It’s strange to experience movies like Star Wars in both our connected age today and as a father/adult with very little time for being a fan. After watching the movie several weeks after its release, I am now in the process of consuming more podcasts and written analysis about the movie than all the 7 movies are long1. In that context, it’s also challenging to say anything that is really feels new. On that note, the following review contains spoilers.
Famously, George Lucas drew his inspiration from many movies and particularly those adventures shown in the 1930s. A reoccurring critique of this Star Wars is that it appears to just take elements from the original Star Wars and not much else. To me it is like saying a bottle of water came from Fiji and if you pour it into another bottle it now came from the previous bottle. The question should more be was the new Star Wars successful in channeling the spirit of the originals? Arguably, not doing so for the prequels is what caused them to feel empty2.
Star Wars Episode VII is as much a reboot of the Star Wars universe as J.J. Abram’s Star Trek was to its heritage. In both we revisit the original characters and places, or archetypes of these originals. Star Wars starts on a desert plant, much like Episode IV did. It features a loner protagonist with budding Jedi powers that goes on a journey towards combating evil and finding meaning. The movie entangles its protagonists in a mild romantic relationship—is that the PC way of describing Luke & Leia’s relationship in the originals?—and will undoubtedly remain very subdued in its expression. It features an antagonist wearing a black mask and another one that looks like pure evil (the bad guys always travel in pairs). The parallels are purposefully endless and, to the cynical fan, result in a quite familiar (read= possibly boring) storyline.
But this movie was not written for the fan of the original. It was created for the child in all of us, or a child period. The best way to enjoy this movie is to be in the moment, watch the amazing manifestation of a universe, the planets and characters within it. When you see the first adventure unfolding — a robot looking for its master, a young protagonist falling into the story by seeming accident, old friends rejoining the search, you can’t but buy into this journey. But even so, it made a terrible error in movie logic towards the end (don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled). It woke up C3P0 without any explanation to the viewer. But that’s minor in the xx of the movie and can be explained in future sequels.
As a final note, there is another way that the movie is different from its predecessors. Star Wars falls under the science fiction genre, but is technically a fantasy story, similar to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The reason is that Sci Fi is aspirational, it presents a vision as something that may someday happen. That includes societal changes, such as our attitude towards race and gender. The prequels did not push the boundaries in that regard, rather it could be argued that it very much maintained the status quo, featuring certain forms of racism and perhaps genderism as quite normal 3. A New Hope changed this part, by introducing a strong female lead and a prominent black protagonist as well.
To close with a rating, even though this depends entirely on perspective. Did it repay its existential debt to previous installations of Star Wars? Was it well-directed and well-told stand-alone movie? How well it fit within the Disney marketing mantle? In that order, it would rate it as: 1. Somewhat; 2. It worked as a stand-alone film (with minor faults); and 3. Looking at the marketing around it and the record-breaking box-office results, absolutely. I’m excited by the thought of this movie and all the ones that are too follow. This is the new Marvel universe and what the Star Trek movies could have been (let’s wait until movie 3 comes out this year and the tv-show starting in 2016). It will depend entirely on execution, but Disney seems to have this in spades. Very much looking forward to future installments.
- Some of these include the Slashfilmcast episodes 346 and 347, The Next Picture Show podcast episodes 9 & 10, John Gruber’s The Talk Show episode 141, and the Incomparable Podcast (too many episodes to count). ↩
- I can see why George Lucas chose to start from a blank canvas for episodes I – III. They were prequels, so they had to bring some originality. And, as a creator, I’m sure that it’s not enjoyable to just repeat the same thing. But the original spark that episodes IV, V, VI had was gone. ↩
- I heard a podcast lecture about Star Wars as a fantasy many years ago. You can read a write-up about the article here. ↩