Warning: there are a few spoilers below but none are related to the really good stuff from The Force Awakens.
I remember seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope as a late teen when it was released in late-May of 1977. I had just graduated high school and was an avid science fiction fan. It was my primary reading material at the time. The movie featured exciting action set in a fantastic intergalactic universe and I recall seeing it multiple times over a few weeks with numerous friends. It was an exciting movie to talk about over hamburgers afterwards. I even took my younger brother to see it at our hometown theater. We sat through it twice in one day, with only a popcorn break in between. He was only six and was as enraptured with it as I had been the summer of 1976 watching Jaws.
The intial shot in Star Wars left most of us either hooping with delight or staring with our jaw open from sheer awe. The empire battle cruiser chasing Princess Leia in one of the opening shots seemed to go on and on and on. It was an epic establishing shot and audiences loved it. We loved the "western" shoot 'em up sequences, the chases, the parallel plot lines featuring action that intermingled at just the right moment keeping viewers on their toes and enthralled with what is actually a very straightforward plot.
The original aspect of Star Wars is how it feels to watch it. Do you sense mystery? Doesn't that space ship look cool? How about all that future tech? Wow! Did you see that! The characters are all straight out of Louis L'Amour or some classic swashbuckling tale of adventure. This is the feeling that the original three movies possess, but the following 'prequels' found in short supply, though enough to connect them to the canon of Star Wars.
The most metaphorical aspect to the film is, of course, The Force and the infamous (and now culturally ingrained) Dark Side. The Force runs through the universe and binds everything together. Certain students of The Force can use it with telepathic effect, among other skills. That is about as heavy-weight as Star Wars gets. It is not a deep movie, it is a fun movie. So, when watching any of the Star Wars films, I smile at its naive and sentimental philosophical aspects. I relax and have fun.
By the time The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (the best movie in this series in my opinion) was released, the "Star Wars" idea was a huge commercial success, both in terms of the movie franchise and all the assorted merchandising that goes along with consumerist culture. Once again I took my brother to see it, only this time we didn't stay for consecutive showings. The theaters were full and security had gotten a bit tighter than just a few years before.
We both had a great time. It was cool seeing things through his still very young mind. He was full of questions. What do they call this? How did they do that? Nevertheless, he could relate to Han Solo and especially to Luke Skywalker in a higher childlike manner, seen most often at Christmas time, as children that age are prone to shout their ideas and wear their emotions on their sleeve.
At any rate, after all this time, The Force Awakens is released. As anticipated, it is achieving enormous commercial success and most critics like the movie. I remained pretty much spoiler-free as I went to see the film last night with my daughter, her boyfriend, and my brother who is now a father himself, and his 13 year old son. My brother and I were the only two that had ever actually seen a Star Wars film in a movie theater. It seemed to bring things full circle for me regarding A New Hope, watching my brother take his son, as I took him decades ago, to see a Star Wars film in a venue other than a large flat TV screen.
The movie definitely felt like Star Wars. It was thrilling in both the visual and the narrative, it was spectacular with constant action-packed pacing, it touched on some past story-lines by bringing back previous characters, most notably Han Solo and, now, General Leia, commanding the resistance. Yes, the resistance is still around, this time resisting the First Order. If it sounds like familiar turf, it should. Though several interesting new major characters are introduced in The Force Awakens, it is the original ones that thread all this together. This film is the beginning of a new storyline within the trappings of the older story.
There is even a new kind of "Death Star" with the predictable finish to it - as in the 1977 and 1983 films. Not very original at all, so I frankly can't give the film much credit here. I suppose it offers dumb-downed familiarity to fuse this film with the original three. After all, the prequels are just as original as the original trilogy. It is just that they were original in a way that did not resonate as well with Star Wars fans.
What one can authentically say is that The Force Awakens is the essence of the original trilogy, introducing new elements but not really doing anything new with any of them. It is nostalgic for me and exciting for my nephew. Maybe that is how it should be. I enjoyed the film but it is nothing exceptional, it is more tribute and continuation than transcending in any way. But it is competently made and fun. So I give it a 7.
Some think Star Wars is the myth of our current age, even a postmodern classic. I believe we are certainly better off for having it around than not. I think J.J. Abrams did a terrific job with not a reboot but a resuscitation of the narrative. The narrative is smoothly transitional and for that reason somewhat masterfully handled. A new generation will now delve deeply into the Star Wars expanded universe just as I did back in my youth and my brother did sort of at the same time in his younger youth.
On the drive home, he and I laughed about certain scenes in the new movie (which has that wonderful Star Wars humor) and compared them back to a few comical scenes in the earlier films. I asked his son how he liked The Force Awakens before he got out the car. "It was great!" he said, his early adolescence beaming. Well, maybe it is not "great" from my perspective, but it connects me back to an innocent time and the wonder of the films and all those happy hours spent with them in between. Welcome back.
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