’t seen in a while. For fans of a certain age, who saw Star Wars in the theater, that’s exactly how it feels. (Not saying fans of a different age can’t feel the same.) I’m looking at my schedule today and local theater times. I see the 2:00 and 4:00 are not sold out yet, so maybe I’ll sneak out and play a little hooky. :-)
I am not surprised. Relieved, oh sweet merciful heavens, am I relieved that we’re not going to have to suffer years more salty tears, but definitely not surprised for all the reasons that John elucidates.
And I think this puts the final nail in the coffin bearing Lucas’ reputation. Star Wars worked because George was fighting against limits – of effects technology, of what studios would let him get away with, of what he could personally justify putting in the script. By the time of RotJ, those limits were gone and it shows. And it’s been downhill ever since, with multiple special editions featuring progressively worse tinkering and the awful prequel trilogy.
Now all we need is for Disney to keep on keeping on and we’ll be okay.
Speaking as someone who attended the marathon that day and saw all six previous movies in a row, it was …okay. I would have liked fewer battles and light saber fights and more development of the characters. And I have to say, of all the seven movies I saw that day, it was the one I had the most trouble staying awake in and the one I was most going, ok, how much longer is this? I also felt that they chewed through a lot of potential characters and journey and development (I’m being intentionally vague here because spoilers) pretty quickly and I would have liked a more meandering journey.
Incidentally, after seeing all six previous movies in a row, my vote for worst goes to Return of the Jedi. Best is Empire.
During the movie, the only time I wasn’t thinking about and enjoying the movie was when I tried to figure out if I could last without taking a restroom break. I did, and I’m glad.
Saw it yesterday here in the UK and enjoyed it immensely. I’m not just a fan but am also a collector and one of the mods on boards.theforce.net so Star Wars has gotten quite a bit of my life and money. My mantra in the run-up to the film has been along the lines of ‘Please don’t suck’ and it well exceeded that. I had a good time and will probably go again after the holidays. Note – i saw it in 3D and can highly recommend that if you have the option.
I’ll still say they needed at least one extra advisor because there was one thing that made my nitpick gene twitch during the film. I can’t say much about it without being spoilery, but I can say we’ve seen this same issue from JJ Abrams before.
Fairly spot-on review. It had enough old-school Star Wars in it to feel satisfying. It felt a little like Star Wars and J.J. Abrams had a baby. The baby takes after the Star Wars side, but you can still see the J.J. in him too.
I’m not sure what has me more excited right now:
1. I’m seeing *new* Star Wars tomorrow night with my younger brother, who wasn’t even around when the original trilogy came out.
2. I’m showing the original Star Wars (I agree, you can’t make me call A New Hope) to my five year-old daughter on Sunday. She’s been asking about it for a while now, and I’m glad to finally be able to introduce her.
(“Abba, is Star Wars a superhero movie?”
“Not really, no. It’s an outer space movie. it has spaceships, and aliens, and robots.”
“Oh. I guess it doesn’t have any princesses in it, then.”
One of the best Star Wars films; it’s no Empire Strikes Back, but it holds up very well to any of the rest of the original trilogy, and blows the prequels out of the water. And the characters! I care about all of them and want to know more
about them; if anything there were too many of them to love!
[This graf too spoilery for my own taste — JS]
I would have liked more new spaceship designs, but then in a large part this film wasn’t about new ship designs – it was about getting the old ones back on their feet again, the TIE fighters, X-wings, Star Destroyers, and the Millennium Falcon all in the air and flying again.
Really though I was in love the moment the music started and the opening text started to crawl up the screen. Seeing Star Wars in the theatre back in 1997 was what made me a sci fi fan, and this film plugged directly into my inner twelve year old.
I’m probably going to see it again, and I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie twice in the theatre.
A reminder that I’m doing to be deleting bits I think are spoilers. Also I have a hair trigger on what I think are spoilers.
Must resist the urge to put fake spoilers in. Must resist…
I agree with our hosts’ view of the “first” trilogy and of Lucas’ talents. I politely disagree with his assessment of Abrams; I think that, much as was the case with Star Trek, once the relief is over, we’ll discover that Abrams’ reach exceeded his grasp. Nevertheless, I think that this will restart the franchise and that we can look forward to being entertained for quite some time yet.
As for Return of the Jedi, I suspect that the reason it rates so low on so many lists is because The Empire Strikes Back was so good. Even if Jedi had been as good as its predecessor, most would have seen it as inferior; in order to be seen as a better movie, it would have had to be much, much better. Sadly, Jedi was an inferior movie to Empire in pacing, plotting, and characterization. It wasn’t a bad movie; it just wasn’t great, which is enough to damn it in the views of many. But I would suggest that both The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith were much worse movies than Jedi
I’d rate it below Star Wars and Empire but above Return and light years ahead of the prequels. Yes, there were lots of times when it seemed like a remake of the original Star Wars, but the important thing is that this was a fun movie, not leaden like the prequels.
Thank you for non-spoilery, as I have not seen it yet. (Yes, I know: Blasphemy!) But hearing that it is entertaining makes me giddy even before seeing it. As you say, that is the point.
I think TFA is a victim of its own hype and mythology. We grew up with the good stuff and the bad. This is somewhere in between, more good than bad. But of course it did not live up to the hype. The pacing was definitely uneven, but at least the cast was solid. I love that Abrams used mainly practical effects, but it suffers a little from ROTJ rome of shoving in random creatures for no real reason. But in this case CGI ones.And now that we got all the fan service and out of the way, can the next movie be about moving the story forward?
I have been avoiding trailers, social networks, news opinion pieces, movie interviews, and even muting related TV commercials. For personal reasons, I can’t see TFA until Monday (I will remain diligent all weekend), but thank you, John; In you I trust.
Would note that Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle’s lead movie critic (and one who loves *movies,* not just films), gave it a wholly non-spoilery rave review–he rated it the best of the sequels /prequels and one of the best movies of the year. Your review is more eloquent (and longer–you don’t have newspaper space limitations).
For me, a creator whose reach does not exceed his/her grasp is unlikely to create something I find compelling. But I’m really looking forward to seeing it, in the company of old friends, hugely relieved that it’s not like the prequel thingies.
[Deleted because it’s a post that really has nothing to do with Star Wars other than very tangentially. JvP, tighten up, please – JS]
“It’s not on the level of the original Star Wars (which I refuse to call A New Hope because fuck you George Lucas you’re not the boss of me) ”
Haven’t seen it yet but this is encouraging. Especially your postscript about diversity. After all the unpleasantness of the various anti-diversity groups in geekdom over the past few years having a smash hit with a diverse cast will send a very clear, very *green* (for the US anyway) message to producers and film execs that diversity is not a liability.
And if diversity in SFF is normalized, helped along by something as huge as Star Wars, then that improves the whole genre, in my opinion.
The only thing that bothered me is the amount of squeee they put into that cute BB-8 droid. Now I just *have* to get one of my own… As a girl geek I loved Rey, her way around technology, and especially (as you said) no one making a big deal about it.
This is a wonderful review of the experience of watching the film, and the relationship we have with it in the culture. Well played, sir! I also loved Abrahms’ visual references back to the original films without taking blatant advantage of some of the more obviously available “gimme” moments, and I truly adored the Apocalypse Now moment. Dude. DUDE. Such an interesting way of highlighting parallax shift. It’s a lovely thing to be able to look at these movies as constructed cultural texts with people who know and respect the culture.
slfisher: Was it maybe because it was the last one you saw after like 12 hours of movies?
And, trying to stay civil here, but if you think any of the Prequels (excepting MAYBE ROTS) are better than ROTJ, then…wow.
