I saw The Force Awakens three times on opening day. First at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 2am, secondly on the Disney lot at 10am and thirdly at the Arclight Hollywood in the evening. I don’t know how JJ and the crew does it, I was wreck after 24 hours of this stuff.
Nothing can repeat that seismic moment of pop culture history that was the release of the first Star Wars movie. It was so complete, so far ahead of its time, and delivered on every level, that a repeat of something so unique was unlikely. One aspect that the Star Wars saga has been able to maintain is surprise. They are all highly unusual films, filled with things you’ve never seen before, wrapped in a very solid, archetypal story. That’s where I thought The Force Awakens failed. It had a lack of surprise.
It does so much right. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were superb, arguably more comfortable than even the returning veteran Star Wars actors. There’s a subtle leap in visual effects that brings the CG work up to the level of the original trilogy, and can finally match the ambitions of the creators’ imaginations. Kylo Ren is a welcome addition, as are Maz Kanata and Poe Dameron.
Apart from the general retread of the story from A New Hope, one thing that stuck out as false (and likely won’t hold up to repeat viewings) were the blatant callouts to the original trilogy. The holochess set, the training remote, Han firing Chewie’s bowcaster, were all played for nostalgia. At that moment, the actors knew they were in a movie and were communicating to the audience directly to say ‘remember this?’ One of Lucas’ tenets for the world of Star Wars was that nothing should call attention to itself (something even he failed to stick to), but it’s a shame it went that way here. We also got the same ships, and stock Star Wars locations, so there was a heavy dose of familiarity, too. Minor nitpicks, and only bothersome if you’ve absorbed the universe over hundreds of hours of viewing.
The new aliens seen in Maz’s castle, Jakku and the Eruvana were pretty weak. The scene with the Scottish guy, the little freaks of Kanjiklub, and the godawful rathtars will have people scratching their heads for years to come once all the hype has died down. Or maybe it’ll end up people’s favourite scene in the movie. It’s moofmilking at its best.
What they did do, they got absolutely right. The filmmakers just didn’t get overly ambitious. In fact, looking through the Art of The Force Awakens book, there’s a much more interesting and maybe more original movie that didn’t get made.
They chose the safest route, and the balancing act of ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’ and ‘this shouldn’t even work’ was lost. That is a ridiculously high bar to judge something against. Maybe it’s more sensible to look at where it ended, which has potential to make for an absolutely mind-blowing sequel.
If they dare to do it.