I am one of the cool kids. I got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day without standing in line because the organizer of the science fiction reading series SF in SF put together a group outing for Bay Area fandom at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco.
And I had a great time, especially since my inner critic kept its mouth shut for once. Lately my critic comes out for almost every movie I see and makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief. But even though I’m not an obsessive fan of the Star Wars franchise, I was able to just relax and enjoy myself.
This isn’t really a review, and I don’t think I’ve included any real spoilers in my discussion. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, there are three or four things in it that you don’t want to know about in advance and I haven’t mentioned any of those. However, if you want to make sure you watch it without any advance information, don’t read past the jump.
I’ve noticed four different reactions to the movie on social media. There are, of course, the people who are wildly enthusiastic, which includes a large number of people who detested the prequel trilogy (which I ignored after the first one).
Then there are the people damning it with faint praise. They liked it, but they don’t think it was anything special. They’re balanced by the people tearing it apart because it violates all kinds of rules for good science fiction and good storytelling.
Finally, there are the people who don’t see what all the fuss is about and don’t plan to see it. In truth, this includes a lot of writers whose work I admire, and I can sympathize with their point of view. It’s how I feel about Star Trek movies and most science fictional blockbusters.
But I still had a good time.
I doubt this is a spoiler for anyone, but the story here essentially tracks the first movie, by which I mean the Star Wars that came out in 1977. I understand that J.J. Abrams was eleven when he saw it and fell in love with it.
It’s easy to see this movie as homage to the earlier work, made by someone who loved it and cared enough to get it right. It’s very good homage, meaning that if you cared about the original movie, you’ll enjoy it. The main difference between the two movies is that with this one, we know the back story. We didn’t the first time around.
Also, the key cast is more diverse. As someone who wanted to be the action hero when I was a girl, I was so glad to see Rey. And since it’s been a long time since I was a girl, I was also very glad to see the evolution of Leia. Kick ass girls and old women bring me joy.
I did care about the original movie. I wasn’t a serious SF fan when I saw it, and I was also older than eleven and knew some of the sources of the mythology. But even so, I recognized it as something different in moviemaking, something that changed the way that medium told stories.
It’s hard to say the original movie created a mythos, given its source material, but it certainly expanded the audience familiar with that mythos. And it gave us new names for the heroes.
One of the people damming it with faint praise said The Force Awakens doesn’t create a new mythos. I don’t think it could if it wanted to, for the same reason that the sequels to The Three Musketeers don’t create a mythos, though the first book does. Sequels can build on the original story or – as with this movie – give the fans the story they love, but they rarely create something new.
As for those ripping it apart for its bad science and loose storytelling: Oh, come on. This is space opera invented by folks who grew up on Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. It was never intended to be real science fiction. I didn’t expect it to be and I don’t think those critics did either.
I do, however, have one beef with the movie, and it’s with it as a sequel to the original series. (I came up with this later, not while watching the movie. My inner critic did start in after the show was over.)
At the end of Return of the Jedi, the good guys have won. But a scant thirty years later the evil forces have pulled back together and not only have a huge army of stormtroopers, but an even worse big weapon than the one they had in the first movie. (When I say same story, I mean the same story.)
You can put it down to the power of the dark side, and I guess you’re supposed to, but there seem to be a large number of people on the side of the bad guys who don’t really believe in the Force, so I have trouble putting this all down to another promising Jedi being seduced by the dark.
I mean, the good guys couldn’t hold onto their success for thirty years? Are they incompetent? Or is evil just that much more powerful than good, even when we’re talking about the powers of the Force?
Then I thought about the way I saw the world in 1977 and the way I see it now, and I had a more complicated reaction. It’s thirty-eight years later, and we’re still making movies about good triumphing over evil by using warfare. That is, it’s World War II all over again.
Does anybody ever think about a story in which good triumphs over evil without killing everybody in sight?
Of course, J.J. Abrams wasn’t trying to address the complexities of political change or come up with new ways of dealing with the wrongs of the world. He was trying to bring back the joy that came with seeing the first movie the first time. He succeeded.
It’s worth contemplating whether there should be better stories on our screens and in our books. But sometimes it’s OK to just have fun at the movies.