I’m sitting in the theater right now, 30 minutes away from the start of the movie, and this review makes me smile so much. It reminds me of my feelings about the revitalized Queensrÿche (my favorite band in high school, went the way of the SW prequels in subsequent years, now with a new vocalist they’re making better music and obviously *happy* to be on stage again). This delights me no end! Didn’t think it possible, but now I’m even MORE excited!
We don’t need to be dissing people for not liking the Star Wars film in the same order of preference as one’s self.
I think that you temper expectations well, but we all suffer from giving the original 3 a lot more credit than they deserve. When you say Ep 7 isn’t the best Sci-Fi this year, I would tend to agree, but even back then Star Wars had no such competition. Sci-Fi wasn’t a thing like it is today. Had Episode 7 come out in 1986, 1992, 2003, you would be lauding it much more as definitive Sci-fi. The tide has risen.
Your first love is always seen through rose colored glasses. As your comparison illustrates, they’re different now, but they were NEVER what you remembered either. Your memories were influenced by your love for them.
I would say from a pure cold review of this film, it is far superior to all that came before it. More emotional resonance with the characters, more investment in what is happening.
Time and first loves are weird things.
Huh. Based on your comments, Mr. Scalzi, I might actually consider going to this movie. And for me, that’s saying a lot; I haven’t been to a movie theater in close to twenty years. Just not a fan of the direction cinematic entertainment has taken for the past quarter-century or so, to be honest. But I might make an exception for this one.
.Short form, obviously on-topic:
STAR Wars set back SCIENCE FICTION FILMS (Destination Moon, 2001, Bladerunner, Moon, Gravity, Interstellar) half a century because it is not, and never was, SCIENCE FICTION. STAR WARS is “Science Fiction Lite” or SPACE OPERA.
I’ll be watching it with my wife and her brother (and his family) in a week or two when the crowds thin out. I appreciate what you say about WHEN you notice nitpicks….I was very annoyed by an egregious nitpick 10 minutes into Rise of the Planet of the Apes that ended my suspension of disbelief rather abruptly. I still haven’t tried to watch it again, although I probably should – I’ve heard nothing but good about Dawn of the….
I was very non-interested in seeing TFA, didn’t read anything about it, etc etc until I got a flyer for the big El Capitan screenings in L.A. and realized that Lucas didn’t write it. (I have sincere appreciation for George Lucas, but a great movie writer he is not.) So then I got excited, and we are going to see it, but not until February because of reasons.
Basically, the several points where the film has to bow to the tropes of the Star Wars universe mostly for plot convenience and fan service. Yes, yes, lasers and explosions and battles and the cute nods to the previous films, they all have to be in there. I get it (trust me, I get it).
This, so many times this.
The tragedy of Ep. 3 was that, had it been done as a movie, focusing on Anakin’s fall, it could have been an excellent movie — but it had to be a Star Wars movie, which meant the lasers and explosions and battles, and not enough time for other things.
To hyperextend Mr. Vos Post’s comment into metaphor: That chapter (Ep. 3) needed many fewer arias and much more recitative; I wonder how (other than by using books, where, well, you can get away with more of that ;)) we can fit that into the universe.
Maybe things went to shit with your friend. Mine just went through a phase where he got weirdly political, and started talking funny. But we still had a good time together, and he seemed to be coming out of it last time I saw him. And I’ve heard good things about what he’s been up to in the last few years.
Look, I know I’m railing against the wind here. But the prequels continue to entertain me. And when Millenials are writing cogent (if cautious) defenses of the films, while my fellow Gen-Xers rail against them in the most scatological terms (though we at least seem to have dropped the rape imagery), it makes us look like resentful Boomers. And fuck that.
Also, it’s been “A New Hope” since 1978. Complaining about it so ferociously is the retcon at this point.
I enjoyed TFA (I put it in a tie for third with ROTS, fight me), I didn’t make it out of the theater with my nitpicks. Two reasons: first, this is a very modern take on Star Wars, particularly in the dialog, and that modernness occasionally pulled me out of the movie. Second, J.J. Abrams has an almost Baysian indifference, bordering on contempt, for plot logic and sense of scale, in terms of what characters can be where to witness what events. But the movies plenty well to keep me entertained, feeling like, “Yes, this is Star Wars.”
Also, Rey is awesome. She’s the best.
I’ll hold further analysis for spoilery discussions.
Since it’s now Disney, I assume this one doesn’t start with the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos. That seems wrong somehow.
“Also, it’s been “A New Hope” since 1978. Complaining about it so ferociously is the retcon at this point.”
UM ACTUALLY: “The full title Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope first appeared when the film was re-released in 1981.”
“A New Hope” also sucks as a title. It’s the “Greedo shooting first” of episode titles.
STAR WARS 4EVA
egl: It does indeed start with a Lucasfilm logo!
Thank you for the Spoiler Mallet, John. I’m a guy that hates few things more than a crowded theater and am waiting until the crowds empty out a bit before seeing it. As a result, I’m having to absolutely limit what I read on-line.
I’m glad it’s a good film, though. I have always said that film does not have to be art, but it does have to be entertaining. J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite directors as a result of that.
*date amended, still thinks 30+ years is well outside the statue of limitations on entitled resentment* #leavelucasalone
docrocketscience: I will rail against the wind with you. The prequels are lumpier and, on balance, have more bad parts than the originals, but — also on balance — I still love them. If this movie is, in fact, better than the Prequels, then that’s great news for me, and not because I’m desperate for something to like better than something I didn’t.
@Mark Brown but presumably not the 20th CF one. The music from that was on the soundtrack album that I use to borrow from the library on LP. Its an intergral part of the Star Wars experience.
Disney is destroying my childhood!
(Haven’t seen the new film, so definitely nothing spoiler-y here.)
My opinion of Lucas as a director has been in decline for years. About five years back I rewatched “American Graffiti” and was startled at how clunky it felt. And “THX-1138,” my girlfriend-of-the-time and I walked out when we saw it decades ago.
“Jedi” was a mammoth disappointment. I saw it opening weekend with some friends who were devoted Star Wars fanzine-and-artwork fans. We all kept sinking lower and lower into our seats. As we left, one of the SW fans yelled at the line waiting to get in: “Save your money, it sucks!!!” I remember lots of pointless back-and-forth chasing on the planet, lots of pointless glowering and threats among the Force masters. And, oh crap, another Death Star, we did that already. And, oh crap, Ewoks. A planet of Wookies would have been a great payoff, but no, we get teddy bears.
There was one moment in “Jedi” which lifted my spirit: Luke dragging the dying Vader through the Death Star II through the combat chaos, to escape in the small shuttle. That was it.
Curiously, my opinion of “Phantom Menace” is way higher than everyone else’s, and after Episode 2 introduced us to Hayden Christensen as a grown Anakin, I wanted to make “Bring Back Jake Lloyd” buttons.
I’m looking forward to reading the blog posts talking about diversity in the film, but I can’t think of a good way to do it myself that doesn’t involve (mostly minor, but quite numerous) spoilers.
Hopefully in a week or so. How soon is too soon, Internet?
I saw it last night! In my opinion the fan-service bits were well integrated into the structure of the film, certainly better integrated than most product-placement crap you see nowadays. And MUCH better integrated than Lucas’s HEY LOOK LOOK IT’S A SHOUT OUT TO THE OTHER FILMS, SEE WHAT I DID THERE SEE WHAT I DID? (Okay maybe excepting the very beginning bit but still.)
It was satisfyingly awesome. Acting, directing, dialog (dear god, ACTUAL DIALOG that sounded like real people talking); plot was satisfyingly STAR WARSian. There’s no point in voicing annoyance with action sequences that fly by too fast to absorb details, because that’s How Things Are Done This Days, but still. Annoyed.
(The phrase for realizing the flaws in a show’s logic or details only after the fact is called Fridge Logic by TvTropes, in case anyone is brave enough to click that link.)
