(WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS)
My initial viewing of The Force Awakens was on opening night at 2am and I went in with a strongly positive bias toward Star Wars, wearing a new X-Wing t-shirt to reflect my inner fanboy… so yeah, I was pretty pumped to say the least. The audience was filled with true fans at that late hour and we all collectively groaned aloud at the seemingly endless barrage of previews that preceded the movie and broke out in applause when STAR WARS once again, at long last, appeared on the screen. Cue that timeless music! Just seeing the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo again brought a tear of joy to my eye, and based on the near standing ovation I certainly wasn’t alone.
The energy in the theater made it an experience, but it admittedly skewed my opinion of the movie. So I went again this past Sunday (partly to snag one of those limited edition AMC posters) to get a second sampling.
While I enjoyed the film, my nagging thought both times was that it felt much more like a reboot than a sequel. The key plot points of A New Hope were undeniably recycled, with a few parallels to Empire Strikes Back tossed in as well.
Important intel stored in a droid? Check. Except it’s Po instead of Princess Leia that passes it on and BB-8 is the droid instead of R2-D2. Key character crash lands on a desert planet? Check. But this time it’s Finn instead of two droids. The main character living a humble life in the desert discovers she has Force powers and becomes a hero? Yep. Rey = Luke Skywalker. A little wrinkly old creature that helps guide our hero to the right path? Yep. Maz = Yoda, except she’s “no Jedi” and is orange. Maz’s castle on Takodana, filled with miscellaneous creatures from across the galaxy is very akin to Jabba’s Palace, right down to the funky band.
Do we have a planet-sized base where the bad guys can fire a planet-destroying energy weapon? Yep, got that too. Except this one is bigger and destroys multiple planets in a single blast. And rather than generating it’s own power like the Death Star did, it absorbs and unleashes the energy of a Sun. Death Star = Starkiller Base. Even the solution for destroying the threat is the same. Disable the shields with a small team (Han, Chewie, and Finn) so a small X-Wing fleet can target it’s weak spot and blow the whole thing to bits while the scenes cut to an epic lightsaber battle. And lest we forget, the bad guy dressed in familiar black killing a major character toward the end. Not to mention the father/son dynamic being rehashed, albeit the other way around.
There are many more similarities, but I’ll end it there.
A Force Awakens is clearly guilty of being unoriginal. It reuses previous plot points with minor tweaks, adding a new spin on a classic but a spin nonetheless. This was likely due to Disney and JJ Abrams being terrified to take any big risks on the $4 billion investment made in buying the franchise from George Lucas. Although killing off Han Solo and doing so in a way that wouldn’t anger fans was an impressive feat. I almost think that’s the main reason they did it, to mask the lack of balls behind the rest of the script. Either way, it was the right time to say goodbye to Han Solo.
I’m far more curious than ever now to see what Rian Johnson does with Episode Vlll since he’s a small-time director (best known for Brick and Looper and 3 episodes of Breaking Bad, including the brilliant “Ozymandias”) and ergo will be far more likely to take risks and deliver something truly new. Abram’s movie may have woken up the franchise, but I suspect it will be Johnson that really gets it out of bed.
Objectively I’d give the movie a C+ due to it’s lack of originality, which weighs very heavily in my book. But aside from that it got nearly everything right. They showed refreshing restraint with the CGI which made the film more believable, the acting and directing were both equally strong, the lightsaber battles were intense, and the Star Wars universe as a whole never looked more visually impressive. And we were introduced to the coolest new Jedi since Qui-Gonn Jinn (both are so much better than Luke Skywalker in my opinion).
As such, my subjective judgment is still quite strong with the Force. B+