I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, last night, in 3-D.
I am not a Star Wars, Sci-fi or fantasy geek. I have been an audio geek and a Bible nerd, but I don’t know if geek or nerd are appropriate labels, if you are enthusiastic about one of the most popular and lucrative entertainment franchises in the history of the world. I tend to associate geeks and nerds with outsider movements. Anyway, I’ve been pretty hard on hardcore Star Wars fans in the past (see my take at Star Wars: It Really Matters What You Believe). But, I’m no hater and have the greatest love and respect for the franchise. Here are my first impressions, as a non-geek or specialist in all things Star Wars.
My ratings are based on a scale of 1 -10 in 5 categories. Overall, I give this film a solid 9! Here’s why:
- Story I thought the story was really easy to follow and consistent with the first three installments of Star Wars. You true believers know what I’m talking about: the first three were the best! There was an obvious effort in The Force Awakens to connect to and carry forward the original story. I think this film also did a great job of acknowledging that the past 3 offerings from the franchise were pretty bad. Yet, The Force Awakens was able to give them a tip of the hat, without completely disrespecting the players and tossing them to the Sarlacc (as I did in this post from 2005, when I reviewed the Revenge of the Sith). While I found the Revenge of the Sith entertaining, but totally annoying, I loved The Force Awakens and give it a big 10 for fidelity to the Star Wars saga and brand!
- Plausibility The biggest obstacle to my embrace of fantasy is that many books or movies, particularly in the sci-fi and super-hero genres, just don’t seem to be believable. I understand that they are meant to transcend reality to a degree, but some are just ridiculously implausible and are, therefore, not accessible or appealing to me. In other words, if an artist or author constructs an alternate reality, I’m okay with that — that’s their job. But, the adaptation needs to be internally consistent and the story/characters must actually belong within and work inside the author’s framework or parameters. The Force Awakens was successful again — the fictional universe and all its pieces worked together! I give it a 10 on the scale of plausibility!
- Acting Star Wars, as a series, has never enjoyed a reputation for great dialogue or top-notch acting and I think that’s a bit unfair (I won’t go into my reasoning here). But, I found the characters and their dialogue in this film engaging and real: they were never distracting. I wish I could say that about past episodes. So, as a Star Wars installment, I’ll give it an 8 on the script, acting, and dialogue.
- CGI and Special Effects For me personally, as a non-specialist in fantasy films, this is what will often make or break a movie. As I pointed out earlier, it was the ostentatious and obnoxious overdoing of CGI in Revenge of the Sith that caused me to lose all hope for the Star Wars brand. And, need I mention Jar Jar Binks and the clone catastrophe? Oops. I mentioned them. But, last night Star Wars was back in The Force Awakens and I found the mix of actual people, locations, and CGI refreshingly well integrated and believable. On CGI and effects, this one is close to perfect: 9.
- Biblical Themes Of course, many will find limited value (if any, at all), in movies that incorporate Biblical plots, themes, stories or characters. But, I find that narratives in the Bible are universal and compelling, so if a work of fiction would be successful, it will need to follow Biblical stories to bring some realism to the film at some point(s): even if the story is set within a fictional, fantastic or alternate universe. Sure, Star Wars, is saturated with hinduism and mysticism, along with some other syncretistic elements. But, the story really gets traction when the characters are confronted with moral dilemmas and emotions that more closely resemble our world, the world you and I live in. In other words, there’s just enough of this world in The Force Awakens to draw you and I into the story and create a bridge to their world, in order to empathize and even sympathize with the characters, as they seek to discover who they are, where they came from, and where they are going. Does that sequence of discovery sound familiar? It should, because the people in God’s Story are always on exodus, out of the dark past and into a bright future. The in-between time is where the drama takes place. The characters in The Force Awakens represent a plethora of cultures and, whether they are aware of it or not, find themselves interacting with an amorphous force that supposedly embodies both dark and light. Yet, in the end, all the players are called upon to make some concrete decisions that affect themselves and others, in meaningful ways, for either good or evil, choosing complicity with the darkness or embracing the light. And, those two poles will never really be accepted as two sides of the same coin by real people in our world, no matter how immersed in fantasy we/they are: good and evil stand in antithesis in our universe and in the Star Wars universe, too, regardless the worldview of its creator, George Lucas. Oh, and by the way, I think the next installment has been set up to follow a tried and true, familiar Old Testament thematic path. But, I’m not a spoiler nor an expert in fantasy. We’ll see if I’m right the next time around. So, I think The Force Awakens gets an 8 on making good use of Biblical story forms, in order to craft a successful film.