@docrocketscience, for what it’s worth, I’m a Millennial who wasn’t born until after RotJ was released, and I still think the prequel films are for the most part unwatchable dreck. There were good films to come out of the late 90’s and early 00’s, but I don’t think those were among them.
I’m excited for this one, though, although realistically I probably won’t see it until it’s out of the theaters.
This review reassures me that this movie is what I hoped it would be, a return to form.
Re: The picture of Han and Chewie….there are advantages to being a wookiee, you don’t show the wrinkles of time….but, do you get gray hair?
I saw Star Wars when I was sixteen years old. My father hated science fiction films, so I had to pay for the entire family (there were six of us, including parents). I wanted to love it, but…
I’d already been a science fiction fan for about eight years. By then, I was reading Clarke, Bradbury, Asimov, Moorcock, Ellison, Silverberg, and Delany. Star Wars felt so retro, like a step backwards. Like really great Doc Smith. Retro is fine, Doc Smith is awesome, but that’s not what I was looking for at the time. I left the cinema hugely disappointed.
Afterward, I saw every Star Wars film on opening night, even though I wasn’t enamored of any of them. I’m a science fiction and fantasy junkie, the films are iconic, so I kept hoping that the _next_ film would satisfy.
That hope was realized last night. After nearly 40 years, I finally saw a Star Wars film I liked.
@dockrocketscience, I’m sure you’re a good person with many sterling qualities. ;P
That said: Jar-Jar. Midichlorians. “How are you so beautiful?”* Jake Lloyd wasn’t bad for a child actor, but…child actor. (At least he wasn’t the director’s kid from Mad Men.) Dying of a fucking broken heart, LIKE A COMPLETE TWIT. “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” The entire universe somehow forgetting the existence of the Jedi in like twenty years.
I am so relieved to hear that the newest is unlike the prequels, and may actually spend money on it now.
And for what it’s worth, I’m either Millennial or right on the GenX cusp, and if my generation is defending the prequels, I don’t know what my generation has been huffing. Not for the first time. I like Disney, I’m cool with reboots, I find the “they changed it now it sucks” argument tedious, but the prequels, on their own merits, were shit writing.
* I actually had a guy try that one on me in a club once. Which: a) dude. If you’re going to rip off lines from movies, pick better movies, b ) my friends and I may have spent the rest of the evening referring to him as “Anadork Skyloser.” My twenties was Good Times.
The plot struck me as more of a video game plot. I go that feeling from the opening crawl. Felt like a quest out of the Old Republic games (played the first, its a good game).
The use of music bugs me. I am really not that into music at all. Far less than Scalzi. Most of the score was new and it wasn’t as good as the old one. Of all the things not to change, why touch any of the music? Inside the old score there were about 3-4 dramatic parts that the original series used to highlight specific things and it really added to the atmosphere. There were a number of plot points here when I expected the music to match up to the original and I didn’t. The music is what really made the original movie. It was like the bright shine on top of the first film that made it a gem. It gave people that dramatic feel.
Anyone who saw the movie will know which plot points I mean.
Semi-Sort of spoiler. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE. Ill keep this vague.
This is vague enough so if you glance at it, you won’t be spoiled, but don’t read it if you have not seen the movie.
SPOILER(only if you read it really closely).
[Spoilers deleted. I didn’t have to read it really closely to see the spoiler qualities – JS]
I’m happy to hear so much cautious optimism, especially after the train wrecks that were the prequels, and having seen JJTrek (gah!) It’s time we got some good sci-fi and space opera again; recent years haven’t been the best for that, but this year gives me (A New) hope..
“the fan-service bits were well integrated into the structure of the film”
That was one of the many problems I had with the Abrams’ Star Treks, too many “call backs” and shout outs in place of a decent script.
I think TFA was a little messed up on pacing if only because the film was kind of trying to tell two different stories, one of which was much, much slower than the other until right at the end.
I actually think the film might have benefited from being a little bit longer so they had more time to dwell on some of the moments and elements that you kind of wished felt less rushed. There also are elements to it that I feel like could have been better with a little less action and a little more context. I actually didn’t mind the Star Wars trademark stuff, since my major complaint about JJ Abrams’ management of Star Trek is that he’s basically making space action movies and putting Starfleet uniforms on the characters.
I did love these SW characters though, so I’m actually excited to watch them do more stuff. Given that, re-watching the first Star Wars, there almost isn’t enough happening and the characters almost don’t get enough chance to develop (without the destruction of the Death Star, the movie actually feels a little flat), I’m willing to see where this extension of the universe goes. And at least I’m not just praying it gets better. If the new trilogy is about this good, I’ll be ok with it.
I saw TFA last night with the family, and enjoyed it immensely — my 13 year old daughter referred to me as a “Level 10 Fan Girl.” Got completely sucked into the movie, and can’t wait to see it again.
I think this film sets a great base for the next two. It is in some ways a retelling of the first films, but in a good way. Abrams and co. set a strong link between the first trilogy and the next two films.I’m excited to see the directions that the next films take.
And we’ll be seeing it again next week — this time in IMAX 3D…
seen it just a few moments ago. I do agree with John in his short version. However, I was somewhat disappointed. it seemed that it was more hype than anything. (as far as the previews went.) I wont spoil any scenes, but it became very predictable through out the move.
Seeing it, I planned, at some point, if only on my iPad, did I, because it is Star Wars. The last three movies have set my expectations so low that it could only get better.
Thank you for giving me a new hope that this movie will be worth seeing in the theater in 3-D.
I was fifteen when I first walked into a movie theatre flanked with two life-size cardboard cutouts of stromtroopers – I remember everything about that theatre, about that movie, abiout the entire experience, because yes, for those of us who saw it in those formative years it really WAS that seminal. If you want to take your analogy of an old friend a shade further, John, for me it’s going to be more like going to a high school reunion – because I really DID see it that many years ago… I’m glad to hear that ithe new movie lives up at least partially to what it’s been talked up to be. I’ll be seeing it on Tuesday.
I saw all the movies in a cinema. The original three, several times (and no, I don’t have the hate for the Ewoks that so many seem to. They were weird and arguably EXTREMELY imporbable in too many ways but they were too damn cute to hate :) ) and the newer three, once each, and even that… my husband wouldn’t come with me to the last two. He saw the first one of the secodn trilogy and as far as he was concerned he was done – he IS coming with me for thenew one so hopefully it will expiate that particular evil betrayal for him. As far as I am concerned, there are several issues that loom REALLY large in that second trilog. One of them was that appalling dialogue. ANother was that light saber duel while balanced on (whatever it was that floated on a river of laval) and having a phiosophical discussion which included phrases like “In my opitnion…”. A big one was simply that if George Lucas ever feels like writing a love scene again he should go away and lie down until the urge goes away. But I endured them all because I couldn’t NOT go to the cinema and hear that wonderful triumphant blast of trumpets and start watching the screed of intro script go scurrying away into the stars. Not after that first movie, not after the original Star Wars, it was a debt I owed my 15-year-old self, and I paid it.
I am going in to see this new one on Tuesday with, well, a New Hope (if you’ll permit the petty theft) I have been trying to avoid reading anything about it but there are people whom I haven’t been able to look past – and you – well – thank you for the heads-up, and a renewed surge of excitement. I’ll write something about itwhen I get home from the cinema on Tuesday.
@elyachan, re: the revitalized Queensryche w/Todd LaTorre, that’s a great analogy. “Fan service” applies in both cases. Giving the fans what they want was only a necessary first step, however. My hope is that JJ can break some new ground for the next two films.
Almost exactly what I was thinking (only much better written, of course). I’ve even used the ‘old friend you haven’t seen in awhile’ comparison.
One of my things about a movie like this is when I walk out, do I want to see the next movie or go back and watch the originals? I want to see the next movie.
