Jason’s Note: In case you have not heard Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens this week. Lee is a friend and a big Star Wars fan and agreed to cover the press conference and attend a screening and share his thoughts.. even though it meant over 400 miles of driving. Below are his first impressions and then mine. A separate post will be up by Friday with his experience at the press conference.
Spoiler alert – there are no spoilers, so do not bother looking for them. I am going to work really hard to not give away anything you don’t already know from the various trailers.
If you liked the first three Star Wars films (Episodes 4-6) you will like The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams said he was trying to make the new movie true to the look and spirit of the original trilogy and he succeeded. The original movies were done largely with practical effects and on-location filming because that was the technology that was available at the time. The prequels took advantage of the arrival of digital special effects are often criticized for taking them too far. JJ Abrams said he was using more practical effects in The Force Awakens (TFA from here on) and it looks like he struck the right balance – nothing screamed “digital” at me and the look and feel of the universe was very familiar. TFA brings new characters and settings to the Star Wars universe and it does a decent job of character development for the new stars (always a challenge in a plot driven action movie). It also sets up the essential good vs. evil (light side vs. dark side) conflict that looks to define this trilogy. It does all that against a plot that will be very familiar to folks who have seen A New Hope.
If you are wondering how they plan to bridge the 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi, they do not. The movie starts right up with new events and introducing the new characters. Once the classic characters make their appearance you do learn one critical piece of history from the past 30 years, but nothing more.
Of the “classic” Star Wars characters, Han and Chewie have the biggest roles in this movie, sharing much of the screen time with the new characters Rey and Finn (and BB-8!) and to a lessor extent X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron.
TFA does a very good job of restarting the Star Wars universe, introducing the new star characters and laying the foundation for the other movies that will be set in the same time period. At the end I felt thrilled to have a new Star Wars film, but slightly dissatisfied. However, I think that was more about already wanting to see what happens to these characters in episodes 8 and 9 than any failing of this movie.
Jason’s Thoughts: I will keep my thoughts brief since I concur with Lee’s assessment… I am not a huge Star Wars geek, but I do enjoy the films. Especially the original three, not the second three so much.
I walked out of the Force Awakens entertained and ready for the next film in May 2017. It was fun to go back into a familiar universe with characters you know and liked. The Force Awakens picks up the story 30 years after the original series. The film is a balancing act of introducing new characters, honoring old, filling in the 30 year history, and setting up the upcoming films. Overall I think J.J. Abrams was able to achieve this balance well. Some are arguing this follows the original formula too closely but I think this comfort is good in a film every now and then when done well and I think this film is done well.
Expectations for the Force Awakens are among the highest I can remember for a movie. Going into it I thought there was little chance of it living up to the hype. Walking out I think it met the challenge and will please most die hard fans and general movie goers. Rain Johnson, director of Episode 8 & fellow USC Alum, now has an even bigger bar to clear with his film.
I was surprised by how large a role some of the original characters play in the Force Awakens. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is a very integral part of this film and gets a fair amount of screen time. He delivers a great performance with some really good one liners throughout.
If you are not a huge Star Wars fan and are one of the few people on the planet that has not seen the original trilogy I think you will still find this an entertaining work that can stand on its own. You just will not understand the audience’s reaction in some spots when they cheer for something from the original or laugh at a joke based.
I watched the film on a regular theater screen in 3D. The 3D did not get in the way of the film and added some depth in a few parts. I thought the opening scroll in 3D looked great. I am not a huge fan of 3D, the glasses bother me. I do not think 3D is essential for this film. If you have the option and want the extra depth it is a nice plus. I am curious how the film looks on larger IMAX screens. I think that may make for a different experience.
What did you think of the film? Did it meet your expectations?
All images in this post are © Disney & Lucas Film