It’s hard to not compare Star Wars The Force Awakens to the prequel trilogy.
Both are attempting to expand on the original trilogy. One focused on the “before,” detailing how the characters, world, and narrative of the movie franchise came to be. The other tells about what happened next; the fallout of the destruction of the Empire and triumph of the rebellion. Their narratives, as you’d expected, each contained plenty of call backs and references to A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The key difference, though, is that one did so successfully while the other triplet was a complete and utter failure.
When dealing with Star Wars, you can argue that there are four key points that contribute to its success: storytelling, characters, unique worlds, and special effects. The original trilogy was able to combine each one of these into a finely tuned package. With the prequels, there was no denying the out of this galaxy of worlds featured, plus the special effects even had their own moments. Yes, by today’s standards they are absolutely dated, but there’s no denying how amazing pod racing continues to look today. When it came to the story and characters, however, things were lacking behind. Regardless of the reasoning, whether it was that Lucas had no one to persuade him away from his ideas or focused too much on those worlds and special effects, everything else just fell flat. The characters were forced and unlikable, the dialogue drivel and stiff, and the narrative featured zero tension or focus.
The Force Awakens steers Star Wars back to what it does best: Memorable characters giving fans a fun time at the movies. Its story is nothing to write home about, but it certainly gets the job done. Without diving into spoilers, I’ll simply say that I was unsurprised by some events and pleasantly shocked by others. More importantly, though, I was enjoying myself. That’s because JJ Abrams and crew have managed to bring the franchise’s focus back to those characters and story. That’s not to say that the special effects and worlds take a backseat. There’s plenty of planet hopping to be had, though none are anywhere near as memorable as previous films. The effects, though, truly shine. The combination of practical and CGI, combined with fantastic camera work, help bring the viewer into the experience. Considering how The Force Awakens isn’t going to win any awards for its screen play, this is something that had to be well executed. On this front, Abrams delivered tenfold.
Even more remarkable are the characters created. The newcomers Kylo Ren, Finn, and Rey are deliver high quality performances the franchise hasn’t seen before. Their struggles, fears, motives, and desires are on full display. Perhaps it’s because I relate to them so well. When watching the original trilogy, I was far too young to relate to anyone. Concerning the prequels, I laugh at the notion of anybody relating to anyone on screen. Here, though, I see parts of myself on screen. It’s clear where the characters have grown from, but also evident that they’re continuing to grow. Considering how important it was to establish these new characters makes it even more impressive they come off so well.
Let’s face it; we have two more movies to go with the “sequel trilogy.” If you think that Han, Luke, and Leia have the staying power to be the focus throughout, then you’re not realizing how much the prequel trilogy struggled with this very issue. The main characters, Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan, were not new. We knew them, knew their journey, and knew their end result. Concerning Kylo Ren, Finn, and Rey, these are all mysteries. This feeling of “I don’t know what’s going to happen to these people” is something the franchise hasn’t had in its film releases in years and is much appreciated.
There’s so much more I want to say about the characters, but I’d rather not spoil things for you. Let’s just end with that they’re beyond remarkable thanks to a great script and a fantastic job by the actors.
As expected, John Williams absolutely kills it with the soundtrack. More importantly, though, the music knows when it should accompany the action or pace and when it’s better left on the sidelines. It’s reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings franchise and how Peter Jackson at times left a scene speak for itself instead of accompanying it with music that would distract and deter from the action. The approach in The Force Awakens helps vital scenes feel more impactful and does well to feature their importance.
This is, surprisingly and unfortunately, pretty important as the film suffers and stalls at times. There’s a feeling throughout that JJ Abrams is playing things safe – not a bad idea considering how the prequels were anything but safe. The movie does well for both diehard fans of the franchise and those who are unaware of the Rebellion’s plight against the Empire, but the parallels are undeniable. It’s not all bad, though; modernization and (at times) far less subtlety offer a different take than A New Hope did. It seems a bit unfair, in the grand scheme of things, to compare the two, yet it’s inevitable.
What’s even more intriguing, not to mention damaging to the film’s strength, was the lack of concrete information given before the film’s release. It’s no secret that JJ Abrams likes to keep things close to the vest. For those that look back at the trailers for the Star Wars prequels, this is the exact opposite of what happened over a decade ago. Because of this, fan theory and speculation ran wild concerning what each brief glimpse in the trailer meant. For some, their expectations won’t exactly be meant. I’m not saying that Disney pulled a bait-and-switch concerning the trailers and TV-spots for The Force Awakens, but things are far more enjoyable if you don’t bother trying to figure out what’s going on based on advertisement media before seeing this in theaters. The movie stands well enough on its own.
The Force Awakens is certainly no Empire Strikes Back, which may be unfortunate for some considering the amount of hype the film received, but it’s also thankfully no Phantom Menace. Heck, I feel guilty for even comparing the two films. Yes, these comparisons are inevitable, but in the grand scheme of things, the only thing they share is their movie franchise. The Force Awakens is the grand return of form fans have been waiting for. Far from perfect, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Even or those who are intrigued despite no rooting interest in the Star Wars franchise, it’s an enjoyable night out at the movies.