Just seen it. Speaking from the generation that grew up with the prequels and holds the opinion of ‘they’re not as bad as everyone says, but not close to as good as they could have been’, my view on the new is I liked it, and yet…
Maybe my expectations weren’t right but I came away a bit underwhelmed. I shouldn’t be looking at the climatic battle and thinking ‘this is a pretty good climax to Act 2, but I don’t know where they’re going to go for Act 3’. I agree with most everything you say; the characters were great, the diversity was great (particularly when you watch the original series and realize just how white everyone is), the visuals were good. The story though just wasn’t there. It’s very much the opening chapter of a new franchise but I think that’s the problem for me. It just didn’t feel like a complete film in its own right.
Thank you, John. I won’t get to see the new movie until after New Year’s, at least, so I really appreciate the lack of all spoilers. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind a little spoiler action, but for this movie, I don’t want to know too much before going in.
I was 11 in 1977. Star Wars was an epic space fantasy. It knew it wasn’t quite science fiction. It was more a fable, a happily-ever-after kind of story, but with oomph. I was already a confirmed SF geek and Trek fan (back before it was ever TOS). Empire was in junor high, I think, or early in high school. Awesome movie. IIRC, ROTJ came out around when I was a freshman or sophomore in college. The original Star Wars trilogy rocked. I loved all three.
I really didn’t like the prequel trilogy much, and the ending for how Darth Vader came to be, I thought was terrible. Just IMHO.
I didn’t watch The Clone Wars until I got really curious when Star Wars Rebels was about to come out. I haven’t seen all of TCW, but liked it for what it is, and I’ve been enjoying Rebels, even though it’s aimed more at the kids. It still has enough that’s good for the adults who like anime, toons, science fiction.
And…I really didn’t like JJtrek, though there were some things about that I thought were good. That had me the most nervous about the new Star Wars.
But the trailers and some of the buzz I’ve seen has sounded and looked good, like there was actual story there I could love.
Reading this review makes me want to see the movie now. I’ll have to wait, but now I want to see it. Even if I end up seeing it via online pay streaming. Characters and relationships? Diversity? It’s entertaining? It has substance along with all the thrill ride and space fantasy that is Star Wars mythos and editing style? Yay, sign me up. This is much more what I wanted from a new Star Wars movie.
…And I hope to see real Trek in Star Trek at some point, but right now, the fan-made indie projects are doing it for me way more than the two JJtrek films did. I loved TWOK.
I saw Fury Road recently. It was such a mix for me. But I was ultimately kinda disappointed. That said, I may watch it again at some point. I was impressed by Interstellar. I haven’t seen Ex Machina yet, but it looked very good from the trailers I saw.
Nothing much cogent to add, just that I am glad to hear that the new Star Wars movie is good, even if it’s not super perfect. Life has been very strange over the years. I can understand, kinda, how that space fantasy geek friend went through a rough few years there with that relationship going bad. But I’m glad things are looking up and that friend is getting it back together now. I’ve really missed that walking carpet and his droid buddies.
Or, to quote another Harrison Ford character: “It ain’t the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”
Good to see that old friend is back again and getting into what makes that friend so great. Now I’m looking forward to the new movie, at last.
“if you think the nitpickery of the Star Wars universe was positively Talmudic before, wait until the dust settles with TFA”
Talmudic is exactly the word I’d use to describe our fanboy and fangirl reactions over the slightest details from SW lore. Well said, John. And I know I’m going to enjoy this movie because even the trailers looked fun, and not just loads of fanservice on a weak plot.
Glad to hear it got a thumbs up.
Didn’t want to get my hopes up, and didn’t feel like waiting in a long, long line only to get disappointed.
The bottom line for me is that since Star Wars came out when I was 12 every Star Wars movie is going to be an event when it is released. Thanks for this review because in the last week and a half I was starting to have anxiety that I may have been fished in all along.
I was a bit nervous about episode 7 because I don’t care for the Abrams reboot of Star Trek, but I thought he did a good job here. I’d have to say this is probably the third best of the series, behind SW and ESB. I had a few nits, like [spoilers], and a few things that we’ve seen before in the series, only bigger and badder this time. I was pleased that it didn’t have anything like Jedi’s absolution of a lifetime of extreme evil by Darth Vader through a not entirely selfless act of killing the Emperor. I got to see it free, but if my wife and in-laws want to see it, I’ll be willing to go again.
I gotta ask: what’s with all the dismissals of Return of the Jedi? (If the following rant is inappropriate here, I apologize and will gracefully accept my loving correction, but I feel like someone needs to put up a defense.)
I suspect there’s a lot of memory revision going on these days. So many people say they hated it, but I was there with everyone else, and despite the dialogue and relationship issues, it was still so, so good, so close to expectations and so much better than we had any right to expect. Think of how many character representation debts it pays off. Just run through the list: almost everyone (Threepio, with a touching expository monologue, for God’s sake!) gets moments, even multiple moments, to shine, even if Han’s are mostly as comic relief. And there’re so many things it got right that it *had* to that people just take for granted. Jabba’s appearance, which generated real gasps (think of how disappointing *that* could have, and by all rights should have, been). The Emperor actually showing up, convincingly menacing and superior to Vader. Mon Mothma, an underplayed mystery with presence. The superlaser one-shotting capital ships. The cut right after Lando says “Fighters coming in!” (I can still hear the “whoa”s from the theater I was in.) Wedge and Lando sharing the kill shot. All that, and a lot more, was done right enough to support decades of expanded universe work, speculation, and fan love. In hindsight, we look for sophistication, but as entertainment and myth I’ll put Jedi up square against Return of the King’s skullvalanche and elfo-a-elephanto combat any day.
Damn it, even the Ewoks worked. YEAH I SAID IT. In the showings I saw, the audience went “aww” when Wicket plopped down next to Leia. They choked up at the stiff, smoking little body and the grieving wail. They cheered and laughed, without groaning, at the troopers and walkers looking ridiculous. Now everyone’s saying how stupid and silly those little buggers were, judging them by their size as if Yoda’d never said a word. Sorry, but a lot of this fanboyish Ewok hate didn’t kick in until it became obvious, with the cartoons, Battle for Endor etc. that the whole franchise was headed Ewok-ward. Then it became hip to discard any memories of empathizing with and rooting for them. Well, screw that. The truth is that those fuzzy, friendly little humanophagous murder monsters stole a lot of hearts. And yes, probably ate them. Yub effing yub.
Remember: if they’d set the final battle
on Kashyyyk, they’d have had to do it between a cross-dressed Harvey Korman’s instructional infomercials and some cyberjacked new-age porn. It would NOT have been cooler.
was 11 years old when I first sawtgr Wars in 1977. It Kindle my interest in science fiction, and so much of my life would be different had it not been there. I still have a much mended Star Wars sleeping bag in my linen closet, & I painted the bedroom of my condo a shade of blue to coordinate with my framed one-sheets.
I agree that it was very good but not great. there are things I will want to discuss and possibly nitpick after a suitable amount of time has passed. but what matters to me is that when the soundtrack came up and those yellow letters scrolled up the screen, suddenly I was 11 years old again
I was so excited that in fact, my expectations did not need to be that low.
Guys, there was… there was… Acting! I mean, real emotion. Harrison Ford didn’t sleepwalk through it and everything!
Also much pew pew, and BB8 is teh cute.
In 1983, Return of the Jedi got the best reviews of the whole trilogy (The Empire Strikes Back had actually gotten the least enthusiastic reception; I think people didn’t entirely like to be left hanging). And Jedi was my personal favorite, because I loved the spectacle and the super-happy ending.
Today, it’s my 9-year-old daughter’s favorite. She loves the Ewoks. That’s specifically the draw.
I can pinpoint when I decided it actually was the weakest of the series: it was when I saw the Special Edition re-releases in 1997.
