January 03, 2016
Family Film Blogging (Special Edition): Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Posted by Christine Hurt

Sorry for the belated post!  We spent the holidays doing fun family things, including going to the movies.  This review is about the highlight of our movie-going: Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, otherwise known as Episode VII.  I'm assuming that everyone who wants to see it has, so I'll let the spoilers fly.

I have to say that when the movie opens and the "Star Wars" banner starts to scroll, I got a little choked up.  For those of us of a certain age, Star Wars was the background of our childhood/tweendom.  We were told there would be nine movies, three that preceded the original trilogy, and three that followed.  As adults, we heard that the three prequels would come first.  (I was a little saddened.  I wasn't as interested in how Anakin fell as how Han and Leia got married.)  Then the prequels were. . well. . .awful.  So, the news that in our middle age, the last three would be made was met with excitement mixed with a lot of anxiety.  Would these be awful, too?  Would they be all ewoks and Jar Jar?  Would the acting be so bad as to make you laugh in inappropriate parts?  So, with some trepidation, a generation of viewers bought tickets ahead of time to see Episode VII.  

And it was good.  Maybe great, maybe amazing, but definitely all was good.  At the end there was clapping and rejoicing, for the story but also for the sense that the movie makers (Disney now, not George Lucas) heard the fans.  Understood what was so genre-defining and game-changing about Episode III.  Gave the fans the story, without muppets and bad actors.  If the original movie resonated with the audience's priors about good and evil, the latest installment resonates with the audience's need to be understood and heard.  George Lucas has criticized the "retro" Episode VII for pandering to the fans.  Whatever.  I loved it.  I walked out and wanted to walk right back in again.

If you've seen the movie, then you can track Episode VII and Episode IV and have already realized they are the same (awesome) movie.  There is a bad guy, who used to be a good guy (Kylo Ren), and a bad guy mentor (Supreme Leader Snoke), who are trying to take over the galaxy under the name the First Order.  There is a resistance leader who has secret information (Poe) who gives it to a droid (BB-8) to deliver it to the resistance.  There are two young people who bump into BB-8's mission (Rey and Finn) and each have their own reasons for following or wanting to leave.  Both Rey and Finn have parts of Luke and Han Solo.  Rey is a scavenger and a tinkerer and a pilot (like Han), but she obviously has a higher calling to the force (like Luke).  Finn is moved by love (like Luke), but also has self-preservation tendencies (like Han).  But they are interesting in their own right.  Finn is FN-2187, a stormtrooper.  These iconic troops that have been nameless and faceless to Star Wars fans now have a backstory.  Finn was taken from his family by the First Order and programmed to fight.  (His programming seems to not have taken at all!)  After his first battle, Finn decides to escape but needs a pilot to help him.  Luckily for him, Poe is being held prisoner and is the best pilot in the resistance.  Together, they escape, heading toward Jakku, to find BB-8 and take the secret information back to the resistance.  After their ship is disabled, Finn wakes up on Jakku, where he meets up with Rey, who has befriended BB-8.  After stormtroopers come calling, the three take off in the Millennium Falcon (!!) to get the information to the resistance.  Guess what the information is?  A map to where Luke Skywalker has been living in self-imposed exile!!

So, the story is set and the parallels to the original lead one to predict where the plot is going to go.  Characters are related to one another, someone dies in a way that inspires the newest Jedi, etc.  Along the way we meet back up with Han and Chewbacca, and even General (nee Princess) Leia.  There are many, many moments of homage to the original, and I ate them up with the rest of the audience.  

There are lots of things to criticize, of course.  The galaxy, which has as many non-humanoid beings as humanoid beings, seems to be about 2% female and .00002% nonwhite.  Droids may be more slave than robot.  (We rewatched the original three, and even in those movies, droids inconsistently feel pain, fear torture or destruction, and have feelings.)  As many people have pointed out, the best parts of the movie are unoriginal.  But I will watch it again and again.  Rey is a much more interesting female character than Princess Leia, and a less whiny Jedi than Luke.  (Don't get me started about Hayden Christensen's Anakin.  Anakin is such a bad Jedi, he makes Finn look like a great stormtrooper.)  Finn seems also more three-dimensional than Han.  I'm very interested to see where the plot is going.

Where is the plot going?  One of the Star Wars trailers has a voice-over by Luke (Mark Hamill), saying "The Force is strong in my family.  My father has it.  I have it.  My sister has it.  And you have it."  This is a riff on the same speech Luke gives Leia in Episode VI, but with the last sentence added.  This speech is never given in Episode VII (in fact Luke doesn't speak in this episode).  So, we assume that he will eventually give the speech to Rey, but how does Rey have the Force?  Is she related to Luke?  Will the movies ever mention midichlorians again (no!).  To be continued. . . .

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