The Force AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie that demands a second viewing by most filmgoers – fanboys and casual observers alike. The reason for a repeat is rather simple. The heightened expectations surrounding the film’s release left most audiences in a state of diminished awareness, capable only of following the action from Point A to Point B and forming immediate visceral reactions: good, bad, loved it, hated it. Our eyes were wide and unblinking, but also unfocused on the less obvious and without the needed peripheral vision to incorporate all aspects of the production into our criticism.

The good news is that The Force Awakens is worth a second look. Knowing what happens allows the viewer to sit back and appreciate the technical merits of the movie, while analyzing the strengths and shortfalls of the story. To do so most effectively, the viewer must see it in IMAX. That is not the case with every film. The Transporter Refueled sucked, blew, and bit as much in IMAX as it did in a conventional theater. The latest Star Wars is another matter. Seeing it in IMAX during an afternoon matinee in an almost empty cinema is a completely different experience from the elbow-to-elbow, regular 3D, so-so screen, popcorn chomping, seat kicking, cellphone checking, kids to the rest room every two minutes hell many of us suffered through the first time around just so we could see the movie before someone spoiled it for us. With IMAX, you can not only see the grains of sand flying through the air on Jakku, you hear them whistling through the wind as well.

It also becomes apparent that the most frequently heard criticism of the movie – that it is simply a remake of the original (and only with Star Wars is the original number four in the series) – is not completely accurate. Director J.J. Abrams, working from a script he co-authored with Lawrence Kasdan, did not make A Newer Hope. He, in fact, cannibalized elements from all three films of the original trilogy and gave them a shiny new cover made of state-of-the-art special effects and his own generic science fiction/fantasy sensibilities. This observation is not meant as a defense of Abrams. The core of the initial criticism stands – The Force Awakens sorely lacks originality. It is a nostalgic look back at a film series that relied disproportionately on a sense of nostalgia for action movies from long ago.

That may well be why A Force Awakens does not have the emotional resonance we might have expected. We welcomed the opportunity to revisit old friends, but our emotional investment has waned, and insufficient work is done by the director and screenwriters to reignite it. Inexplicably, Abrams chooses not to show the most dramatic event since the death of Darth Vader, but, instead, has Han Solo (Harrison Ford) recount Kylo Ren rebelling against Luke Skywalker and killing those training to be Jedis in a few lines of flat dialogue. He wastes an actor like Max von Sydow in a throwaway role, when someone with that talent could be the presence that Christopher Lee provided in the prequels.

Instead, A Force Awakens becomes the high school reunion in which we can not get over how old everyone looks. And for the record, Carrie Fisher does not look terrible in the movie, but she does sound terrible. It’s as if she is wearing ill-fitting dentures and decided to leave the bottoms out because they hurt too badly. No one can deny that voice work is important. We lost James Earl Jones as Darth Vader and got a rather nasal Adam Driver in return, when he’s not speaking through a sawed-off vacuum cleaner hose. And who in the hell thought Snoke was a good name for a villain? Supreme Leader Snoke sounds like someone Captain Underpants would do battle with.

Speaking of appealing to the children among us instead of the child inside us, it’s a shame that Abrams passed on the chance to discard some of the more juvenile trappings of the series and move toward a mature level of entertainment. Perhaps it will happen in the next film. Specifically, the Muppet forms of alien life that hang out in bars throughout the galaxy need to be jettisoned like garbage from a star destroyer. Droids need to be strictly limited and their screen time rationed. And for God’s sake, please find a story that doesn’t involve shooting a big round thing that destroys planets out of the sky.

The second viewing does allow for some hope. The ending is as effective as when seen the first time. The newbies – especially Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn – validate the initial impression that they are strong additions. And the sequence when Rey takes hold of the light saber is promising. The roughly 45-second sequence is arguably the most important part of the movie. Past, present, and future comes to her in a jumbled vision, and we are left with the impression that all the clues are there. Hey, isn’t that the telltale rear end of the Millennium Falcon leaving the planet when Rey is abandoned on Jakku? Wouldn’t that mean that Rye’s parents are…?

Star Wars: A Force Awakens doesn’t deserve an A or a F. The film grades out at the B- level. You could even argue that, for now, “Incomplete” is the fairest assessment. Where the series goes from here will go a long way in determining how good the first leg of the trip was.

 

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