I think Return of the Jedi is a movie that benefited greatly from the pent-up demand of a theatrical release after a two-year wait. (The Force Awakens may even be benefiting from something similar.) If you see it back-to-back with the other movies, with just a couple of weeks between like they did in ’97 or even on home video, Return of the Jedi is not as cathartic and it seems a bit pandering; you’re comparing it directly to the better dialogue and more interesting plotting in The Empire Strikes Back. I think sometimes we overlook how much our appreciation of pop culture has been altered by the ability to play your favorite show over and over whenever you want, as many times as you want.
(Also, Jedi was probably the most damaged of the three by Lucas’s Special Edition meddling; as much as people laugh at the Yub Nub song, I really prefer the original versions of the Sy Snootles number and the celebrations at the end.)
But it still has a lot of great moments.
The picture of Han and Chewie….there are advantages to being a wookiee, you don’t show the wrinkles of time….but, do you get gray hair?
Wookies live to be 900 years old, so that makes Han more like Chewies dog if you think about it.
I first saw the Star Wars trilogy in the early 90’s when I was a child. RotJ was my favorite because it had the best battles. I still get chills every time I hear the chorus kick in after Darth Vader threatens to turn Leia to the dark side; and that’s just listening to the music stand alone.
I saw every film in the prequel trilogy on opening night/day (depending on availability of transportation). Did I like them as much as the originals? No. Did I have vitriol towards them? No. I was invested in the Star Wars universe through the original trilogy and the EU novels and so the prequels represented new developments in the story. I wanted to know what happened; how did Anakin fall? How did Palpatine gain power? How were the Jedi wiped out? The specific presentation of that information may not have been as good as it could have, but the information itself was still valuable to me. (as an aside to Mr. Scalzi, I will continue to buy everything you make in the Old Man’s War universe because it’s interesting and I want to know what happens)
I too did the marathon. There was no way I couldn’t; the story of Star Wars is the property that has become one of the most dear to me. I wasn’t able to catch a nap beforehand, so by the time TPM started I was already two hours past when I usually go to bed and it only got worse from there. I found that starting with RotS and continuing through the original trilogy I had to make a conscious effort to focus on listening to the dialog during the talking scenes. If I didn’t and let my mind wander my brain would shut off visual input to focus on whatever I was idly thinking about because my processing capacity was so diminished. But then The Force Awakened started and my focus became laser sharp and I was more awake than ever. The movie kept me interested and entertained the whole way, and the energy lasted for a good two hours afterwards before the fatigue set in. I was cautiously optimistic about the movie before I started, but when it was over I knew I was going to see it again today (and I did) and probably one more time over the weekend. And the delay before episode VIII is going to be intolerable for me. I’m even willing to start looking into the new canon books (which I was holding out against in protest after they decanonized my EU).
P.S. I wish Disney had licensed the 20th Century Fox theme. It felt SUPER weird to not hear that at the start before the “A logn time ago” text.
@Mud: My problem with ROTJ is not with the ewoks, it’s with making Vader’s decision to sacrifice himself to save Luke after Luke refuses to make the same mistake he did an act of redemption. It’s not exactly a selfless act, and it surely doesn’t make up for a couple decades of pure evil. I’m not sure what, if anything, Vader could have done to atone for his sins, but saving Luke wasn’t it. I agree, ROTJ started out really great, but the last 15 minutes or so, with the low-tech ewoks easily defeating the Empire forces and Vader’s redemption are the things that I think about when I recall ROTJ, and I dislike them so much that I tend to forget about the great start of the movie.
Since TFA is the start a new trilogy, it’s mostly about setting up the First Order as the replacement for the evil Empire, and introducing us to the primary good and evil characters, and I think it does a decent job of that. I just hope that in #8 and #9, that if any evil characters choose to change sides and redeem themselves, that redemption is not so easily achieved as it was in ROTJ.
I think the only real point that I was pulled out of the story was when I knew that JJ Abrams just doesn’t get how big space is. It was the same with his Star Trek movies and their getting from Klingon space to Earth in 5 minutes and Old Spock looking up at Vulcan. The original SW trilogy had that feeling of bigness (it took time to get to Alderaan, even just the distant space battle seen from the Emperor’s throne room) but there was one specific point in TFA where the universe felt way too small and I was all “Oh come on!” But other than JJ’s sense of scale, I loved it.
My biggest nitpick, which actually DID throw me out of the film some, basically boils down to this (SPOILERISH): [Spoiler].
[Also, I think on Monday I might put in a thread for people to talk about the movie, WITH spoilers, to compensate for my heavy hand moderating this particular thread – JS]
@Bruce: Honestly, I get that. It does seem dishonest to me to show his “Force ghost” alongside the others; I recall that made me a little uncomfortable myself even when I first saw it, and now that you bring it up I’d leave him out of that crowd. But I think part of redemption can come from being beyond deserving it, beyond having your redemption recognized, but changing anyway. Vader saving his son wasn’t even his most noble act; ending the Sith (by dying) was. Still, burning him on that pyre would’ve been the most fitting end of him.
And the Ewoks… I think a lot of that was presentation. What the film failed to do was effectively show that the Empire was out of its element in that fight, and that the Ewoks were really in theirs, which should’ve been the theme of that battle.
Anyway, good points. I’ll be chewing on them a while.
Bingo! I’ve not read anything else that so perfectly expresses my feelings about VII, the prequels, et. al.
I saw the film yesterday without my husband who nitpicks everything. Can’t wait to take him and to watch him get caught up in this film.
@Mud: I was a lot more comfortable with it before the prequels, honestly.
Because the way the first trilogy presents things, I could see Vader’s deal as being a man who started out trying to do good, kept sliding evilward because of pressure from the Empire and whatnot, slow tragic decline etc etc. (And the worst thing he did–the destruction of Alderaan–was actually Tarkin, though Vader’s certainly also responsible.) Which isn’t an excuse, and one final act doesn’t redeem him entirely, but eh, given a sufficiently merciful cosmos and him being important to Luke, okay.
Whereas now he’s a whiny little dipshit who decided to kill a bunch of people and go evil in like five minutes because the Jedi weren’t showing him enough respect. (And also blah blah vision blah blah stupid girlfriend you shouldn’t even have had in the first place blah blah generally stupid.) No.
Death was tragic and redeeming for Vader, sure. Death is too fucking good for Anakin.
I started tearing up when I saw female X-Wing pilots. Because Jedi are cool and all, but I wanted to fly an X-Wing and only found out this year that they had actually filmed female pilots in the original movie, but cut all the footage. Not only white women either, but women of color and one with more than a single line even! That’s my victory.
@isabelcooper: Not only that, in the most recent video releases of Return of the Jedi, they went back again and (awkwardly) edited Hayden Christensen’s head onto Sebastian Shaw’s body in the force-ghost shot at the end. So the Anakin Skywalker you see is not the Anakin Skywalker you just saw freeing himself from the mask of Vader and telling Luke he was right; it’s the whiny, child-murdering git from the prequels, and he even has this weird glowering expression on his face.
DO NOT WANT. It’s the single most horrible change Lucas made to the entire trilogy, and it was one that wasn’t even in the 1997 releases.
I think this is not actually spoilery (and I’ll soon find out)
I liked the movie a lot (I’d rank it either or two three – I suspect it’s objectively a better movie than ANH, but I’m the wrong age and guy to judge ANH) but what was really interesting is that, thematically, it’s really, REALLY about fandom and nostalgia and how we mythologize the old stuff. Which is remarkably meta, and even more remarkable for actually working very well.
I haven’t evaluated it through dozens of viewings spread across three decades the way I have with the original three, so my opinion may change, but I think it’s the second-best of the movies, after Return of the Jedi. Like Jedi, it clunks and clangs in places in a way that Empire conspicuously doesn’t, but it has the same energy that made Luke’s climactic encounter with the Emperor so electrifying (sorry) running through it from beginning to end.
