The Force Awakens

Close to two months on from its release, after five cinema viewings, and long after the trending and the hashtags that I could attach this piece to for views have ebbed and waned over time like Obi-Wan’s commitment to a lightsaber fight, I thought it was now, finally, just about the right time to review this film.

I’m gonna talk freely about it, so SPOILER ALERT. Also, just in case you need it, though I may not use all:

PT – Prequel Trilogy
OT – Original Triloy
ST – Sequel Trilogy
TPM – The Phantom Menace
AOTC – Attack of the Clones
ROTS – Revenge of the Sith
ANH – A New Hope
ESB – The Empire Strikes Back
ROTJ – Return of the Jedi
TFA – The Force Awakens
SW – Star Wars

“Oh my dear friend… how I’ve missed you.” 

A lot of reviews and blogs and articles went with the amusingly loaded opening quote, “This will begin to make things right”, spoken by Lor San Tekka (the actors name, Max Van Sydow, is almost more of a Star Wars name than his character’s is). However, I found Threepio’s final line, spoken to the recently awoken R2 D2 in the final few scenes of the film, to be more poignant, and more of a meta-moment – the style and feel and fun and escapism and all round brilliance of a Star Wars film being the dear friend whom we have all missed, yet have just spent the last two hours catching up and being reacquainted with, as if no time had passed by in estrangement.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is fantastic. The word “perfect” is fairly useless, and wouldn’t really be true if used, but, even after repeat viewings and time to reflect, the film makes me feel like using it. It is exactly what it should have been, needed to be.

Regarding its place in the canon: It is decidedly superior to the PT – against each individual film and against the trilogy as a whole. One thing you could argue in favour of the prequels, however, is that they were braver than TFA is. Intra-galactic politics of war and peace, a much more vast range of characters and locations, across many a central and side storyline, the prequels unashamedly took the raconteur’s risk of adding a great deal of complexity in depth and breadth to the idea of a Star Wars film. However, it didn’t, for one reason or (and) another, work out. The three films were stifled for it, and not only did the politics etc. not come across anywhere near as well as it needed to in order for it to work, the other, more crucial aspects and elements of a Star Wars film, which these new additional prequel elements should have been alongside and secondary to, were almost entirely lost. Yet it was far from all loss on the risk taken with the PT. Firstly, they are good films. Watchable, entertaining, interesting stories. Secondly, Duel of the Fates and Across the Stars. But thirdly, most importantly, what they attempted to achieve, the combining of these new elements and ideas to the feel and style of the OT, was more than fully achieved in the shows, books, games, and comics that were spawned by the arrival and the content of the PT, both the stuff that was contemporary with the new films, and the stuff set elsewhere (elsewhen?).

As for whether TFA is equal to the OT films – yes. For me, undoubtedly. And yes, I’m including Episode V (though I’m not so sure it’s as good as this entry in the canon). TFA is a continuation, feels so completely at home alongside its chronologically closest SW neighbours. In story, pace, performance, humour, aesthetic, tone – in every aspect it is peer to each film of the OT, is the best Star Wars film since 1983, and is peer to the best Star Wars stories to come out of any of the non-cinematic iterations, even including Knights of the Old Republic, the previous holder of the “Best Star Wars Thing Since Jedi” belt – by my count, at least. Of course, TFA was never going to match the OT, particularly ANH, in terms of subversive originality and experimental trailblazing in film-making and storytelling. This is a sixth sequel opening into a very different cinema landscape, it’s job was never to be a genre-blending and game changing phenomenon, but to be a reinvigorating entry in an established franchise, strong and equal to the others in all those aspects I have said that it is.

I really don’t know where to fit this in, so I’ll just say it here and now: I think “Han Solo” is said way more times in TFA than throughout the whole of the OT.

“You changed your hair.” 
“Same jacket.”

Episode 7 is not, as so many people claimed to varying exaggerated degrees in that strange little period where half the Internet decided to try desperately not to like the film, a carbon-copy shot-for-shot remake of ANH. If anything, it’s about 30% ANH, 30% Empire, and 40% it’s own new Star Wars adventure. I saw some people, in articles or comments, breaking down, side-by-side, the plots to 4 and 7 in order to prove how much of a uncreative rip-off it was, but this invariably involved mapping out ANH, and then simplifying and stripping TFA until it fit the criticism. As for the rest of the criticism, most of it boiled down to “I with this had happened instead”. Which is fair enough, except that a great number of people leveled those criticisms at TFA as if they were something objective and actual flaws in the film. Contrarian nonsense with clickbait titles. (Something I, thankfully, have never been known to do.)

One minor criticism that I found interesting and came up somewhat often was that Snoke ought to have been a practical effect, make-up and costume, and for him to have been entirely CGI was unnecessary, and didn’t quite work. Given that in SW reality Ren and Hux, in their scenes with Snoke, are interacting with what is essentially a computer-generated image, it certainly felt right, worked and didn’t take me out of the film. Presumably Snoke will continue to be CGI, Andy Serkis in motion capture, in the next one or two films, so it is left to be seen if the effect holds up when he is in non-hologram form. But given how perfectly the completely CGI mo-cap Maz held up amongst both human actors and a room overflowing with practical effects and costume-aliens, plus the immense expense account the makers of the next two films are going to be playing with when perfecting any visuals, I can’t see CGI Snoke being anything but fitting when he is properly sharing scenes with Darth I-Wish-Granddad-Were-Still-Here and his angry babysitter.

“I feel it again… the call to the light.”

Kylo Ren? Adam Driver? God. Damn. What a superb character, conceived, designed, written, and performed brilliantly. To have Ren begin the film seeming like a fully fledged Vader, only to end it behaving more like Anakin from AOTC – genius. From calmly strolling around, issuing orders, threats and executions to one and all, to losing his temper in front of an officer like Vader never would, shaking with fury and confusion when he asks “What girl?”, to becoming almost petulant and incredulous with Snoke about Rey’s resistance, screaming at Finn and dispatching him with ease, facing down again the girl that he has heard so much about, that he has become so afraid of: the gradual reveal of what Ben Solo is really like, and how others really view him, particularly Hux and Snoke, is so masterful that every time I re-watch it, I am convinced again by the opening scene that he is as established, confident, and dark side as his hero was, stunned by his personality-revealing smashing of consoles, and affected by his plea on the bridge.

“May the Force be with you.”

What has become, with each viewing, more and more definitely my favourite moment was a scene that we all knew must happen, in one way or another, yet I never thought of as potential favourite, or that it would be the most affecting. It is the scene in which, with no fanfare, no dramatic reveal, with nothing more than her theme music, which I have heard innumerable times since first hearing in 1997, playing gently, under and above everything, Leia appears. The anticipation and the reveal are so perfect, so gentle, like the music. The C-3PO moment is wonderful, and the perfect length of time so as to be unintrusive. And then only the two remaining, the looks, the silence, the dialogue…

Flawless.

 

 

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