The Force Awakens: A Look Back

It’s interesting to me how a narrative can build around a movie. Enough people express an opinion online, and it can warp the way you remember a film or think about that film in general. Some of this explains the general antipathy I feel toward the Star Wars prequels. I haven’t rewatched the second or third, mainly because of the constant reminder from fans about how they’re not good. Prequels = Bad.

The same thing had happened to me, to a smaller extent, with The Force Awakens. I really enjoyed the movie in the theaters. Saw it twice, actually, which is super rare for me these days. And I watched it at home once after I bought it. But the longer I hung out in online geek circles, the more I read the critiques about how the movie’s just a retread of A New Hope. Until that’s what I thought it was myself. I still liked it, but I’d say I wished it had been a bit more original.

Seen from a broad viewpoint, the argument holds water. You’ve got a desert planet. You’ve got a big attack on a huge weapon at the end. The weapon (spoilers!) explodes. You’ve got a novice Jedi learning his/her powers. Fair enough. I didn’t go back to the movie to check and see just how similar it was. I accepted the general argument and moved on.

Until Sunday, when I rewatched the film in 3D on my sweet home theater system, in preparation for tonight’s(!!!) viewing of The Last Jedi.

First off, I can say the movie looked pretty amazing in 3D. There was one shot of a star destroyer that just looked like it was hovering in my living room. That’s always cool. Good stuff.

But beyond that, I have to say the movie is really good in and of itself. People always use Empire Strikes Back these days to gauge how good a Star Wars movie is, and I think that’s not entirely fair. They’re not comparing it to Empire today. They’re comparing it to the memory of Empire, and I’ve blogged before about how that’s a fight no movie can win.

Taken on its own, I loved The Force Awakens. I still found it thrilling, even knowing the direction it would go. The twists it would take. It’s great fun, and not just from a fan’s perspective.

And the accusations that it’s just a retreat of A New Hope? I think they’re bogus. Yes, there are some general similarities that are clearly intentional. But the movie is always putting a new spin on things. Finn’s narrative is totally new. Yes, there’s a “cantina” scene, but it does very different things than it does in A New Hope. Are we really going to get upset that there was a desert planet in the movie? Just how many ecosystems can a planet represent?

The biggest complaint I could see would be the finale, where there’s the huge attack on Starkiller Base. But even then, a lot of the dogfighting is just trim for the story that’s really happening on the base itself. For Finn and Rey and Solo and Ren. The pew pew pew moments help keep the action vibe going. The heart of the film is totally different.

In other words, I was wrong to listen to all that bellyaching about how the film was just a retread. It isn’t at all. Honestly, the experience made me start to question how fandom works in the age of digital. In the era of not just experiencing a movie, but then wanting to talk about it incessantly after you experience it. To pick it apart. To think about it. Debate about it. That’s all fine and good, but I don’t think we should let that process take away from the experience itself.

The Force Awakens is a blast, and I’ll happily defend that opinion to any and all complainants.

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