In a few places, the callbacks and familiar elements seemed forced or repetitive (um, also like Jedi), but most of the time it used nostalgia and fan service as tools for telling a good story better than any movie since The Wrath of Khan.
Gotta admit, at the end of TROJ I was always a bit miffed when they didn’t use the face of David Prouse, the man who actually wore Vader’s garb, when the helmet came off. David might not have become the voice, but it’s his body language that helps make Vader be such a huge part in the films.
There was no Ebony and Ivory relationship in the movie.
Thanks for a great review! We saw this last night, after reading OGH’s review. My husband’s summary was “Scalzi nailed it.”
It’s not the greatest sci fi ever. It was fun and satisfying for us as fans. Some characterisation was beautifully done, though I thought some other insta-bonding could have been better scaffolded with even a few extra lines of dialogue.
I especially loved Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s work. Ford did some great and subtle work in key spots in the film.
Interestingly, my two teens were not impressed. They were not big Star Wars fans and found the fan service annoying. They also found one actor who played a bad guy distracting, because he apparently has played goofy doofuses in the past and that took them out of the movie.
I did find that there were one or two spots where JJ’s disinterest in the limits of (real or movie) physics took me out of the movie. There’s one in particular which I thought could either have been thought through and ditched or played as much more interestingly dangerous.
I absolutely loved it from start to finish. I was *entranced* by the movie. I didn’t want to pick anything apart during, on the drive home, or even now. To me, this was as perfect as a new Star Wars movie could have been.
About nitpicking and Talmudic attitudes, maybe it’s just me and having spent too many years on comic book forums, but I’m sick to death of that aspect of nerd/fan culture. People don’t know how to just enjoy something anymore and not worry about “canon”, etc.
I plan to see it at least two more times while it’s in theaters.
I agree that this was a very good film and one of the best Star Wars films. Daisy Ridley was excellent (although I don’t know why she got to keep her accent, but John Boyega had to ditch his).
For me, the big revelation as to what makes a good Star Wars film versus a bad one came in Irvin Kershner’s commentary for the Empire Strikes Back DVD. All through his commentary, he talks about stuff in the original script he found ridiculous or childish, so took it out. It pretty much matches up with the good Lucas/bad Lucas divide (at least as I see it). Totally recommend giving it a listen.
That was not my experience at all.
TFA can be summarized in one word, lazy. Lazy plot. Lazy reveals. Lazy character development. With the resources backing it, this movie had the potential it to be truly good, not just something passably comfortable.
I didn’t hate the movie. It had enough moments to make a nostalgic fan cheer, but overall, it was standard Disney fodder, churned out on an assembly line. You begin to wonder if the people that created the movie even like the franchise or if they’re just punching a clock.
Disney did what it wanted to do. It created a 2 hour commercial to sell toys and hook children for another trilogy.
Here’s a spoiler (that’s not too spoilery), almost none of the combat takes place in space. Spacecraft are battling in planetary atmospheres. That’s because JJ Abrams neither likes nor understands space. Explains the many problems with his StarTrek movies.
I recently rewatched certain bits and pieces of the prequels, since Star Wars has been on the brain lately for obvious reasons. And, the kvetching of many members of my old-Millennial/Young Gen X cohort (born in 1983) much aside, they weren’t awful films. They were kind of the reverse of that saying, “great landing at the wrong airport.” They were a crash landing at the correct destination, if that makes any sense.
The problem was that the evolution of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader was a story that could only be told through an intense, emotional, tragic character study. What happened to him, what was done to him, would only make sense in the light of a character arc similar to that of, say, a young Palestinian being radicalized, or a teenager planning a spree killing, or a Daesh fighter born in a Paris slum. It’d be a story of grandiosity and toxic masculinity and bitterness and their corrupting effect on a good man with self-destructive impulses. It would require a supremely deft hand with dialogue and character, a willingness to depict some of the ugliest emotions and impulses a human can feel, and the nihilistic evil of a totalitarian death cult. It would not require a kooky comedy-relief character, stilted declamatory utterances, podraces, trade federations, or Senate sessions. It would not have a relatable, adorable main character, it would not star Hayden Christensen, and Natalie Portman’s adorable love interest would have had to die off much earlier.
And the problem with telling that kind of story is that it was too heavy for a generally pulpy and fun Star Wars universe, and too emotionally complex for George Lucas, and not conducive to commercial success in the 10-18 demographic or to successful toy and game tie-ins. Lucas’ original impulse to start midway through the planned cycle was the right one; the prequels were just not a story that he could tell, or that would really fit within the universe he was creating or his own cinematic and aesthetic impulses.
Which is all a very long way of saying that The Force Awakens is really where the movies should all have gone, which is to say forward, with new characters and more imagination.
I find it amusing that General Leia Organa is now a Disney Princess.
(So is Thor,BTW.)
“That’s because JJ Abrams neither likes nor understands space.”
Pretty sure it was just an aesthetic choice. We’re talking about Star Wars, here. It’s not hard sci-fi. Understand space is really *not required* to tell stories in this universe.
On the scale of sci-fi hardness, this setting is soft enough to spread over butter. So, that (and basically, everything) are just storytelling/aesthetic choices.
Plus, well, everything important was happening on planets. Did you just want an extra ten minute scene of some resistance X-wings taking out a First Order Star Destroyer in some other system? That would have been nice, I do love my pew-pew, but it wasn’t party of the story that Abrahms was telling in this movie.
I had a rather peculiar reaction to TFA. When I left the theater, I was mildly disgusted. Then when I was describing the movie to a relative (one of the few who has never seen a Star Wars movie in its entirety), it got better and better. I mean a whole lot. The more I thought about it, the better I liked it. I think it’s one of those movies that I’ll enjoy more on a second viewing. Unlike the prequels, none of which ever got a second viewing. And I think I know what the problem is: I rarely watch the original trilogy from start to finish. I’m always skipping to the Death Star battle, the AT-AT scenes, the asteroid field, skipping over anything to do with Ewoks, etc. This time, I had to actually watch the movie. Clunky bits and all.
I was very underwhelmed by the last thing I expected: the score. Sure, when the crawl came up, I was just giddy hearing it, but it was very unremarkable afterwards. I think Abrams would have been a lot better off applying the old score to this movie. It honestly almost felt de-emphasized to me.
I really enjoyed the job that Harrison Ford did, but I thought that the fire had completely gone out of Carrie Fisher. I thought the new heroes did fine. I actually found all 3 appealing, which surprised me; I thought I’d be grudging about giving them credit. Really liked BB-8, too, and I thought I wouldn’t. The villian, though… I have criticisms, but I’ll have to wait on a spoiler thread because I’d probably get malleted. And I don’t like the feel of mallets.
On the whole, though, it had a MUCH less cartoonish feel to it than the prequels. I thought the special effects were spectacular. Lots of impossible stuff going on, but so seamless that I didn’t get taken out of the film at any point. I’ll see it again with my nephews, I’ll probably own it, and I’ll see the sequel without any particular dread, and I think that’s about as much as I could reasonably expect.
As someone who grew up on the originals and mostly disliked the prequels, I enjoyed this movie a lot. Star Wars is mythology and mythology is about repeating patterns. That this movie heavily echoes the original is as it should be, although I’ll accept they went a little overboard at times.
Regarding the prequels, I actually liked TPM but mostly because it was the first of the movies to show what real Jedi were actually like. In the first movies they’re a legend and you have to wonder if they really were all that. In TPM you find out they were. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are so casual about what should be dire situations.
As for the rest of the prequels, I think Lucas had an interesting vision and no ability to deliver it. The movies are most interesting when reading overviews of the plots rather than watching them. I’ve seen AofC and RotS once each. I tried to watch them again but couldn’t get more than 15 minutes in.
