Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG-13)

film star-wars-forceIt feels not unlike the way good remakes of classic films feel: You’re surprised that it’s decent, but it doesn’t do much more than make you want to go back and watch the original again.

 

 

 

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Let’s start by examining the playing field: Yes, I am a Star Wars fan, though not a superfan and far from an expert. Like everyone else in the world, I like The Empire Strikes Back the best, and A New Hope second best. The only film I outright dislike of the first six is The Phantom Menace; Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are flawed but not awful, though I’ve only seen them once each and am in no hurry to return. Return of the Jedi is the third-best film overall, but there’s a big dropoff between Hope and Jedi.

Going into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I figured the best we could possibly hope for was a Return of the Jedi–level quality, and even that seemed pretty unlikely. I didn’t buy into most of the world’s enthusiasm and anticipation for the film, as I think J.J. Abrams is close to incredibly overvalued and overrated. Characters in the original trilogy like to refer to things or people as “[their] only hope.” (“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”) For me, my only hope for The Force Awakens was the writing team: Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, not to mention other good stuff like Raiders of the Lost Ark), Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), and J.J. Abrams (ppplllffffttt). Kasdan especially seems key, as I attribute to him a lot of the best things about Empire. Also noteworthy, of course, is George Lucas’s lack of input on The Force Awakens. It’s hard not to notice that the best of the first six films is the one he seems to have had the least to do with. He only has a story credit on Empire—he’s not a credited screenwriter, nor did he direct.

Regarding the script for The Force Awakens, I don’t have much interest in talking about the plot, you don’t have much interest in reading about it (either you don’t want it spoiled before you see the film, or else you’re reading this after already having seen it and don’t need the story described to you), and it seems a subject best left in abstract. Suffice it to say the film follows the Star Wars formula pretty closely, but for better or worse, also feels somewhat modernized—like, four parts Star Wars, one part Harry Potter, with Harry Potter only thrown in because someone somewhere along the line decided to do so because people seem to like that these days.

Unsurprising statement of the year: The Force Awakens is better than any of the prequel trilogy, but worse than Return of the Jedi. Force is a passable film and unlike the prequels one that I might return to, but also one I never found myself all that excited by.

If you have to go to the bathroom during the movie, you’re best off doing it during the action scenes, as they all run somewhat generic and disposable. The character-building and dialogue scenes hold a lot more interest, but new players Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are a little too flat, and can’t compare when people like Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) turn up. Finn especially leads to some of the film’s weaker scenes—for example, after what he feels is a satisfying action sequence, he has a tendency to shout generic, irritating stuff like, “Yeah! Did you see that?! DID YOU SEE THAT?!” Elsewhere, new droid BB8 bears a fairly charming character design, and villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has potential, although his lightsaber looks dumb. (Where’s Darth Maul when you need him?)

Some of the choices made by Abrams as contrasted to Lucas’s choices of late are interesting. Abrams often favors practical effects over CGI (as do I, by a wide margin) and shot Force on film, where Lucas was an early adopter of digital.

I’ll be interested to see how harder-core Star Wars nerds than myself take to The Force Awakens. But from my neither too-interested nor too-uninterested perspective, it feels not unlike the way good remakes of classic films feel: You’re surprised that it’s decent, but it doesn’t do much more than make you want to go back and watch the original again. | Pete Timmermann

Note to St. Louis readers: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is showing at the Omnimax at the Science Center from a 70mm print, 1 of only 15 in the world. I would strongly encourage you to see it there, if you haven’t already bought your tickets for somewhere else and/or are inclined to see it in the theater more than once.

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