Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoiler free)

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterI saw the new Star Wars flick Friday morning.  I considered blogging about it later that day, but then figured there were already a zillion reviews on the web and adding one more wouldn’t be particularly useful.  But some of my friends, including a few who read this blog, have asked me what I thought about it, so I figured a short post couldn’t hurt.

In short, I loved it.  If you enjoyed the original Star Wars movie, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  It has a similar structure and explores many of the same themes, with a new generation of characters, although the classic characters show up in supporting roles.  The movie was a fun thrill ride, albeit with some starkly sobering parts.  JJ Abrams is a master storyteller and he ensures that you will have a powerful emotional experience, particularly if you’re a long time Star Wars fan.

Of course, if you thought the original Star Wars movies were a crime against science fiction, humanity, or whatever, then this new one might not be the best use of your time.  It’s very much cut from the Star Wars cloth, and so it’s far more fantasy than science fiction.  The science of Star Wars has always been ludicrous, and this movie is definitely no exception.  However, I found the story engrossing enough that I didn’t notice the bad physics too much, except for one particular scene, which I won’t discuss because it would involve a mild spoiler.

Many of the reviews have rated this the third best Star Wars film to date, rating it the best since The Empire Strikes Back.  I think that’s a fair assessment.  In truth, given Abrams track record, I would have been shocked if this movie wasn’t at least entertaining, and that’s all it needs to be a major hit.  I read this morning that it had already grossed $250 million this weekend, so it appears to be well on its way to being that.

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31 Responses to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoiler free)

  1. Howie says:

    Awesome! I’m looking forward to it. Heard good things from several people.

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  2. G. B. Marian says:

    I’d rank it at #4, personally; but either way, it’s certainly the best Star Wars flick since the 1980s. I’m glad you enjoyed it; I quite enjoyed it, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Morris says:

    I’m waiting to see if my kids nag me to take them to see this. If they don’t, I won’t bother.

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  4. To quote Hilary: “May the force be with you.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lane says:

    I felt pretty nervous about this one. To be honest, I like JJ Abrams, but he seems a lot better at hitting the average mark than truly great. I’m thinking of how Heroes, Lost etc set up more amazing plot points than they can handle, the new Star Trek films haven’t been awful but have a lot of your mileage may vary moments, etc. Honestly my prediction was that half the fans would go in with their expectations too high and the other half with their expectations too low, and there would erupt a great flame war over whether this is the greatest film of history or just another great big stink. My plan was to hunker down until everything blowed over, and then see it.

    Instead, lots of people whose opinion I respect have been calling it genuinely good, even great, on its own merits, and I haven’t heard any really bad buzz. So I’m cautiously reconsidering my plans.

    Thanks for your review!

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  6. Lane says:

    Blew over. I meant blew over. facepalm

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  7. Wyrd Smythe says:

    It cracks me up that people are saying it’s the best Star Wars film since 1983… that’s not actually saying very much at all. Saying it’s the best SW since 1977… now that would be saying something! 😄

    I’ve never considered them a “crime” against science fiction (since I don’t consider them to actually be science fiction), but I’ve never been terribly impressed by movies that three-year-olds can love as much as their parents do.

    As we’ve discussed before, I do revere the first one for being such a game-changer in movie SF, but I’ve never been a big fan of the series. (And as far as I’m concerned, there was only one Star Wars trilogy made… any others bearing that name were a crime, not against science fiction, but humanity.)

    My prediction: These off-the-shelf max-action roller coaster amusement park ride movies, of which this is just one more, will fade and be forgotten as the next one comes along. The one thing we’re absolutely not at all looking at here is a noteworthy historical classic that will endure and be remembered.

    It’s just more of the same. Remember the hype over the last Mad Max movie? A big splash that hardly left a ripple. A year from now, this too will leave no ripples.

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    • Everything you say could be true (although in the case of Mad Max Fury Road, it’s still receiving accolades). But I don’t have an issue with a movie just being entertaining for a couple of hours. Given a choice between seeing a “significant” movie, or an entertaining one, I’ll take the entertaining one.

      Indeed, I think a movie (or any kind of fiction) must first be entertaining if it wants any real shot at being significant. As we’ve discussed before, most classics are only classics in retrospect.

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      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        “I don’t have an issue with a movie just being entertaining for a couple of hours.”

        I’m pretty sure no one does! And to describe it that way is exactly my point. It’ll divert you for a couple of hours. Maybe you’ll talk about it a bit, write a post, get into a comment thread…

        A year from now it’ll be as much a memory as tonight’s dinner. Just one more tasty meal consumed among thousands. Perhaps a bit more tasty than the last few; probably not quite as tasty as the ones to come.

