As my buddy Matt noted, The Force Awakens nails the, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, they became heroes” quality of the original Star Wars — something that the prequels completely missed.
I’ve been marshalling my expectations of Episode VII for the last year, telling myself it’ll be on a level with the prequels, and only weakened and allowed myself to get excited a couple of days ago (partly because of reading Andrew Rilstone’s countdown posts, which I highly recommend). The outcome that I was able to be not only delighted, but surprised that I was delighted. I had a great, great time, and am keen to see it again in the cinema — something that I have previously only ever done for three films.
I said to my son Matthew early in the film that TFA feels much more real than the prequels. I suppose I meant two things by that. One is that, like the original trilogy, the places feel like they’re where actual people live and work — it all feels lived in rather than shiny-new like everything on Coruscant and Naboo. But also there was something about the people that was much more believable — and it’s definitely related to the wrong-place-wrong-time thing that Matt mentions.
I like that we don’t know who, if anyone, Rey and Finn are related to. I hope no-one. I hope they just came out of nowhere. If Rey turns out to be another Han/Leia child I will be desperately disappointed. And if Finn turns out to be Lando’s son (it would have to be Lando, he’s the only other black person in the universe) I will lose all hope.
Matt thinks that TFA doesn’t feel as structurally clean as the other movies, even the prequels. I’m going to have to disagree here. It lacks the glorious
inevitability of IV and the clean lines of V, but it makes at least as much sense as I or III, and way more than II.
Two more things that I loved.
First: it was a really funny film, in the way that IV and maybe V were and none of the subsequent ones have been. (I and II failed appallingly, of course, by trying to have Jar-jar handle the humour. IV and V work because of the interpersonal sparking, especially between Han and Leia.) There is a crisp, fresh wit about VII that reminds me very much of Joss Whedon’s work — a sort of Avengersy feel. (And since that is easily in my all-time top 10 films, this is definitely a good thing.) An example: Finn’s suggestion, when trying to figure out how to destroy the Starkiller, “We could use the force?”; and Han’s exasperated “It doesn’t work that way.”
Second, and this may be the single most important thing for this film, it did a great job of merging old and new. You see that approach at work in things like the updated but very recognisable ship designs: X-Wings, TIEs and Star Destroyers of course, all noticeably changed but unquestionably versions of the ships we know and love; but also things like the ship that Kylo Ren lands in, which is recognisably related to the old Imperial Shuttles.
More importantly, we see old stuff in a new light. A star Destroyer wrecked in the desert is not only a great image in its own right, but also a statement that we’re moving on from what dominated the old films. That stuff was great, but it’s dead now. Several people in the original trilogy thought the Millennium Falcon was junk, but now 30 years on, it’s so unregarded that it’s just sitting on the ground covered in a tarp. Yes, we love seeing it fly, but that scene isn’t just “Hey, it’s the Falcon!” It’s also how Rey and Finn bond, how Rey discovers she’s an awesome pilot, how Finn starts to live up to the story he’s created for himself. All the nostalgia (which is great, BTW), is not just there to wallow in; it’s used to advance some other aspect of the film.
One other thing about the experience of seeing it was very nicely captured in this blog-post:
Whereas I had grown used to waiting for things that I knew were already coming – like the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, or the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi – I was finally watching a Star Wars movie with an audience full of people who had never seen it before, and didn’t know what was going to happen. We laughed at funny lines that hadn’t yet been turned into memes, we met new characters for the first time, and we were gripped by scenes of the heroes in peril without knowing if they were all going to make it. Afterwards, I wondered if this was how people had felt when they watched A New Hope on the big screen for the first time in 1977.
(Actually, it’s not how we felt in 1977, because so very much of the
story was known from comics, trading cards, TV spots and suchlike. But
I take his broader point.)
So VII is full of win, and I am really looking forward to seeing it again.