With TFA the presence of good dialog, well delivered was incredibly refreshing. The new characters are solid and the conflict set up looks to be interesting. I am glad JJ is only doing one although this movie had redeemed him a bit for me after his butchering of Star Trek.
the prequels were just not a story that he could tell
Excellent analysis. Even worse, the prequel story would have been helped immensely by suspense about whether Anakin turns evil or not, and that suspense (obviously) couldn’t be there, because the audience already knows.
@David – Yeah, some ambiguity couldn’t have hurt. To make that suspense work, the original trilogy would have had to omit mention of Anakin Skywalker entirely. The prequels could introduce this Anakin character, and while we’d all know Darth Vader was Luke’s father, the tension would be whether Anakin was Luke’s father or some other relation. Or something like that.
Ultimately, however, with Lucas in charge when the prequels were made, I don’t think what we got was avoidable. It was too cartoony and kid-friendly and commercial-minded to support that story, and the casting was dead wrong. Even when shit did get as heavy as it needed to be, like when Anakin massacres the entire Jedi Academy, it didn’t have anywhere close to the heft.
I can agree with this. TFA is not a great movie, but it’s a good movie. More importantly, it’s a good Star Wars movie, and tremendously entertaining from start to finish.
Also, agreed about the characters. This was a movie with really, really strong characterization, and that makes it an excellent start for the new trilogy. The next movie, whichever direction it will go, has a really solid foundation to build upon here.
Agree with your review, John. This film’s tone is closest to the original 1977 film of any of them, which was just a delight and I’ll stop myself before spoiler-ing. The characters and characterizations are wonderful. Thank goodness John Williams returned to compose the score – the music truly enhanced the original trilogy and this one is right in line. One high point for me was when the whole audience applauded and cheered at a certain point – it felt like communal geekery which was nice. Another was when the end credits rolled, and my friend and I turned to each other and simultaneously said “Well, I need to see that again!”
Star Wars movies, best to worse:
Empire Strikes Back
The Force Awakens
A New Hope (you could see the budget constraints even when it first came out, i.e. wolfman mask in cantina scene, the lightsaber fight with 2 old men, the contrast boxes around the space ships during dogfight scenes, etc)
Return of the Jedi (actually the movie wasn’t all that bad until… FUCK YOU EWOKS!)
FUCK YOU, JAR JAR!
There are some issues with The Force Awakens, mostly in terms of sometimes wanting a little less pew pew and a little more talky talky, and some minor stuff that gets into spoilers, so never mind that for now. But, and this is what really mattered: I went in fully prepared for 2+ hours of sloggery, 20 minute pod races, and eye-stabbing boredom. And it ended up being the fastest 2+ hours I’ve seen in a while. They covered a lot of ground and they kept it entertaining so I never glanced at my watch. I never thought to glance at my watch. Hell, the movie never stops start to finish, so there is never a slow spot long enough to make for a good time to take a pee break, so skip the soda and popcorn, or you’re gonna have to hold it.
also, no spoilers, but goddamn it anyhow. A good movie makes you feel, and you’re going to feel this movie.
Carl: Almost none of the combat takes place in space. Spacecraft are battling in planetary atmospheres. That’s because JJ Abrams neither likes nor understands space.
The problem is, if JJ Abrams DID understand space, he’d have to scrap 6 movies worth of canon to do it because the first six movies get it all wrong. The story I heard was that Lucas got some WW2 footage of some B17 gunners shooting at Nazi fighters and said “Like that”, and that’s how we ended up with the gun turrets on the Milenium Falcon shooting at TIE fighters, and that’s how we got all the fighters moving around as if their main method of maneuvering were airfoil surfaces, rather than simply spin the fuselage so the main engine is pointing in the direction you want and burn. i.e. Asteroids video game or even the Last Starfighter. But again, that would require all teh ships moving completely unlike they did in episodes 1 through 6.
As for the hate on Return of the Jedi, it mainly comes down to the fact that, goddamn it, how many Death Stars are we gonna havta blow up here? Does the Empire just pull a new on out of a hangar somewhere? Can we just blow up the hangar and get all of them? Also, while its true that guerrilla war would favor the ewoks, they would have to do hit and run, hit a lone patrol, wear the Empire down over time. In RotJ, the ewoks weren’t fighting a guerrilla fight, they were fighting a major offensive, against a high priority target, and they were over their heads. A high value military base with walking tanks, I would add. And if you’re a guerrilla fighting a whole bunch of tanks, you’re in over your head. The ewoks should have been slaughtered the way they were going about it. Or the empire’s mid and high level officers are a bunch of twits too busy calling people “rebel scum” and not enough time spent in tanker school, or even basic fucking common sense.
Simple rule of any military base in a jungle: BULLDOZE THE FUCKING JUNGLE. Give yourself a few hundred yard perimeter of flat, exposed terrain, whatever the range of your standard directed weapons are, surround the base with several layers of concertina wire, barricades, mines, and so on, and then shoot from behind earthen berms. They were building the death star for years, they had some time to set up rudimentary level defensive positions. If you have tanks, put them behind earthen berms too. They only need to come out to maenuevar if they’re engaging other tanks. If they’re being invaded by teddy bears, just sit there and shoot. It’s a teddy bear/duck shoot. Fuck. FUCK!
So, Teddy bears versus mech/tanks. Tanks win. Sorry, that’s just the way it works. So, the entire “blow up the shield generator protecting the most important weapon in the Empire’s entire fleet using nothing but a band of teddy bears armed with rocks and slings?” No. Absolutely fucking no.
Of course both Star Wars and Star Trek have depended for decades on a certain techno-magical nonsense understanding of how spacecraft move through space, but both franchises had certain rules for the way they cheated the space-time continuum, rules that, if nothing else, respected the vastness of space. JJ just don’t give a f#%k, which is sad for a man who has been at the helm of the two largest space based movie franchises.
Thanks for the review. I was considering not going at all despite having free tickets. I’m glad I went. The character ‘Rey was worth it. You changed my weekend for the better!
I’m reading all these ecstatic reviews all over the internet and wondering – did you people see the same movie I did? Because, the one I watched was a hollowed out rip off of the original film, only with all the plot cut up in the wrong order, so nothing quite makes any sense anymore.
I wasn’t sure what was the point of the main quest in the film, why would it make any difference if it succeeded or failed? Why would it matter who would complete it? What was the purpose for the main battle if the quest could have been successfully completed anyway?
At least the Prequels had a grand overarching plot compensating for the shortfalls of the directing and acting. This one doesn’t have even that safety net. I lost any interest in the characters in the first quarter of the film and never regained it. Oh, and of course, you see something big and round in a Star Wars movie and “it’s no moon” – you know exactly what will eventually happen, so… *shakes his head in disbelief* …why all the praise??
Crown: “you know exactly what will eventually happen”
*exactly*? I think the end point of a particular McGuffin was predictable, but I dont think the specific path the characters took to get there was predictable. At all. I can think of one particular outcome that broke from the character’s standard modus operandi in a way I found unexpected. And yet made the movie better.
I thought this movie focused much more on characters, than on hardware, and I would consider that a major improvement from certain previous iterations.
We need a spoiler thread to discuss this in any reasonable detail, so, will just leave it at that.
Love docrocketscience’s point about the prequels. Not as good as the originals, but still entertaining. In a world where MOONRAKER exists, complaining about the prequels seems ungrateful. Also, I think Empire is a great film, and undoubtedly the best of the 7, but I don’t think it’s well-paced at all. None of the SW movies are, which flaw tFA shares.
Still, it’s Star Wars: it had the crawl, it had the main title and the end title, and it had light sabers! Plus, it’s undoubtedly the best *acted* movie of the seven by a country mile.
