Friday, December 18, 2015

Initial and Somewhat Spoilery Thoughts on Star Wars 7

Most of the early Star Wars reviews coming out say something like, “a triumph of nostalgia!” Other phrases that spring to mind are ones like “history repeats itself.” Personally, I might modify the old classic, “you can never go back” by adding, “in some ways it only gets better.”

As a fan of the originals, and a child at that time, I loved almost everything about this return to Star Wars. It knows exactly what it is and does its job perfectly. It takes the old magic, improves some of the stuff that wasn’t that great, and takes advantage of the advances in technology, largely brought about by the original film.

The story follows the same beats as the original 1977 film. If it weren’t completely dependent on the originals for both context and internal history, it could almost be seen as a reimagining. (The dependence can’t be overstated. Anyone watching this movie without having seen the original trilogy will be lost, and will miss most if not all of the humor.) In reimagining the 1977 it improves on a lot:

The acting here is light years ahead of the originals. For the most part they only lean on one actor from the first film, and that is a plus. (There is one performance here that takes me out completely when the actor is onscreen.)

The original, disjointed, double-climax from 1977—where they escape the Death Star and then come back to destroy it—is woven together with intercutting, concurrent action.

The new characters of Finn and Rey are much more compelling than either Skywalker from the previous films. Here we get resourceful, determined, conflicted, and fun instead of whiny.

And, while Abrams follows the original plot beat for beat, he doesn’t hesitate to add stuff that worked earlier, like here we get a Yoda character, and the Emperor stand-in, both of whom were not in the story in 1977.

But there is also the weaker stuff. It would be hard for a film—however high in quality and craft—to completely supersede a film as ground-breaking as Star Wars:

Darth Vader is (of course) missing. He was the villain that made the first trilogy work, and there is no worthy replacement here. Kilo Ren doesn’t measure up. Where Vader was evil and scary, Ren is vacillating, weak and—well, maybe we do have a whiny character after all.

My biggest struggle is with the death scene. Any viewer of Star Wars saw it coming. After all, once you realize they are redoing the 1977 film beat for beat you even know who it is going to be, and when it is going to happen. However, it doesn’t have the same essence. Obi Wan and Vader were fighting. Ben was not losing, and he sacrificed himself to inspire the heroes, make himself stronger, and help the escape. In this film, the only person who doesn’t see it coming is the one who is killed and it feels a little foolish as a result. It does inspire our heroes, but it doesn’t strengthen our favorite character. He is simply dead.

All that, and this is still a fun, wonderful film. There are so many moments of humor and fan service that play perfectly on a first viewing. “What about that ship?” Everything involving Chewie. The red arm. And that last shot.

That one we have to hold out judgement on. Some are calling it the best last shot in Star Wars history. It depends entirely on episode VIII.

I hope I like this one as much on multiple viewings as I do now. Time will tell.

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