I was four years old the first time I saw Star Wars. We were dirt poor, but had a dollar theater by our place that ran movies a few months after their opening weekends. Not having any idea what the movie was about, but having a general interest to see it based on the hype, my parents took me, not even expecting me to watch the entire movie, hoping I’d fall asleep and give them the parental version of date night with a toddler. They had no idea the major fanboy they inadvertently had created.
Cut to now. I’m a father myself. I’ve got the Darth Vader in Samurai Armor tattoo, have been to multiple Celebrations, have taken my family to Star Wars Weekends for the past four years, my basement is a SW shrine, I’ve read more EU than is possibly necessary, and the list goes on from there. I’m just like most readers here, I imagine, or at least, some variation thereof. When Disney announced it had bought the franchise and the next movie would come in 2015, it dawned on me that my son, who incidentally I named Finn (prior to the movie announcement, mind you, but, come on, clearly that’s the Force at work, right?) would be four himself at that time.
And this was the mark of success for me for The Force Awakens: Could JJ and crew put together a movie that would capture the imagination and outright wonderment of my own child? It’s not that my son has to like the same things I do (every parent’s sad realization), but I wanted very much for this movie to be a good on-ramp for my son to get into the series. Yes, of course, I’ve already shown him the DVDs (originals, naturally, none of that reworked garbage), watched the cartoons (he’ll do Legos, but is lukewarm on the others), read him kids’ books versions, but none of that compares to the thrill and spectacle a big screen experience affords.
I won’t know until Friday if Finn will love or hate it, but my biggest concern after seeing it for the first time is he simply may not care. Disney has produced a very safe movie that succeeds in hitting the wide brush strokes, but fails to provide the satisfying shading that takes a movie from acceptable to transcendent. At times, this very much feels like a movie created by a marketing committee. For all the talk of Abrams and Kasdan writing a movie that explored what interested them, the movie too often feels perfunctory–starship battle here, ground assault there, sprinkle in some aliens and a lightsaber duel or two. The first two acts move slowly, picking up speed before finally its footing in the third. Worst of all, though, is the lack of overall creativity here. As opposed to coming up with something completely new and different, they followed the Jurassic World formula–let’s just take everything from the original and make it a boatload bigger (which actually produces one of the funnier moments in the movie).
We’re staying spoiler free here, but there were a few coincidences that felt forced and the backstory is virtually non-existent. Much like Abrams’ second Star Trek, if you don’t already know these characters, you’re not given much to get you up to speed. I appreciate that they’re seeding the franchise for the next two decades, but if you follow the ring theory at all, the purpose of the opening movie is to provide a one-and-done adventure that draws you into the action. There are a lot of cliffhangers, and more than a couple of characters and scenarios felt added simply to provide fodder for the inevitable books and spin-off movies they hope to create.
On an up note, Abrams does absolutely nail the necessary comic aspects of the movie. I chuckled more than once, even laughing out loud a few times. Furthermore, he successfully created the lived in feel of Star Wars–the Falcon initially looks like a rust bucket, and he clearly went old school special effects and costumes wherever possible.
Overall, I’m giving this one a B/B-. The movie does nothing to offend fans and offers some great moments. As a fellow critic mentioned to me, the movie makes me want to learn more about what happens next, so that’s got to be a plus. Unfortunately, it does little to amaze.
The big question, though, is what will Finn think?
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