A spoiler-free blog of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Reserving tickets for an early Saturday morning screening, I thought I could avoid the chaos on opening weekend. Unable to reserve IMAX seats anything better than second row, we chose the 2-D screening at a local theater just a 5 minute walk from home. Arriving 45-minutes early, we managed to get 4th row seats. When the lights dimmed and the trailers rolled, I was relieved we finally made it without any thing spoiled.
Every screening teases you with trailers. We were no exception. Batman vs. Superman was followed by Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman sequel, and final Captain America: Civil War. When the Lucas Film logo projected, you could hear a pin drop. There was not a single cough, sneeze, or murmur when we read “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”. Every single audience member had an obligation to carefully read every word of the opening crawl. So we begin our review.
The first act
Unlike The Phantom Menace, the premise is very simple. I was almost surprised, after many years, the foundations of the newest chapter would be a subtle one. The execution of the story, however was not. TFA uses the basic technique of introducing characters in pairs even if some were more important than others. Instead of getting an origin story, TFA puts into spotlight two characters, Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who have already experienced their origins and about to enter a new chapter in their lives. The first act was the best, since the original trilogy, to capture the magic, the nostalgia, and imagination of Star Wars. The pacing was patient when it needed and exciting when it should. The use of practical effects succeeded bringing the audience back into the Star Wars galaxy without the thousand-yard stares or self-indulgent CGI. Simply put, the opening 1/3 of the movie was brilliant.
The second act
As TFA begins to unfold its plot, it brings in characters, old and new. The players of The First Order, the political structure that holds what’s left of the Empire together, are introduced. Thanks to trailers, we learn they still maintain a formidable military and fantastic economic infrastructure to manufacture their weapons of galactic destruction. There is still “The Resistance”, and still in resistance mode after decades. What is nostalgic, never changes, and here is where we revisit Han Sola, Princess, turned General, Leia and the mighty Chewbacca. It’s almost parts IV and VI blended together; under-funded rebels using lo-fi technology, a festive Catina with villainy, treachery, and scum, and clashes with stormtroopers in a forest. While the first act succeeded convincing the new Star Wars is like the old, the second act succeeded with the old Star Wars working in the new.
The third act
The final act had to accomplish three things; finish the movie, open the door to the next chapter, convince or coerce you to accept the new generation. It is the weakest of the three acts. Partly because in each of our hearts, we had our idea where the story should go – and it won’t. First, the movie does end but it is most unoriginal. That doesn’t take away the visuals, but you may have seen something similar before. Second, Star Wars does extend its hand to open the door to part VIII. Finally, it undeniably seats some of our new characters in their new lead role.
What are it strengths?
The Force Awakens, captures your attention. You will leave the film with questions and willing to talk about it. And that’s a sign of an effective film. The use of practical effects was probably the best filmmaking decision.
What are its weaknesses?
It may not be the film you’re looking for. But it was almost everything opposite to The Phantom Menace. The die-hard fans of Episode I, will probably dislike TFA. The story, the plot, the execution is nothing original. The credit and blame goes to the director. Most every, nuanced critique I had with The Force Awakens, lies directly on the director.
Did J. J. Abrams did a good job?
There is a solid reason why he was chosen to sit in the director’s chair. He’s able to take a big budget requiring epic visuals, to fold it into a franchise with as little risk as tolerable. In other words, with $200 million+ budget, he’s going to have to pull off a movie that doesn’t offend too many while able to make $2 billion or more. That is no small feat. Equally noticeable, is Abrams’s follies. Everything that didn’t work in his Star Trek (2009) reboot, struggles here. He has particular strategies, choice of casting and character development, and plot devices he favors. I wonder if, in The Force Awakens, some had been salvaged from the cutting room floor from Star Trek.
It is a good, “fresh” movie. While I reserve the original trilogy in a special place, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is far above any of the prequels. No more, will we demand if the next part be better than the prior. It is another successful cash-cow for Disney.