The Force Awakens is pitch perfect. It successfully balances the treasures of the franchise’s history with very cool new characters, gadgets and locations. Here are seven nice touches I really appreciate:
- Restores Your Faith Right From The Opening. Although I miss the 20th Century Fox fanfare, I appreciate the studio executives’ restraint of not putting the Disney title card in front of the Lucasfilm title card. Right from the start, we get right into the Star Wars brand promise and what we all love about the franchise. Nothing impedes the story. But yet it feels fresh. J.J. Abrams must have been conflicted with whether to lean into all the conventions from the original films, or try something new. He managed to do both. In the first shot, you work out in your head that this film is not starting with a shot of an imperial starship (?!) but rather a planet. Then, a moment later, a giant imperial starship enters frame in front of the planet, restoring your faith—or at least your assumption —that this new film and trilogy will be more in keeping with the original brand promise than in the second trilogy’s errors (overindulgent CGI, Jar Jar Binks, overacting, too much midichlorean chit chat, etc).
- Classic Conventions. J.J. Abrams consistently introduces classic elements of the franchise without too much pretension. For example: the Millennium Falcon is first referred to generically as “junk” while it’s off screen; R2-D2 and C-3P0 enter relatively late in the film, and R2-D2 is even in the off position for much of his first appearance on screen; Princess Leia’s hair is pinned up in a bun, but not as two Cinnabons above her ears like in the original trilogy; there is a cantina scene reminiscent of A New Hope’s cantina scene and Empire Strikes Back’s Jabba the Hutt lair; the phrase “May The force be with you” is saved until near the very end of the movie, uttered from Leia to Rey, passing the torch from one generation to the next.
- New Conventions. Instead of introducing far too many new conventions, certain Star Wars universe tech evolves from what we already know without becoming unnecessarily nostalgic. For example: Kylo-Ren’s light saber continues the light saber tradition yet still seems physiologically plausible, in as much as any light saber can be physiologically plausible (Ren’s saber has two knife-like “blades” perpindicular to the long saber “blade” and also the “blades” have a unique burning texture); all the new helmets and costumes are very, very cool; BB-8 is in keeping with the R2-D2 tradition but seems updated accordingly to the 30 years that passed in the story line since Return of the Jedi portion of the canon; the new Starkiller Base is a nod to the death stars in episodes four and five, yet it’s very cool and demonstrates the Dark Side isn’t stupid enough to make the same flawed Death Star design mistakes three times; the Starkiller Base is built on a planet so there’s no cooling vents that X-Wings can exploit like in the first trilogy, and its enormous laser beam draws power from any given galaxy’s sun(s) and can destroy entire star systems (multiple planets).
- Restraint. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” as Leonardo da Vinci once stated. I think restraint is the most powerful tool in an artist’s toolbox. How can one accomplish the most artistic impact with the least amount of evidence of the artist’s hand? For example: the musical score goes missing in the first minute or so of the scene when Han Solo confronts Kylo Ren—there is absolute silence, which many viewers won’t consciously recognize, but this is an incredibly creative way to make that scene unique—the viewer intuitively knows something is different here, so the viewer must pay attention.
- Humor. Abrams makes great use of humor but doesn’t leave a cheesy sitcom-like pause (wink wink) to allow the audience a chance to laugh. He simply moves on with the plot. Some examples: Fin gives BB-8 a thumbs up, and BB-8 pops open a little door on his spherical body and extends a little metallic arm with a cigarette lighter-like flame that acts as a return “thumbs up”; When Fin finally accepts his calling to lead and fight for justice, he becomes ginned up and excitedly demands to Captain Phasma—almost Diva-like, “I’m at charge! I’m in charge!” before Han Solo steps in and exhorts, “Back it down.”; There is a quaint running gag about the firepower of Chewy’s crossbow, which has a bigger, more potent sound when firing and a much more powerful effect on its targets then in the original trilogy, blasting those it hits some 20 or 30 feet backwards.
- Good vs Evil Portrayed Well. Part of the allure of the Star Wars “universe” is that it is a good, old-fashioned western or war movie,—It’s just that it’s set in a galaxy far, far away. The good characters are motivated for the right reasons, and most of the time are reluctant to recognize they need to fulfill their duty in pursuing justice. The bad characters are menacing, but also well-rounded enough that we understand how and why they succumbed to their evil nature. We see a struggle between good and evil not only between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” but also the struggle between good and evil within an individual character. In this film, that is most pronounced in Kylo Ren. And it is portrayed with sophistication and nuance, unlike the portrayals of Darth Vader in episodes 1-3.
- Don’t Do Stupid Stuff. No Gungans appear in the film.
A couple things I personally felt distracted from the otherwise close-to-perfect film:
- I personally feel that the Supreme Leader Snoke was a bit too Lord of the Rings-ish.
- I wasn’t crazy about Maz Kanata (the orangish-yellow lady that had stored Luke Skywalker’s light saber for three decades), though, in all fairness, I’m not sure how I would’ve preferred that she be rendered (or cast). Maybe my lack of support for her is due to the fact that she reminds me of some of the cheesy character designs in The Phantom Menace.
What did you like or not like about The Force Awakens?