Well, that was fun! By now, most people in a galaxy, really, really milky have seen Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the J.J. Abrams-directed film that kicks off the third trilogy in the Star Wars canon. If you still haven’t seen it yet, just get off the Internet now, what are you still doing here?!
Let’s take a second to appreciate this moment. The great Aubrey “Drake” Graham once said, “What a time to be alive.” What a time to be alive, indeed. I was first introduced to Star Wars through the theatrical releases of the Special Editions in 1997, and in 1999, I was able to experience my first “New Star Wars series” moment. I was only nine years old at the time, so my ability to really soak up the moment was weakened. I enjoyed the prequels like most people did upon first seeing them, however, we all know how those aged.
Maybe it’s because I’m 25 now and with the prequels in the rearview, I can look at Episode VII with much more clarity, but there is something truly magical about seeing a cultural touchstone like Star Wars be brought back to life with new blood. Regardless of your feelings for Disney and the astronomical amounts of money they are making off of this movie, (The Force Awakens has already made a billion and has not even opened in China yet) the sheer amount of joy this film has brought myself, for my friends, and many others I’ve read about, it just makes me feel really, really good.
The other day, I was reading some internet commentary on initial reactions to the film. One was from a parent who took their 10-year old daughter to the film. During the scene where Rey uses the Force to pull Luke’s lightsaber out of the snow and away from Kylo Ren, she looked over at her daughter to see a huge smile across her face. It brought tears to her face, and mine too. A whole new generation of Star Wars fans has just been born, and it’s a sight to see.
After that first incredible weekend and seeing it twice in the theaters, with a third trip certainly in the works, it’s amazing how beloved this story is. With years of prequels backlash and worrying about how J.J. would manage the colossal weight of expectations, being in the theater with friends and applauding and cheering, even during the freaking opening crawl, was truly awe-inspiring. Everyone in the theater was splashing around in their innocent childhood memories of seeing Star Wars for the first time and it was so much damn fun.
So far, the biggest gripe most have with this film is pretty damn valid. The plot structure is so similar to Episode IV: A New Hope it’s almost laughable. While this certainly ruffled my feathers too, I get the feeling that this could very likely be the work of Disney safe-guarding their investment in the franchise. There is no way Disney isn’t fully aware of the prequels backlash. The Force Awakens had to be a sure thing, and if that meant keeping the general story in ridiculous lockstep with Lucas’ first film, it was a small price to pay. It’s an unfortunate way to look at things, but it makes sense. I have a hard time imagining the plot constructed by Kasdan, Abrams, and Arndt was so similar to A New Hope in the first few drafts.
This might have been a blessing in disguise however. If Disney’s demands to the keep the storyline as safe as possible were indeed incredibly strong, that might be a reason for why some of the newer characters are so compelling. This is clearly Rey’s story, and rampant speculation has already begun across the web as to what her relation is to a bevy of characters. Is she Luke’s daughter? Why is she so strong with the Force? Who is the family she is referring to? Is Finn the cute boyfriend she is looking for? These are all hard-hitting questions that good characters make us ask and ultimately make for a quality film.
Is it perfect? No, of course not. We saw maybe five minutes of Captain Phasma and all Gwendoline Christie got to do was briefly reprimand Finn and may or not have gotten herself thrown in to a trash compactor, and that was only after she so willingly lowered the shields on Starkiller Base. But I care about these new characters and their story. Something I could not say about Anakin, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Padme, or the entire Gungan race.
Rian Johnson is up next, and with the weight of immense criticism seemingly lifted from the release and success of The Force Awakens, this should give his script much more room to breathe. He did a marvelous job with creating a fascinating, lived-in world with sci-fi thriller Looper. His creativity and imagination should be in full swing in Episode VIII.
The Force has awoken, and so what if it isn’t a morning person? All it needs now is a shot of espresso, and Johnson is one hell of a barista.