Weekly Watch: The Force Awakens

I’m a sci-fi/fantasy geek writer – you thought I was going to pass this one up?

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past two years, you know that last week brought the rebirth of the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, the biggest movie event in – well, in ever, I think (I’ve never stood in line for a movie in my 42 years, much less for a mid afternoon Saturday matinee). This was the first of a new trilogy, the first since Disney bought the franchise, and the first to be made without the input of George Lucas. Could it bear the weight fandom has put upon it?

Short answer – very much yes.

Longer answer . . . well, read on (trying to be as non-spoilery as possible).

The good news is that the scripted, penned by (among others) West Virginia native and Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan is strong where it counts most, which is in the actual interaction of people (well, “beings,” I guess) on screen. Not only are the characters, be they new or old, given interesting things to say and do, but J.J. Abrams manages to do something that Lucas has lost all talent for – getting good performances out of actors. You care about what happens to the people on screen, which goes an awful long way.

The effects, as promised, harken back to the first trilogy rather than the “throw all the CGI things on screen!” approach of the prequels. In fact, it’s quite fun to see the sleek, modern interior of the First Order TIE fighters contrasted with the decidedly retro (dare I say analog?) controls of the Millennium Falcon. When there are battles (and there are!), they’re refreshingly gritty and small enough that we can keep track of what’s going on (there’s one scene in particular where the camera keeps ground action in frame while tracking what a particular pilot’s doing in the air – great stuff).

As for the overall story, it’s a bit of a letdown. If you’re a fan of the series – hell, even if you’ve only seen Star Wars itself, it will seem awfully familiar. It’s not a carbon copy, which is best seen in the contrast between the two characters who begin things on a backwater desert planet, Luke and Rey. Luke wants nothing more than to get his ass off Tatooine in the beginning of Star Wars. Rey, on the other hand, wants nothing more to hang around on Jakku. But the beats are largely the same and as things wind to the big finale, the voice of Peter Griffin might pop into your head.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. The big ask of The Force Awakens was to wash the stench out of our mouths from the prequels, as well as set up two more movies (at least). It succeeds in that, partly by reassuring fans that it’s going back to its roots, that everything’s in good hands. It’s not the greatest movie ever made. It’s not the best Star Wars movie ever made. But it’s damned good and makes me look forward to whatever comes next.

Merry Xmas, everybody – Star Wars is back!

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