Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens initial thoughts

I think enough time has passed now that I can post this without worrying about spoiling the movie! That said, this post does contain spoilers, so if you have not seen The Force Awakens yet... go see it first!

Star Wars is pretty much the best thing ever. I have loved Star Wars all my life, so I approached The Force Awakens with a little trepidation. Could the new trilogy live up to the original trilogy in a way the prequel trilogy hadn't?

I must confess that, by the time the movie came out, I had utterly failed to keep my expectations low. I got hyped about the trailers and I loved the interviews with the actors as they promoted the movie. I went and saw the movie as soon as I could in order to avoid spoilers. As I waited in line with my wife, I was genuinely worried that some troll who had seen the movie already would pass by and shout out a spoiler. That was how worried I was that something would ruin the experience for me!

Our hours of waiting in line were rewarded when we got into the theater and sat down in our favorite seats. The movie began, the music kicked in, and I felt my heart pounding in my chest. This was it. I remember thinking that, no matter what, in the next two hours I would see the new Star Wars movie. After all those months of waiting and anticipation, it was finally happening. As the first scenes played, I was struck by the realization that I would no doubt rewatch these scenes through my life.

I was still worried about whether the movie would live up to my expectations. Things seemed pretty dark as the First Order attacked the village, and I hoped the film would not get too grim. Then Poe said, "So, who talks first?" and I couldn't help but laugh out loud. That moment was like J. J. Abrams telling me: Relax. Enjoy.
As I watched The Force Awakens for the first time, there were several times when I looked at my wife with a grin on my face, thinking this is just what I wanted. I loved the new characters Poe, Finn, and Rey, and the friendships that formed between them. I loved Han as the grumpy, reluctant father figure. I loved the weird aliens in Maz Kanata's castle, and Maz herself as the knowledgeable ex-pirate. This was space adventure. This was Star Wars.

One of the moments that really hit me was when the X-Wings soared to the rescue over the lake. The music swelled and Poe Dameron told his squadron, "Head straight at them. Don't let these thugs scare you." One of his wingmates responded, "We're with you, Poe!" These were truly heroes in the Star Wars tradition: fearless in the face of evil, trusting and supporting their friends. When Poe shot down 10 TIE fighters in a single sequence and Finn exulted, "That's one hell of a pilot!" his reaction could have been mine.

The other scenes that made me the most emotional were the scenes with Han and Leia together. I loved what they said to each other, and I loved what went unsaid. The writers were smart not to give the returning characters too many scenes together, because it would have taken focus off of the new characters and their relationships, but every scene with Han and Leia was gold.

Of course, I also have to talk about the scene where Han Solo died. While I was sad, the way he went was fitting. He gave his life trying to redeem his son. It really brought his story to a fitting conclusion, as the devil-may-care smuggler finally found something worth dying for.

If there's anything that was a bit of a let-down to me, it was the Starkiller Base and the fight to destroy it. We had already seen two Death Stars in previous movies, and simply increasing the size and range of the latest evil base was not enough to make it interesting. During the climactic showdown, I was more engaged with Finn and Rey's fight against Kylo Ren. By comparison, Poe's dogfight against the TIE fighters and missiles was hard to follow and hard to get into.

I was also not quite sold on the rathtars. They felt a little too cartoonish in their design and animation. I suppose that helped make them less scary for kids, and I'm glad of that, but the tone of the scene didn't quite mesh with the rest of the film. It felt like the writers felt the need to insert some weird creatures and some action sequences, regardless of whether they advanced the plot.

Though they weren't as strong as the rest of the movie, the scenes with the Starkiller Base and the rathtars were still entertaining, and they didn't detract much from the rest of the film.

Given how much I loved the characters, the humor, the action, the sets, the costumes, and the sense of adventure, I really think that The Force Awakens is an excellent film, and a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga. I saw it three times in theaters, and I was still cheering and clapping the third time. Now I'm looking forward to buying my own copy when it comes out in April. The Force is strong with this one!

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