        And it’ll make billions because, exactly as you imply, most would rather be mindlessly entertained than thoughtfully entertained.

        Which is perfectly fine except that too much of that leads to Donald Friggin’ Trump.

        This love of high-volume mindless exciting empty entertainment leads directly to thinking a possibly clinically insane carnival barker is a serious presidential candidate.

        [As I have learned from watching cable news, all my comments will now ultimately be about Trump regardless of initial topic.]

        “Indeed, I think a movie (or any kind of fiction) must first be entertaining if it wants any real shot at being significant.”

        Agreed. The kicker is that “entertaining” is so subjective. Some hate and fear rollercoasters, some adore them, some sorta like (or dislike) them. Or more personally, I was so thoroughly entertained by Carnage that I watched it twice in a row. At the same time, what so engaged me — the direction and acting — are not things most others would find so tasty.

        All I’m saying is that big CGI amusement park spectacle movies have become kind of a commodity and don’t strike me as being that special anymore. Just my own POV.

        Put it this way… J.J.Abrams, whatever you think of him, directing both SW and ST is a clear signal that these movies are all the same thing now. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Trump… take your pick.

        “Given a choice between seeing a ‘significant’ movie, or an entertaining one, I’ll take the entertaining one.”

        I presume you don’t mean “every time.” 😄

        You know. Because Trump. o_O

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        • “As I have learned from watching cable news, all my comments will now ultimately be about Trump regardless of initial topic.”
          Is this the new Godwin’s Law? It might be time to watch a little less cable news 😕 I can say myself that I’ve been a lot happier since I started getting my news from the internet.

          “I presume you don’t mean “every time.””
          Almost every time. Of course, I find a lot of different things entertaining. An action adventure romp, a comedy, a mystery, a techno-thriller, etc, and occasionally a thoughtful piece (as long as it’s not just a thinly disguised sermon).

          Thanks. Never heard of Carnage. I’m a Jodi Foster fan, so I might have to check it out.

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          • Wyrd Smythe says:

            “Is this the new Godwin’s Law?”

            Heh, but no. This is just practice because, under President Trump, by Presidential Edict, all conversations must, by law, be about Trump, at least tangentially (but preferably entirely). Penalties will include, but not be limited to, some really nasty tweets.

            “It might be time to watch a little less cable news”

            It turns out that cable news is behaviorally addictive! I accidentally got hooked during the San Bernardino shootings (which were like cable news crack, so very seriously addictive). I’ve been trying to go cold turkey ever since…

            Fortunately I’m starting to get bored. 🙂

            What truly fascinates me — beyond a passing interest in journalism itself — is the sociological aspects. Cable news is one of many mirrors that reflects society, and society fascinates the hell out of me. (I may not be big on actual people, but mankind is [channel Artie Johnson here] very interesting!)

            “Never heard of Carnage.”

            If you watch it, pay attention to the blocking. The various alliances the characters form is reflected in their positions around the room. That’s one reason I watched it twice; I wanted to pay attention to the blocking.

            I’m usually not big on those tight (invariably stage play) stories where a bunch of characters forced to interact start off normal and progressively break down as the piece develops. Or rather (like action films), I’ve seen so many that it takes something really special to engage my attention.

            Carnage did. In spades.

            For another fairly decent example of that sort of thing, check out Richard Linklater’s Tape. (The Breakfast Club might be a sort of canonical example of that sort of thing.)

            Liked by 1 person

          • Several years ago I lost interest in cable news, and most news talk shows, when I realized that most of the people on them were no more informed than the interested public (at best). It became apparent to me that you could predict what most of the commentators were going to say once you knew their allegiances, and that there was very little real information there beyond the straight raw news.

            I can get raw news much quicker on Google News and similar outlets, with a lot less rise in blood pressure.

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          • Wyrd Smythe says:

            There is a great deal of truth to what you say about cable news, and I don’t really want to be in the position of defending it, but it’s not quite as value-free as you paint it.

            They do have talking heads who know their topic (former military people discussing military topics; lawyers discussing legal topics; experienced political people discussing politics; interviews with people involved), and sometimes panel discussions can be quite interesting (we seem mostly past the era of everyone talking at once, thank goodness).

            That said, they are television stations and all television stations exist to sell commercial air time, so that’s a big part of the problem. It makes them tease information they should be reporting as news. (Just today, for example, they tease the topic of a Russian satellite burning up over California and Nevada to get you to come back after a “word from our sponsors.”)

