Post-Awakening

Have we all seen the new Star Wars now?  It certainly seems like it considering that the film has, as of this writing, overtaken Avatar as the highest-grossing domestic release ever with a box office take now running north of $760 million.  According to Boxofficemojo.com, Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit that figure in 20 days.  At that point in Avatar’s run, the movie was at $374 million.  This isn’t to say that the films will hold to similar longevities at the box office, but Star Wars is definitely going to make a lot more money before this is all over.

We can say definitively that the movie has been an economic success, and the critics have been positive as well.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is currently running at 93% positive on Rottentomatoes.com.  By way of comparison, the previous Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, sits at 79%, and it is by far the best reviewed of the three prequels.

So critics and audiences seem to like the film, but let’s get to the truly important question: Did I like the film?

Well, yes.  It’s fun, visually-spectacular, and the performances and dialogue are far more entertaining than just about anything in the prequels.  I saw The Force Awakens twice and actually enjoyed it more the second time around with the baggage of expectations removed.  My second viewing was in IMAX 3-D, which, I have to say, was almost too big, and the 3-D added nothing (no big surprise there).

I like the new characters, particularly John Boyega’s Finn, and I thought Daisy Ridley did a fantastic job as Rey.  I also appreciated that they went with a villain who is having emotional struggles of his own.  I found that far more interesting than just another stone-cold badass.  Darth Vader was awesomely terrifying when he first appeared in A New Hope.  Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren comes across that way at first as well, but it’s quickly revealed to be something of a façade.

I had two main problems with the film.  First, as has been said in many other places, I was not thrilled that the plot of The Force Awakens mirrors the original Star Wars so closely.  One friend I saw the movie with called it “A New New Hope.”  For me it brought to mind Jurassic World, which I discussed in THIS POST from September 2015.  At the time, I wrote:

They played on my love of the original movie, and it worked not just for me but for millions of us old enough to have seen the first Jurassic Park.  Put more cynically, rather than creating a new experience for us to fall in love with, they used our own fondness for something from our pasts to elicit an emotional reaction.  It’s a nostalgia attack.

Like Jurassic World, The Force Awakens is basically a remake of the original film that also acknowledges the original as having happened.  Yes, TFA acknowledges the similarities in some spots, particularly with Han’s, “So, it’s bigger,” line when discussing Starkiller Base, but that doesn’t excuse the overall lack of an original story.  I’m not sure whose decision it was to play things so very safe with the plot, but I sincerely hope that we go in some new directions in Episodes VIII and XI.

My second issue with the film is more of a personal matter.  In THIS POST from June 2014, I wrote the following:

I think what bothers me isn’t worrying about whether the movie will be good or not.  It’s that I didn’t need more of the story after Return of the Jedi.  I never followed the Expanded Universe or read the post-Jedi novels.  For me Return of the Jedi ended, and they all lived happily ever after.  I know that sounds childish, and it’s absolutely coming from the child I used to be.  He fears that something terrible is going to happen to Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, or C-3P0 in one of these new movies.  Stories abound that Harrison Ford wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi.  Maybe now he’s getting that chance, but that’s not what I want to see.  Haven't they been through enough?  Luke lost a hand, found out Darth Vader was his dad, and got zapped by the Emperor.  Leia was tortured for information, chained to Jabba the Hutt, and shot.  Han was tortured, frozen in carbonite, and...okay.  I can't come up with a good third one for him.  The point still stands.  The adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise should go on forever and ever, but Luke, Han, and Leia earned their happily ever after. 

Go me on that Han prediction, eh?

Not really.  As soon as Harrison Ford agreed to be in the film, I think most of us saw this coming.  And with the plot of TFA so closely mirroring the original Star Wars, it quickly became apparent that Han Solo was serving the Obi-Wan Kenobi role in the film.  His death in particular (killed by the villain he was once close to) is very similar, right down to Finn and Rey’s reactions, which echo Luke’s upon seeing Obi-Wan’s end.

My first time watching TFA, even though I was fairly certain it was coming (I went into the film without specific spoilers), Han’s didn’t sadden me.  It just pissed me off.  And not because he was taken out by his over-emo kid.  It was because it had happened at all.  The happy ending I got 32 years ago at the end of Return of the Jedi was officially gone.  Han’s dead, he and Leia didn’t make it work, and Luke ran off to stare at the ocean for a long while.

Bite me, JJ Abrams.

Not really.  I want to see what happens next.  And this year’s standalone film, Rogue One, about the team that stole the original Death Star plans, could be fantastic.  When do we get a trailer?

A couple of scattered thoughts before I end:

-          Having seen The Force Awakens, I am now very curious to know what George Lucas had planned for these films.  Supposedly all of his ideas were rejected.  What were they?

-          My son suggested that Disney should remake the prequels now.  A day after he said it, I saw an article suggesting the same thing.  I have no idea what the Disney/Lucasfilm deal entails, but I can’t imagine it involves even the possibility of ejecting three whole movies.  That said, there’s no reason that Disney couldn’t make standalones in the prequel era.  The Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons have already gone a long way to redeem the mess the prequels made of that period.  Well-made live-action films could do the same for the audience that hasn’t seen or won’t watch the cartoons.

-          Han absolutely knows who Rey is.  I watched his reactions closely the second time I saw the film, and that definitely seems to be the way Harrison Ford is playing it.  At first I thought that maybe she is Kylo’s younger sister, but she’s old enough when she’s abandoned on Jakku that she should remember her parents and brother.  I know the prevailing theory is that she’s Luke’s daughter, but that would require a lot of backstory.  Who did he have a child with and what happened to her?  Did Kylo kill her?  Regardless, Han knows (Or knew.  Dammit, Abrams!).  And, based on the hug at the end of the movie, Leia does too.  

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter