STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) – T.’s Take

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As surprising as it is to realize what a narrative mess the most iconic film franchise is, Star Wars would be half as interesting to discuss if it were all great. As much as I wish George Lucas let this saga chronologically begin with the Original Trilogy, Return of the Jedi ends on such a satisfying note that perhaps the best way to revisit the Star Wars galaxy in a way that called for a trilogy was to go to the past. Alas, the best part about the Prequels turned out to be their meme material. Had the Prequels never been promised but a sequel trilogy were still being released at this time, The Force Awakens may have ended up a more satisfying endeavor.

It’s clear that this movie is directed by someone who grew up loving the Originals, hated the Prequels, and wants to build goodwill with his generation. The problem is that this at times gives a big-budget fan film vibe; John Williams’s musical score even has a synthetic quality to it that sounds like it was produced in a computer program rather than an orchestra. There’s little-to-no creative ambition. Thirty years after Jedi, I’d rather see something more original than stormtroopers, and certainly not these slicker ones, and that’s not even getting to Starkiller Base; the recycling of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi was already pushing on laziness. Plus, the Jedi have once again been endangered into myths. These narrative rehashings disappointed me so much the first time around that I’ve rarely allowed myself to get hyped about movies since.

At the same time, the film wonderfully captures the emotional spirit of the Originals. The way protagonist Rey is established before she even says a word is some of the most brilliant storytelling in the whole saga. The banter between she and First Order defector Finn has a lot of heart and wit, and unlike Luke and Anakin, Rey’s never whiney; she is arguably too reliable though, especially when she uses a Force power there’s only a stretch of an explanation as to how she knew about it. Star Wars has influenced so much that I tend to forget that it launched Harrison Ford’s career, and he gives his best performance as Han Solo here. Not only does the practical production design give a sense of authenticity, but the use of CGI allows for familiar sites to be shown in new ways, such as the Millennium Falcon being flown both around and into a crashed ship.

Despite what makes it compelling, its lack of imagination grates on me; if it were me in charge, Luke’s Jedi order would be thriving, and the bad guys wouldn’t be the Empire 2.0. With that, the other problem is that Force is a cliffhanging first act that I won’t be able to judge fully until the rest of the trilogy is released. While The Last Jedi likely won’t make up for what started this trilogy on the wrong foot, I hope for it to at least be as charming.

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STAR WARS (1977) – T.’s Take

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My appreciation for the Star Wars franchise as a whole may be diminishing as I’m growing older and realizing the franchise’s flaws, but there is one entry whose followups’ mistakes haven’t ruined its magic for its forty-year place in pop culture: the one that was once straight up called Star Wars.

Sure, Star Wars is a special effects revolution whose psychological audience reaction was visualized by the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark (probably), but if that’s all it were, it would have gone the way of James Cameron’s Avatar. What Star Wars really is is a thematically universal fairy tale with a relatable protagonist and a clear distinction between good and evil. Sure, Han Solo’s “heroism” isn’t as clear-cut as Luke’s, Leia’s, and Obi-Wan’s, but he’s given a redemptive arc. Why Star Wars still works so well is the sense of wonder it conveys by introducing us to the far, far away galaxy through Luke Skywalker’s eyes, and C-3P0’s and R2-D2’s before his.

It’s not dramatically perfect (it is George Lucas writing and directing, after all). I mean, come on, Luke’s still sulking about somebody close’s death while Princess Leia seems to have completely shaken off her entire home world getting blown up in front of her eyes? Obi-Wan seems more troubled by the destruction, and he doesn’t even watch it happen!

Nonetheless, while The Empire Strikes Back may be widely regarded as the best of the trilogy, and it is great (if there’s one thing I’m still a sucker for, it’s lightsaber fights, and Empire has the best one ever, especially compared to the one we get here), it needs a Return of the Jedi that’s better than what we got. Star Wars is, and always will be, the definitive Star Wars movie, the one that ignited our imaginations and introduced both a new potential for filmmaking and John Williams’s most legendary musical score.