Should I watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Advice please.

I first saw Star Wars a long time ago in a cinema far away. It was 1977. I was at high school. Disco music was king. And so was Star Wars – so much so that nobody could get into the movie. First time I tried, the theatre manager came out to tell the disappointed queue they’d sold out.

The cinema where I first saw Star Wars in 1977 - repurposed when I took this photo and since rebuilt again - with an arrow showing where I was in the queue and how far it had to go when the theatre filled...
The cinema in Napier, New Zealand, where I first saw Star Wars in 1977 – re-purposed when I took this photo in 2013, and since rebuilt again – with an arrow showing where I was in the queue and how far it had to go when the manager came out and said the theatre was full.

Finally I got to see it. And woah! It was totally awesome from the moment those credits started rolling into infinity. The power of the story came from its archetypes – it was the classic hero journey (just like Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit) with deep mythological elements that spoke to its audience on a visceral level.

Not too surprising – Lucas deliberately set out to do that, hauling in Joseph Campbell, the world expert on mythology, as a script advisor.

At the time it was a one-off, a solid tale echoing the heroic sci-fi of the 1940s – again by design. Probably nobody imagined just how it might take off, but apparently Lucas had already devised other ways the story could expand, and had options on further movies.

Usually the follow-up movie is weaker because the character arc has been told – but Star Wars Episode 2 (sorry, 5): The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Irvin Kershner) was another winner – this time with a twist that gave it punch, although this wasn’t apparently part of Lucas’s original concept. That didn’t matter. The movie was gritty, hard-edged, and raised the bar.

Then came Star Wars Episode 3 (sorry, 6): The Return of the Jedi,  written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, where what appeared to be teddy-bears were able to defeat the crack troops of the bad-assiest empire in the universe, where the irredeemable bad guy turned good, and where after 134 execrable minutes the trilogy ended with a saccharine happy-families scene. Ouch.

Apparently the ending Lucas originally wrote – in which Luke put on the defeated Vader’s helmet and became him – was scrapped as not being kid-friendly. Damn.

The Embassy Theatre, Wellington, December 2015 - where Sir Peter Jackson premiered 'The Hobbit' and the third 'The Lord of the Rings' movies.
The Embassy Theatre, Wellington, December 2015 – where Sir Peter Jackson premiered ‘The Hobbit’ and the third ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies.

The other things I remember about that movie are that I saw it in the same theatre as I’d seen the first, and one of the group I went to see it with is currently President of the New Zealand Law Society, but probably these details aren’t so relevant to my critique. Anyway, I didn’t bother wasting my time and money when Lucas re-booted the franchise with Star Wars 1: The Farting Menace (or some such title).

Recently I watched the Yet Another Directors’ Cut of the first (er – fourth) episode. Lucas had been twiddling – adding CGI effects to realise stuff that wasn’t possible with seventies SFX. But he also kiddified the story, particularly the Han Solo scene in the cantina, where he shallowed both Solo’s character and character arc by having the ‘bad guy’ shoot first.

The art of kids’ stories is the adult-friendly layer, which kids pick up even if they don’t see the full sophistication – but which is still the arbiter for them, as it is for adults, as to whether the story is cool or dumb. Achieving that balance is incredibly difficult. The original Star Wars had it. The tweaked version didn’t.

Now? No question that Star Wars has become one of the pillars of western pop-culture. Which is totally awesome – but as always, that isn’t one-size-fits-all. I’ve been a sci-fi fan since forever (hey, I write the stuff!) – but I also look for human stories in movies, and so for me, the question is whether I should see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I gather it’s redeemed the franchise a bit. Recommendations?

Or am I better to watch this:

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


21 thoughts on “Should I watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Advice please.

  1. I cannot advise you as of now because I haven’t seen The Force Awakens—yet. I’ll wait until the crowds have died down. Old age has provided me that level of will power. Or is it the force?

    In 1977 I was finishing high school and distinctly remember the first time I saw a trailer for Star Wars. I’d stayed up late watching TV and fell asleep. I awoke to the trailer and almost fell off the chair. The entire time I was thinking, What was THAT? The theater I saw it in had great sound and I remember hearing the first ship approach from behind me before I saw it on the screen. Amazing! I was giddy. It was a great experience. The Empire Strikes Back was a greater experience. I saw it until it was part of my DNA. The Return of the Jedi was good, but not great, and in retrospect it was a preview of the prequels to come (at least it still had Harrison Ford). Return/Jedi (Episode: It Depends) revealed that Lucas was running straight to the Dark Side with dollar signs in his eyes. He’d discovered merchandising and there was no going back. Ewoks were cute, they were cuddly, and Lucas wanted me to buy ten.

    I’ve seen the prequels—which should have remained buried—once each. They’re awful other than a handful of great action sequences. Otherwise, they’re marred by exceptionally stilted dialog, poor writing in general, glaring appeals for merchandising dollars, and (the worst) plot lines that are creepy for all the WRONG reasons. Am I the only one who believes Lucas should drop whatever he’s doing and IMMEDIATELY seek a therapist?

    And now here’s The Force Awakens. The merchandising remains (to the point I could gag on it), but Harrison Ford has returned. For me, what tilts the scales is Abrams taking over for Lucas. What I see and read leads me to believe Abrams, who’s a shrewd filmmaker, recognized that The Empire Strikes Back was the peak and the template. I give Lucas credit for his original vision and his historic work with CGI, but the man should not be given autonomy when making a movie.

    1. I agree entirely. Apparently ‘Star Wars’ was one of the first (possibly THE first) movie series that franchised secondary products – toys, games, gimmicks etc – as a profit-spinner. So usual now we don’t even consider, but back then it was a novelty. I have to blame what to my mind was the ‘kiddification’ of the series on Lucas – and it wasn’t needed. Kids identified with it anyway. I definitely ‘get’ the way you were blown away by the original – I was too.

