Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that should have been doomed to fail. Having the nearly impossible task of living up to the gargantuian expectations set on it by the fans, as well as the legacy of the original trilogy, the film should by all rights should fall flat on it’s feet. Luckily, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has the confidence to surpass these problems, but garner a whole set of new ones. The film holds it’s weight with the original trilogy, and by most standards is very good. Some may say that it’s even as good as A New Hope (it’s not, but ill get to that later). Put simply, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that is pretty damn good, but suffers from several fundamental flaws that hold it back from from being truly great.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a lot going for it. Besides the top notch technical aspects to this film, the use of anything practical whenever possible, and a heavy dose of nostalgia, Director J.J. Abrams has been able to re-capture the magic of the original films. By bringing a diverse ensemble of new characters, along with a return from the holy trinity from the original films (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer) along to support them, Abrams finds a nice balance between new and old. For what each actor is given, the performances are top notch. From the returning members of the original cast to all of the newcomers, everyone seems to be relishing the opportunity they’ve been given. None more so than Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. While I won’t delve into spoilers, I will say that Driver has created a villain that is wholly three-dimensional. Flawed, quiet, and broken, Kylo Ren proves to be more nuanced than we’ve seen before from any characters in the past.
The greatest thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the feeling that it gives you when you watch it. It reminds you why you fell in love with the series to begin with. It restores the sense of fun to these movies that the prequels sorely missed. But most importantly, it reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place– to be transported from our mundane lives, into a special world of the unknown. J.J Abrams has always been good at achieving this. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams has successfully brought us something new, while at the same time presenting a story that feels wholly familiar. Unfortunately, by focusing on the things that made the original film so endearing, Abrams has inadvertently kept himself from making something better than the very thing he’s trying to live up to.
This is perhaps my biggest problem with the film, the fact that it wants to be too much like A New Hope, and not enough like The Force Awakens. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t offer new elements to the universe, it does plenty of that, actually. The problem is that the story almost feels like a beat-for-beat remake of A New Hope. Seriously though, when you see the film, think about it. Almost all of the major beats are nearly identical, although details between those major events have been altered. There are plenty of references to the original film throughout The Force Awakens, but this sense of heavy nostalgia that Abrams brings to the table begins to overshadow the telling of the story towards the second half of the film.
It’s funny, because I don’t quite know what this movie would be like without Abrams’ involvement. He’s always been the type of filmmaker that ends up holding himself back, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is no exception to this. Don’t get me wrong – I think that The Force Awakens is is a great return to form, but it is by no means better than the original film. A few years down the line, the hype will have worn down, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will largely be remembered as the film that opened the floodgates to a larger universe. A film that sacrifices it’s own interest at crucial points to create something larger. A film that believes it will be worth the sacrifice now, to create something unforgettable down the line. But in the grand scheme of things, is that so bad?.
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