Remember how most of the original Star Wars trilogy was PG? Then most of the prequel trilogy was PG, until Revenge of the Sith? Then they just became PG-13? This is my passive aggressive attack on the MPAA for the day. There is nothing more intense in this one than in the old ones, but it is still PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
This one is almost a little unfair. I knew that I should watch The Force Awakens before watching The Last Jedi just to keep fresh on the new trilogy. I hadn't reviewed this one previously and I have all of the other movies reviewed on this page, so I suppose that I should review this one for the website. But I wasn't watching that closely. I was making waffles for my class. Yup, I made my students watch The Force Awakens. What? We finished the unit and it was the day before midterms. I think I'm good. It's better than another forced viewing of The Polar Express. But I've seen this one a few times and it was like watching it while being on my iPhone. (I hate myself and I wish I did this right is the point of this paragraph.)
I know that this is a polarizing movie. For a guy who really defends pop culture and obsession, Star Wars gets a little dicey. This is coming from a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan, so I'm really a pot calling the kettle black. It feels like when someone doesn't do Star Wars justice, at least from the point of view of that individual viewer, it is an offense somehow. Perhaps Star Wars was such a benchmark of popular culture that anything that is somehow imperfect is less than worthy of attention. Like I mentioned, I have already seen The Last Jedi and I didn't exactly love it. But I haven't felt really slighted in any sense. Perhaps the closest I've got to feeling like those who dislike The Force Awakens is when Man of Steel came out. Man of Steel tarnished my feelings on Superman, which was very important to me at the time. All this buildup is to say that I really like The Force Awakens, despite its very glaring flaw. I'm not preaching anything new here. You've heard this argument before. The Force Awakens parrots A New Hope to an almost criminal level. I can't even deny it. I heard this review before I even saw it the first time on opening day. I even tried ignoring those elements when I was watching it, but you really can't help it. The major beats of the movie are all there and it is kind of a bummer. J.J. Abrams had to know that when he was making this movie. I heard that he wanted to atone for that when he signed up to make episode IX. But I had to wonder why that choice was made. These moments were intentional. There was no way that he wasn't aware that he kind of was remaking A New Hope with new characters. The best metaphor I could come back with was breaking a bone just to reset it. The bad taste in our mouths from the prequel trilogy was still present. While I was excited that Disney had wrestled away control from George Lucas, no one knew if this was the best movie. What if Star Wars ended up being just three good movies. The safest bet was to show that the new franchise was going to be closer to the original movies than the prequel films. The Force Awakens was almost doomed before it got off the ground. But the thing is, it is the best version of that movie that we were going to get. The Force Awakens did what the prequels didn't. The Force Awakens is actually fun. It is really fun. I love all of the new characters. The jokes really work in the film and it balances nostalgia and storytelling in an extremely compelling way.
I have to avoid accidentally reviewing The Last Jedi while I write this because I want to write this review with what I learned about the next film. This movie establishes such a nice worldbuild. It takes what worked that was dirty and scruffy about the original trilogy (not a nerfherder, despite my use of the adjective "scruffy") and then added on to the world. It's nice to imply what happened in the past thirty or so years in this universe. I remember that when I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens, I wasn't really all that impressed. It was only when I saw the second trailer and I saw that grounded Star Destroyer that I knew that something was going to be special about the environment. Sure, it's kind of a bummer that Jakku is just Tattooine all over again, but that's okay to some extent. Rey embodies this world in a way that Luke Skywalker never really could. Luke always somehow seemed privileged, that the world around him never really broke him down. Tattooine was always this rough place that was full of criminals, slaves, and sand people. Yet, Luke always seemed unphased by the world around him. Rey, however, is the product of Jakku. she is strong and resilient because she has to be to survive this world around her. Her introduction to the world around her is absolutely perfect. Watching her scavenge Star Destroyer parts tells so much about her character without having to have this long monologue about having to survive. The way she is treated just having to trade for that disgusting / sweet looking self-rising bread establishes why Rey should head this franchise. Similarly, I like how Finn's origin is very self-explanatory too. His story is very short and sweet, yet everything we need to know about him can be contained in a short sequence. A stormtrooper who doesn't like to kill is a great background. The world of Star Wars has done all the heavy lifting on establishing stormtrooper background that twisting that narrative is actually a fairly logical step. Having him best friends with Poe Dameron continues that idea quite nicely. Of course, a stormtrooper probably doesn't have a ton of friends. That makes the chemistry of the three pretty solid. Let's thank God that Oscar Isaac is still in this universe. When I read that Poe Dameron was supposed to be a tiny part that was supposed to die pretty quickly, I got bummed. Isaac is what this franchise needs. I don't know why a trinity of characters works better than just a duo, but it does help. Considering that The Force Awakens is a copy of A New Hope, the characters introduced only have elements of their predecessors, but seem to be whole characters in an of themselves.
I don't know what unholy contract was given to Harrison Ford that he not only came back to do another Blade Runner movie, but to also do a Star Wars movie. The guy has spent most of his life trying to distance himself from any franchise outside of Indiana Jones and he came back to do Han Solo? SPOILER ALERT: I realize that he got his wish out of this one. Ford, at least this is what I heard, wanted to have Solo killed at the end of Return of the Jedi just so people would stop asking him to play the same part again. Yeah, he got his wish in this one, but it was such a Han Solo movie that I don't think I minded. He went out on a bang. I always loved Firefly because it was what the movies would have been had Han Solo been the main character. Han Solo has always been the heart of these movies and that has to be a weird irony because he is the gruff one of the three. Giving The Force Awakens to Han Solo makes these movies really worth watching. My father-in-law loves Harrison Ford far too much and the second that my wife and I got out of the theater, we told him that he had to see this one immediately. That didn't happen. Instead, we showed it to him on a TV during a hurricane in Florida and I'm 90% sure that he fell asleep, but he said that he liked it. So that makes me right, I guess. The movie is fun before Harrison Ford shows up, but Han Solo and Chewbacca on screen together hit my nostalgia button just right. But these characters might transcend nostalgia. (I'm not actually allowed to comment on how characters transcend nostalgia when I'm actually nostalgic for these characters, but this is my blog and I can establish my own tone.) For a guy who hates Han Solo, Harrison Ford managed to capture a lot of the same beats that he had for the character in the last movie. I often see Harrison Ford phoning it in, but there were moments where I could imagine that he enjoyed playing the part. The chemistry between him and a giant dog were great. Even better, I loved seeing Solo as a mentor figure for both Finn and Rey. He was this (very temporary) father figure for Rey and he treated Finn like he treated Luke. Adding the "Big Deal" nickname to Finn was absolutely perfect. It established the dynamic between the two characters extremely well.
This movie establishes such an aura of mystery that I wish I had got to have seen played out. (I can't help but comment on The Last Jedi!) I wanted to have the mysteries of this world unravel over the course of three movies. The Last Jedi solves many of these mysteries, but I kind of want an alternate reality that gets some of these mysteries have gravitas. I think the first scene with Luke in The Last Jedi establishes what Rian Johnson thinks of these mysteries, but I'll have to deal with that in my own way. I kind of want to rewatch this movie AGAIN in context of The Last Jedi, but I already have too much on my pop culture plate to have time for that. We're also moving, so I have to clean out my DVR. There might be some time before I can really knock out a ton of reviews, but I'll try my best. Either way, I enjoy The Force Awakens, but acknowledge it has its faults.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.