Two years ago, right in our own galaxy, we were finally reminded of what Star Wars was really about. No matter how much we tried to like the Prequel Trilogy, it never sated our appetites for new and expanded stories from that galaxy far, far away. As we find ourselves only a day away from the premiere of what will likely be one of the highest grossing movies ever, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I thought it might be a good idea to review the first movie in this new trilogy in the saga.
I don’t want to spend my word count bashing the Prequels in comparison to this movie. While those movies still appeal to some, they don’t so much appeal to me. I simply want to talk about a couple things in particular that makes this movie a joy to watch and how it helps set up my renewed interest in where this story is headed. Unfortunately, to do so, I will need to compare these things to the Prequels, but I’ll do so in as much of a respectful way as I can.
What is likely the most important thing that makes this movie so loved by fans is simple. I mean, literally, it’s the movie’s simplicity. The Prequels often bogged down in proceedings of government, rules of the Jedi Order, Sith… sithiness, and the details of a love affair that wasn’t terribly interesting other than we knew who the characters were in the grand scheme of everything. When you slow your story down to hit all those details, soon, you find your audience doesn’t particularly care. The Force Awakens simplified what the story was going to be. We saw all we needed to know very quickly and without much dialog explaining all those damn details. We saw who was bad, who was good, who had character arcs coming for them, and we got to meet a lovable little droid along the way.
That brings us to the next most important thing this movie did so well – we cared about the characters, not because we were told to, but because they ingratiated themselves on us. In the Prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t really give us much of a character other than a stern, kind of dickheaded, teacher. I liked him because I knew him from the earlier movies in the saga. I never liked Anakin Skywalker, but not because of Hayden Christensen (give the kid a break, will ya) or the dialog, but because I know he’s going to be Darth Vader – oh and he slaughtered children like a real douchebag. I had preconceived notions on who these people were. With The Force Awakens, I cared about Rey and Finn because I genuinely liked them. I wanted more from Poe because he seemed pretty cool and Oscar Isaac is a good actor. Losing the preconceived notions of good and bad makes the script, the direction, and the actors work a little harder for you to like them.
Most importantly, I want to know where these characters are going and what will happen to them next. While that did exist for the Prequels, we always knew where that story ended. We knew certain building blocks would be put into place that leads us to Luke Skywalker. Luke becomes a destination again in The Force Awakens, but, now, the journey is a mystery. Given we only see him in the very last moment, and would have to wait two years to see what he’s like and what’s become of his once youthful optimism, only makes that mystery sweeter.
I suppose this is where we should mention the most legitimate complaint about the movie from its detractors. Much of the movie seems to borrow heavily from the original Star Wars. Instead of a moisture farmer young lad, we have a desert dwelling junker girl. Instead of Obi-Wan, we have Han Solo as the mentor. There are several things aboard the Millennium Falcon that come directly from the original film. The Resistance is really just another word for the Rebellion, and they have to just blow up another Death Star. I understand the criticisms over the heavy reliance on themes, characters, items, and dialog from A New Hope.
However, I think it’s safe to say that we saw what happened when we tried something different with Star Wars. That did well at the box office, and we all tried desperately to love those prequels, but most of us were ultimately disappointed. Let’s take what we know works, give us some new characters, and let their likability carry us into new movies with new twists and turns. It’s the first step that is most important. The Force Awakens took the path that was more familiar, but reignited the mystery of the Jedi and the true power of the Force. Rey, like Luke forty years ago, is learning all those myths and legends of powerful magicians were real. All of them.
So, if we have to put some new characters into a bit of a replay of some of the ideas we grew up with to help spark our imaginations again, I’m all for it. I’d much rather live with that than a whole bunch of droll dialog and mechanical atmosphere.
What excites me most is that, even with the remake nature of The Force Awakens, the wonder of the Star Wars universe has returned. We’re not bogged down with all the rules of the Jedi and padawans and masters or councils. I look at Rey like I do Luke – with nothing but love and hope. I (like so many) still get shivers when Rey took Luke’s lightsaber from Kylo Ren. It was a crowning moment for the movie in the theater that first night and it still reigns supreme.
Maybe the highest compliment you can give an adventurous, science-fiction story is to say you want to live in that world – even if that world is threatened to be blown up by the bad guys’ super weapon. For all the mysticism once peddled to us by the likes of Kenobi and Yoda, it’s returned and you can count me as one who wants to live in this new trilogy. I want to be hopeful that the Resistance will crush the First Order and Kylo Ren gets his punk ass knocked down a few pegs.
And so here we are… Time for us to take one more trip around that galaxy far, far away.