Hello, my name is ghostndragon, and I loved JJTrek. [Crowd responds, “Welcome, ghostndragon.”]
I have to also admit that I was completely uninterested in seeing the new Star Wars after having suffered through Eps I-III. I was never a fangirl of the originals–I found Luke to be too whiny and vacant for my taste in heroes (and I was too young to have a crush, anyway, the first time I saw the original trilogy). Even having seen them later in life, I never thought the story ever made up for the limp noodle hero. Thank goodness for Han and Chewie, who I actually found interesting. (Another admission: I found Spaceballs FAR more entertaining than the originals.)
So, the thought that JJ is involved in this film actually was a plus for me. Add to that some of the rumors I heard, and then hearing that the characters and WRITING are good, I must see this movie.
Yes, I’m a Gen X’er and not a Millenial (a term that I believe broadly lumps too many people together), so I guess it’s not surprising that I didn’t like Eps. I-III. However, another X’er I was talking to recently made a statement saying that there was no way that Eps. I-III could have been good–the plot was just too bad. I strongly disagree. I believe that Eps. I-III could have been amazing. With the right writing and focus. And a decent actor for the adult version of Anakin. But, tragically, that didn’t happen. So, now, it sounds like the right tools are finally available to make up for that tragedy. I hope that this new movie, and the ones to come, are truly entertaining as seems to be the opinion of the majority. Maybe then I can finally be a Star Wars fan.
Cross-posting SW:TFA reviews. http://thisisforkathy.blogspot.com/2015/12/when-member-of-your-own-gender-picks-up.html
Having seen the film now, I’ve been reading reviews and articles that I was furiously avoiding up to this point. The pattern seems clear. If you saw Star Wars a new hope when you were 5, nothing will live up to the fantasy you created in your mind when you saw that movie. Everything will pale, in part because you are several decades older now, life has beaten on you for years, and everyone around you told you you needed to give up childish ways and magical thinking.
Most people could watch complete garbage when they were 5 and thought it was Shakespeare crossed with Sherlock Holmes plus the Avengers. Your mind fills in a lot of the missing pieces when you are 5. And now, the force awakens does a decent job of satisfying the nostalgia of a bunch of hardened codgers while still cramming in a movie that todays 5 year olds will think is mind blowing awesome. People who saw the prequels when they were 5 often say they werent horrible.
If the purpose of a movie review is to tell the reader whether they will like the movie or not, all they have to do is provide their age.
If you saw ep5 when you were 5, this will be a good movie, but not grea5 because you arent 5. If you saw ep5 when you were 20, this whole thing seems a bit silly. If you saw ep1 when you were 5, this will probably be pretty good. If this is the first star wars youve seen and you are 5, this will probably blow your fricken mind.
Nothing can compete with your romantic, nostalgic view of ep4. And if you are 5 now, this could be your new nostalgia if the old codgers dont hog too muchof the screen.
“The pattern seems clear. If you saw Star Wars a new hope when you were 5, nothing will live up to the fantasy you created in your mind when you saw that movie. ”
“Nothing can compete with your romantic, nostalgic view of ep4. ”
I saw Ep 4 when I was 5. It blew my frickin’ mind.
The Force Awakens blew my frickin’ mind.
I agree MrManny, I think The Force Awakens is as good as any of the original films, people have a lot of nostalgia for them, but the reality is that they are just good movies as well. It didn’t help either when George Lucas couldn’t leave them well enough alone and mangled them with stupid CGI scenes.
Way late, thread is likely dead, but..
Mud, YOU SPEAK FOR ME! Jedi is the weakest of the first 3, but it’s a solid movie and the Ewok hate is just out of control. I like the Ewoks.
If this new one merely equals Jedi, it’s a win.
The Prequels were utter dreck, and that’s not old fogie nostalgic for the movies of his early childhood talking because, though I am a “Gen Xer” I didn’t see Star Wars or Empire as a kid (Jedi I think I did, but I don’t actually remember). I got into Star Wars in college, actually, watching the movies on VHS. The original versions where Han shoots first, goddamnit. Those movies worked because of the characters.
I was and remain cautiously optimistic because Abrams has shown that he is good at that bit. Plot? Oh, no. The Star Trek reboot, which was a very fun film that I’ve rewatched, has massive plot holes in it. Into Darkness was just plain bad. But the characters, he nailed. In a perfect world, we could have both good characterization, witty dialogue, exciting battles & effects AND a smart plot. We don’t live in that world, so I’ll accept a weak plot if I get the rest.
Rob in CT: “so I’ll accept a weak plot if I get the rest.”
It’s exactly the other way round for me :D
I just saw the movie. I’d agree it wasn’t a let down but neither is it something that I think I’ll queue up to go see again.
I would agree that the character development of the ‘new generation’ was reasonably strong but what felt lacking was a sense of menace from the dark side.
As I was walking out of the theater, my thought was there was too much ‘throw back’ to the original series. I found the JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek entertaining and given the parallel time line, the throw backs seemed appropriate. In this movie, it felt that there were too many similarities with previous plot points and even some of the new characters feel like echos of previous story arcs.
I also feel there is a fairly large gap on ‘how we got here’. How were the bad guys able to build up their power base? Why did the ‘good guys’ screw up again and not actually build up after RoTJ?
“Coming home” is exactly how I felt about this film. I am only a casual Star Wars fan (the non-canon Campaign podcast has done more to get me interested in the universe than anything else) but there was something magical about sitting in the theatre in front of the huge screen and hearing THAT MUSIC come on as the crawl begins. And you are absolutely right about how good and believable the character relationships are in the film, and that’s something that was sorely needed. Also, yay diversity! Like, having such a diverse main cast is great, but also, there are so many ladies in this film. Ladies everywhere, in all the scenes! It’s pretty awesome.
I didn’t mind most of the callbacks/similar plot structure to the original Star Wars… with maybe the exception of Act 3. As soon as that was brought up I was kind of like “Really? Are we doing this again? Did the bad guys not learn from their previous losses?” But it still worked fine and again, we got a lot of great character moments out of it, so I don’t even care that the plot was a bit repetitive. All those callbacks give new viewers some reference points as to what happened before, and they provide a nice grounding for veteran fans. And yes, the movie was incredibly entertaining. Definitely something I will be watching repeatedly.
I first saw STAR WARS in the 1981 pre-EMPIRE re-release. I was seven.
If I were seven years old now, I would love this movie as much as I love, present tense, STAR WARS. A seven-year-old who sees it today will not only have as much fun as I did in 1981, but thirty-five years from now, they will have the same affection for it that I do for the original.
Is it as good as STAR WARS? Well, I say “no”, because whenever I watch STAR WARS, I’m seven as well as forty-two. But I think that has more to do with my emotional connection to the context of the movie than the movies themselves.
I can’t separate myself from the films (nor do I want to), so I can’t know this for sure. But I suspect that, were I able to, were I able to watch them just as themselves without them being, y’know, STAR WARS — THE FORCE AWAKENS would be as good, maybe better than, STAR WARS.
Were there problems? Yes, of course there were. The dialogue in the original was … well, often clunky, to be polite, but it was at least unique. I mean, probably BECAUSE of the clunkiness — if the dialogue in STAR WARS was bad, it was at least bad in a consistent, recognizable way. in THE FORCE AWAKENS, there were a number of lines which could have been said by any action hero in any franchise.
But, again — is this the statement of an unbiased person? I just said — and I believe — that the dialogue in STAR WARS is in some sense better because it’s worse. That’s the sort of thing that you say, and believe, only when you love something for context outside of itself.
I understand space well enough from two decades in the Space Program, working with Carl Sagan, being an Astronomy Professor, and am just now watching JJ Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek. Yes, camera lingers on Enterprise falling through, then rising through clouds, and stuff…