            So, if raw news is what you want, this isn’t the best place, for sure.

            What fascinates me is the sociological aspects. These stations are, when you come down to it, reality shows, and they’re a rather interesting form of the genre.

            (To me, anyway. 🙂 Remember: my college major originally was TV & film production, so this stuff fascinates me in part on how they go about their business, but also on how it reflects society.)

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  8. amanimal says:

    What a present – can’t wait to open it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How much of the appeal of the Star Wars universe, to you, is just the scale? I ask because it seems to me that almost all the huge, blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy series have enormous, rich settings. I’m thinking Star Wars, the various Hobbit thingies, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, etc.

    Do you think they’d be successful if they took place in, for example, a single city block?

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    • That’s an interesting question. Personally, I’ve always had a space fetish, so if you move, say, West Side Story into space, I’d unreasonably find it more appealing (at least until the singing started) even if, as in the case of Star Wars, the realities of space are ignored. But no doubt the settings are a big draw for those wanting maximum escapism.

      But if you took the original Star Wars and moved it to a city block? Assuming you were able to preserve the hero’s journey in each, with interesting dynamic characters, I think it could still work extremely well. Imagine if we make Luke Skywalker a neighborhood kid, Ben Kenobi a retired street cop, Han Solo a local bad boy (The Fonz?), Princess Leia a business owner’s daughter, the empire an exploitive corporation, and Darth Vader the corporation’s damaged thug who is a cop gone bad. You still have the ingredients of a gripping story. (Hmmm, it’s not quite the same thing, but have you ever seen American Graffiti, the film Lucas did before Star Wars?)

      Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds like a good story … in a different genre. 😉

        The reason I asked is that I’m inexplicably addicted to Mortal Combat cut scene films. I don’t really like the blood, the characters are not overly believable and plot holes are, to be very charitable, not difficult to pick out. The dialog is occasionally funny but mostly cringe worthy and I still can’t stop watching. The only explanation I can come up with is that there’s just so much detail to pick through that the scale, in itself, is reeling me in. 60 something characters, each with their own motivation and origin, no matter how poorly written, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just weird.

        I’m working on novel 5 right now and it’s shaping up to have a pretty grand scale so I’d like to understand this before I finish.

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        • I have to admit that the original Mortal Combat movie, and the Resident Evil movies are guilty pleasures for me. As you note, the plots are really just thin excuses to set up the next action sequence, but those action sequences are done so well, with high energy music and visual extravaganza, that I enjoy them anyway.

          Of course, many people might say the same thing about the Star Wars movies, but they have more story, making us actually care at least somewhat about what’s happening to the characters in the action sequences. Still, the action sequences are its heart. Of course, this is something movies can do that books can’t. Long drawn out action sequences in books are usually boring. It’s the in between story parts that matter.

          If you’re working on novel 5, then you almost certainly have a lot more to tell me on the craft of storytelling than any paltry advise I could give. 🙂 But related to your question, I heard something a few weeks ago that makes a lot of sense. A lot of the appeal of these vast settings is all the story possibilities they contain. One reason we love Star Wars is that we can sense all the stories taking place off stage. Same for Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and other vast milieus. (Can you imagine how many books could have been written if the LotR’s world had been opened up to franchise stories the way Star Wars and Star Trek were?)

          Earlier this year, I read an interesting SF series. I mostly enjoyed it, but there was something about it that I didn’t like, but until I heard the above, I couldn’t put my finger on it. The universe in that series really didn’t offer those possibilities of other stories. Despite it’s pretty vast physical scale (the solar system), it felt smaller, less satisfying.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting. I think you might be right. Are you familiar with tvtropes? They call that stuff an off scrern moment of awesome. Normally, that’s a bad thing if it happens in your main story but, noe that I think of it, an off screen moment of awesome might be a good way to make you interested in supporting characters and minor locales.

            George RR Martin certainly does this with his almost entirely off screen Targaryens AND most of Robert and Ned’s adventures, for example.

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          • I checked out tvtropes several years ago, but several people have mentioned it lately, making me think I really should take another look at it. It sounds like it’s evolved into something more than the tropes-TV-shows-rely-on-too-much motif it started with.

            Usually figuring out what events to include and what to make backstory or offstage isn’t too difficult. Just ask yourself what or whose story you’re telling. But Martin’s tale is so vast, so sprawling, with so many people, you have to wonder how he decides what the cutoff is. I think it’s ultimately the story of the war with the Others (Whitewalkers on the show) and everything leading up to that. But it’ll be hard to say for sure until it’s complete.

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