The Force is strong with this one
Okay, confession time: I was the guy who was warning everyone to keep their expectations low for The Force Awakens. Everyone’s been so amped about it, while I was the guy reminding people that there’s a non-zero chance that this movie might totally suck.
We had hints of its possible suckassery in all the trailers (an R2D2 ripoff, stormtrooper ripoffs, a Darth Vader ripoff), still more in the posters (Death Star ripoff) and merchandising (not just ripoffs, but the same TIE Fighters and X-Wings I wanted for Christmas in 1977). Everything said this thing was totally derivative.
Here’s the thing: it is. And yet it’s awesome.
I love, love, love this movie. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Yet somehow the more I think about it, the longer my list gets of all the plot elements J.J. Abrams ripped straight out of the original trilogy. That shouldn’t be possible: I’m supposed to like it less for all of that. But I don’t.
I won’t share spoilers here. I’ll just say this: Star Wars fans, this is a Star Wars movie. A real one. The kind we haven’t seen since 1983.
Most film critics make the same category mistake reviewing Star Wars films as they always do reviewing martial arts movies: they think these movies are like other movies. But they’re not. Like Elvis movies, they’re a genre unto themselves.
The benchmark for a great Elvis movie has nothing to do with storyline or performance. What matters is whether Elvis is in it. The benchmark for a great martial arts flick is similarly singular: do the fight scenes kick ass? If yes, then no one cares whether Jet Li or Tony Jaa can act.
Star Wars occupies a loftier position—the writing and acting do matter—but it still stands apart from any other genre because of this one overarching criterion: does it feel like a Star Wars movie? If not, then you get kinda sorta science fiction, kinda sorta fairy tale, but no one gives a crap. Layer a John Williams score on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it Star Wars.
This was one of the most important, most unforgivable mistakes of the prequel films: they don’t feel like Star Wars movies. Apart from getting the Force all wrong, apart from all the other fanboy complaints, they make the galaxy feel smaller, not bigger. Episode I was doomed from the very first shot, when those big scrawling yellow words said, “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.”
Seriously? Tax turmoil? And for this you send Jedi Knights? That movie was doomed to failure before the title got off the screen.
Not many critics picked up on this. They took aim at contrived dialogue, wooden performances, boring cinematography—all legitimate complaints, but they missed the bigger picture. They can’t miss it with The Force Awakens, though. This is no mere sci-fi movie. It’s Star Wars.
And I think it’s all the cribbed stuff from the original trilogy that makes the magic happen. I had braced myself for derivative bullshit, but what we got was derivative genius.
And hot damn, I am so glad to be a rabid Star Wars fan again!