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Star Wars: the Force Awakens

I had Monday off, and so the whole family went to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens. This is going to be a spoiler-free review, but that also means it’s going to be full of vague mentions, so sorry for that.

My expectation was for a live-action version of Star Wars: Rebels. I got that, so I’m a very happy man. I also got to watch a new Star Wars movie with my daughters, a movie that actually had a female action hero. My daughters got their own Luke Skywalker – though I was always a Han Solo kid myself.

I’m going to start and end with the positive. Frankly, my biggest criteria in judging this movie was that it feel like a Star Wars movie. Correction: that it feel like my kind of Star Wars movie. The prequels never did that, and parts of SWRotJ didn’t either. SWtFA is Star Wars through and through. JJ Abrams got it. Or his crew got it. Somebody working on this got it. This makes me very optimistic for the Star Wars franchise going forward. We’re going to see some real, honest Star Wars movies. One a year in fact.

Now I’m going to leaven my enthusiasm with some complaints. I can’t say that I was blown away by SWtFA. It met my expectations but did not exceed them. I actually can’t really blame the filmmakers entirely for that. I do blame them for one weakness in the film: it is very obviously the first part of a series. Whereas SWANH was self-contained, much of SWtFA is setup for what is to come later. I don’t think that was really necessary. I can understand why they approached it this way, but I think they were wrong.

Also, this movie is perhaps too much of an homage to the original trilogy in general and SWANH in particular. The beats from ANH are all there, though the pacing is a bit different and there are some diversions. It’s also a very “paint by numbers” movie, in which nothing is really surprising. If you understand Star Wars storytelling, you know where this movie is going and how it gets there.

Finally, this is not a subtle movie at all. I’m not saying the original trilogy were steeped in subtext, but there was a lot that remained unsaid or which didn’t float so close to the surface. Everything in SWtFA is overt.

But I honestly don’t fault the filmmakers entirely for these shortcomings. JJ Abrams had to do a lot of things with this movie, and the main one was to reassure fans that their franchise was back. These movies were for the people who loathed the prequels. These movies had the original trilogy DNA and nothing from the prequels. The movie also had to introduce its own trio of heroes and darling droid while also bringing back the old heroes and droids, bring their history forward, filling us in on the most important aspects. The new villains also had to be fleshed out, with new paradigms and tropes set removing our expectations based on the old Empire and its terribly imprecise Stormtroopers.

Yes, there were shortcomings, but these new heroes are fantastic. I’ve heard a criticism that Rey is a bit of a “Mary Sue,” which to me is ridiculous. She is an almost perfect analogue to Luke Skywalker – purposefully so I would assume – and I didn’t hear anyone complaining about him being a “Larry Sue.” I don’t want to venture that it is because she is a female hero, but I’m not sure to what else to ascribe it. I guess she isn’t as annoying as Luke, but then I don’t believe Luke was made purposefully annoying.

Seeing the old crew back was also amazing, and I think – as many others have said – Harrison Ford gives his best performance here in a while. He seems energized, engaged, and enjoying himself. As a Han Solo fanboy, it was great getting a glimpse of grandpa Solo, and seeing that he really hadn’t matured at all.

And what a beautiful movie. There are some very amazing vistas that are part of this journey, and the cinematography does them justice. Up there, on that enormous screen that fills one’s vision – at least where I usually sit – it’s a bit breathtaking, which is a nice addition to a movie that is already exciting and kinetic.

I give Star Wars: the Force Awakens 4 light sabre hilts out of 5. This is a movie you need to see and need to see in a movie theatre. It is gorgeous, it is exhilarating, and it is fun. It gives me hope for the Star Wars franchise, but it’s a flawed movie. I can live with that.

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