A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Star Wars changed the way how movies were made, how they were marketed and how they can fuel cultural discourse. Which is why I took 3 months to pen my thoughts on Star Wars The Force Awakens so that I can be freed from its ubiquitous, suffocating and lingering hype that was cranked into full force by Disney months before the movie was released.
First off, I liked the movie. If I hadn’t watched a single Star Wars and I’m not watching it with the cultural weight of the original trilogy and (to a lesser extent) the prequels, J.J.Abram’s Star Wars The Force Awakens is an amazing piece of action blockbuster movie that is entertaining, funny and endearing.
The movie is tightly written and directed. No scenes felt too long and the action set pieces fit very well within the narrative of the story. As a movie, it works but never strays too far from the formulaic Hollywood action movie template. There is enough exposition to give the fast action sequences emotional weight by revealing the right amount of background motivation for the characters that you actually cared for them.
The area where the movie works best is, believe it or not, in the acting. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac gave memorable performances. There were criticism on Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren but I think that they are unfounded. He brings a much needed vulnerability and complexity to the antagonist which gives the writers of the proceeding espisodes something to work on. The biggest kudos is reserved, of course, to the new 2 leads. Ridley and Boyega has a chemistry that really sparkled on screen and it is always a delight to see them play their parts with so much enthusiasm and gusto.
On a mythology perspective, this movie had the uphill task of making fans believe in the Star Wars saga again. At its best, Star Wars’ memorable characters and dialogue melds itself into our common cultural discussion. Was this movie strong enough to do that?
Let’s break it down.
In terms of story telling, Star Wars The Force Awakens has a monomyth structure that follows the classical hero’s journey. This is similar to A New Hope. Stories that follow this structure work if the audience is vested in the character in question, which in the case of this movie is Rey.
Next, the stakes against our hero should, at first glance, look insurmountable. Rey’s world was threatened the moment she got herself entangled with rescuing BB8 and running away from Tie Fighters with Finn. She got herself entangled with the forces of The First Order when she was captured by Kylo Ren. With these series of events, Rey’s original insignificant world where she makes a living as a scavenger was irreversibly changed. This was the same motivation that pushed Luke off into his journey.
Finally, the hero figure would discover a secret magical power and prevail. In Rey’s case, her powers in the Force was “awaken” when she touched Luke’s (and formerly Anakin’s) lightsabre. Unwilling to accept her destiny at first, she embraced it towards the end of movie and won a lightsaber duel against an injured Kylo Ren.
This movie followed the same structure to a fault. While I understand the filmmakers’ motivation to find new audiences, fans (like me) felt that we had somehow seen all this before. Don’t get me wrong- the movie didn’t “reset” the Star Wars universe like how J.J.’s reboot of Star Trek did but it kept the universe in a holding pattern, almost like waiting for the rest of the people to catch up with the die-hard fans.
Therefore, at the end of 2 hour long movie, there is a satisfaction that one had just watched a very entertaining piece of movie set in the Star Wars universe. The movie has set up new characters that you care about. The stakes are getting bigger. And the mystery is about to be peeled off. The filmmakers set off to make Star Wars relevant again and they had really succeeded in enlarging the fan base.