      I have a slightly geeky story about the original. I was impressed with the ‘pew pew’ sound of the laser guns, and a little later spent a LOT of time trying to programme a Moog synthesiser to make it. You can, but it’s difficult (I actually own a Moog now, and have NEVER bothered to try and do it.) It’s only just in the last year or two I found out how the sound was ACTUALLY made – Ben Burtt, who was in charge of the foley, went out with a hammer and a microphone and hit a taut steel guy wire holding up a radio mast. ‘Pew pew’. Sigh…

  2. My 18 year old son, who knows a lot about films, and watched all the prior Star Wars films before going to see this one, loved it. I’d go see it if I were you.

    1. It’s definitely on the list after reading the comments on this post – I really was ambivalent after the awfulness of the last four in a row. But this one does seem to have recovered it!

  3. See it. I had nearly given up on the franchise, and went to this one with the faintest flicker of hope. (Maybe Abrams can breathe life back into the story.) I was surprised. The film has returned to the brilliance of the original trilogy, not afraid to ignore the more recent changes to the franchise, and even has some genuinely, humanly, dark (dark, dark) moments. No spoilers, just see it!

    1. I think I will. On what people are saying it doesn’t seem to have repeated the abysmal saccharine pap of the last four SW movies in a row – certainly, I don’t think that’s Abrams’ style.

  4. haha oh my goodness- “The Farting Menace” would’ve been a much better title- and a better villain no doubt. I have a similar dilemma. I didn’t grow up with Star Wars cos I was very young when Episode “1” came out and I hated it when I saw it in the cinema. But my friends convinced me to give the original trilogy a chance (*ahem, sat down and forced me to watch it*). Afterwards, I had to agree it was pretty good, but I never went on to watch the rest of the franchise, because 5 minutes of Jar Jar binks and Hayden Cristi-whatever is too much for anyone to stomach. And I also think the whole bear thing was bizarre. People were shocked that I hated that so much (I did however, like some of the ending, cos I’m a sucker for a redemption story. That being said, Luke putting on the mask would’ve been so cool). So yeah, I’m really undecided whether I care enough to watch this one

    1. Redemption themes are what great stories are about, for sure! I’m not sure about Lucas’s versions of them though – I was also tempted to refer to ‘Star Wars: The Farce Awakens’, but I am not sure what a lynching mob looks like on a blog (I bet I’d have ended up with one at the gates…)

  5. See the movie you should. It’s the first time I’ve ever braved the crowds on an opening night, and I was not disappointed. Yes, I felt as if I were watching the original trilogy all over again (seriously … the rebels send in the X-wings to blow up ANOTHER Death Star?). But in spite of the déjà-vu it was a welcome return to the more human storytelling of the first three films. I’d compare it to going to a class reunion: You’ll hear the same stories all over again, but you’ll go home happy because it’s always good to see your old friends.

  6. For me, there’s several long-running movie series that I don’t take very seriously, but I always watch any new installment anyway. One is the James Bond series. It’s pure fantasy. The spy game doesn’t work like that. But it’s FUN! so I go see it anyway. Another is the Star Wars series. It’s SciFi-Lite. Very little Science in that science fiction. Another pure fantasy. But that’s alright. I still watch them because they’re FUN! So I would say watch it, and don’t expect to take anything too seriously. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll have FUN! 😉

    1. I saw Spectre the other week – supremely silly as always but, indeed, a great deal of fun. Yeah, Star Wars definitely falls into that category. I will be going to see it.

  7. I was 10 years old when my friend convinced me to go see this “star” movie that had just opened. I went knowing nothing about it and walked about buzzing in sheer awe. I begged my mother to advance my allowance and chauffeur me back the the theaters as many times as I could (I forget how many, but I think it was at least 4 or 5). A Fan Was Born! When it was announced there would be a second film, the agony of waiting for that (Empire) was pure torment, but it fueled endless daydreaming and discussion among my friends and I. Empire did not disappoint.

    From there however, the franchise began its decline. As a teen, I did not consciously notice the goofiness of Jedi and simply savored that it was another Star Wars film. In retrospect of course, the film critic in me sees it differently. Still, all three films are monuments compared to the second trilogy (the prequel). Too much CGI. Too much bad acting and horrible dialogue, too campy and too many awful characters (need I mention Jar Jar Binks?)

    I went to The Force Awakens with some trepidation. Disney owned the franchise now and JJ Abrams had taken the helm (I still have mixed feelings about his treatment of the Star Trek franchise). It could be a disaster. I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it. There was a grittier feel to it (Abrams used the CGI sparingly and blended it in nicely) The dialogue was improved although there were several nods to the original films (I’ve got a bad feeling about this) which actually worked. Even the premise captured my attention and I found myself really enjoying a Star Wars movie for the first time since the 80’s.

    I think this series has merit and could redeem the franchise. Keep in mind Matthew that no film will ever give you the original thrill that Star Wars did so many years ago. It came from left field and took us all by surprise and that won’t happen again, but the film is worth the time.

    Oh, and I think I’ve developed a crush on Daisy Ridley, who plays one of the main characters, Rey. It’s not a Princess Leia crush, but it’s nice to feel that way again. Hope you enjoy it!

  8. This is basically the Star Trek: The Next Generation for Star Wars. It’s the same yet different. It’s not perfect, but it’s larger and more expansive than the originals and seems like they’re going to set up some exciting stories.

    1. I am going to see the movie on the basis of what people have been saying. I liked Trek – the original series a great deal, I am a bigger fan of it than I am of Star Wars. I thought TNG was interesting and very good but it had a very different character dynamic. I guess the same is going to be true of the Star Wars evolution.

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