The Force Awakens: Initial Reactions, Mostly Spoiler-Free.
Well that was a hell of a thing.
I’m writing this post a mere hour after the movie has ended. I’m going to try to be as spoiler-friendly as possible.
Seeing a film that I’ve been so eagerly anticipating is always difficult for me. Sometimes I hype myself up so much that I end up loving something in the moment and hating in the morning. See: Star Trek Into Darkness. With The Fellowship of the Ring, I was able to hit that golden spot where I adored that film as I watched it, and loved it for years to come. But most of the time I end up managing my expectations so much that I have a muted response to it, only realizing how much I love it later. I think that might be the case here.
Ultimately, the story took every scrap of the Original Trilogy and threw it together into one movie. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m reminded of the Commedia dell’arte, the form of Renaissance Theater performed in masks. Characters abided by archetypes, and performed ultimately familiar situations for the audience. For a long time, I’ve been convinced that Star Wars is its own subgenre of Science Fiction-Fantasy instead of a specific story. After all, we’ve had decades of expanded universe content, where the audience has certain expectations for what will transpire: the overpowering enemy, the mystical guru, the duel, the rogue. All of these are present in most incarnations of Star Wars regardless of medium. And what The Force Awakens does is breathe new life into the franchise, reminding us of why we loved it to begin with. The Force Awakens was as much of a look back as it was a promise to the future.
I relish the thought of a day that remarking about the diversity of the casting will be unnecessary. For the moment, however, I will remark that I am glad that such a powerhouse of a franchise is catching up to the reality of the global human experience.
The new cast was terrific. Rey and Finn in particular had terrific on-screen chemistry. I can’t wait until the next installment to see how their characters progress. Unfortunately I don’t think Oscar Isaac was served quite as well; he spent a great deal of the film separated from the other characters. I hope that future films weave him into the emotional arc of the film more strongly.
As for the returning characters, it was incredibly satisfying to see Han Solo again. Harrison Ford inhabits the role that made him famous with such ease and grace that it’s hard to believe he was away from it for so long. And ultimately, many of the strongest, most emotional moments of the film involve him.
Minor Spoilers for the next two paragraphs, but nothing big.
While it was a thrill to see Carrie Fisher again, I’m tired of seeing her wringing her hands in a command center. I want a Lightsaber in her hand. #LightsaberForLeia or bust!
I thought that the opening of the film was very strong and engaging. The middle chapters dragged. I want to take JJ Abrams by the shoulders, shake him vigorously, and tell him to stop showing planets being destroyed from the surface of other planets! TALK TO NEAL DEGRASSE TYSON IF YOU WANT IT CLEARED UP WHY THIS IS STUPID! Ahem. But, the film had an emotionally satisfying third act, that actually had me start crying.
If the film had a weakness, it was the tiny little winks to the audience in reference to the Original Trilogy. I could have done without the Holographic Chess Board powering on. But ultimately this will be edited out in the MacKinnon Cut, coming to you in 2016!
I had no serious complaints with the film. There wasn’t much that had me rolling my eyes. My skepticism was turned on, and I didn’t find much in the way of plot holes. Like most movies where I’m grappling with my expectations, I am eagerly waiting to see it a second time. It’s usually the second time that I get more emotionally involved.