The wait has ended and, by now, most of us and indeed, most of the world, have seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Personally, it took me two separate viewings, one with 3D and one without, to fully sort out my thoughts on the newest installment of a franchise that has defined my life. Objectively, The Force Awakens (henceforth referred to as TFA) is a fantastic film, featuring stellar casting, beautiful visual effects, and a riveting story, all underlined by the magnificence of a John Williams score. The amount of talent and skill on display is most impressive. Logically, almost nothing negative can be said about the execution of this film. But, for Star Wars fans, watching a Star Wars movie has never been a logical experience; it has always been a thoroughly emotional experience and this film certainly elicits a very mixed emotional response.
From the beginning, something feels slightly… off. Perhaps it’s that we’re all piled into theaters in December to see the new movie in a saga born and bred to be Summer blockbusters, always filling a May release date. Perhaps it’s the lack of the 20th Century Fox Fanfare that has, for nearly 40 years, seamlessly transitioned into the iconic Star Wars Main Theme. Or perhaps it’s because, for the first time since A New Hope, the audience is thrust into unfamiliar territory. Even Episode I began with a familiar character, albeit portrayed by a different actor. But, for better or for worse, TFA is not interested in a slow immersion into this new time and place in the universe; it asserts itself immediately and completely as an independent part of the franchise, demanding that the audience make a choice: are you in or are you out?
The new generation is quickly established in Rey, Finn, and Poe, and, from that point on, TFA begins to straddle the line between nostalgia and the progression of an entirely new story, never falling into the trap of fan service or cheap references. From the Millennium Falcon carelessly bumping its way off of Jakku to Finn callously disregarding Luke’s force training orb to THAT THING THAT HAPPENED (you know which thing), TFA constantly reminds us that this is the Star Wars universe, but it must move forward and things must change. Even the bad guys have evolved. No longer are Stormtroopers the clumsy bucketheads who couldn’t hit the broad side of a moisture farm. Now, they are the ruthless military arm of an even more powerful Empire. In A New Hope, the heinous acts of the Stormtroopers are implied, but never really seen, and somewhat incongruous with their inability to thwart the Rebels. Conversely, the first thing we see the First Order Stormtroopers do is slaughter an entire village without hesitation. Previous generations of Stormtroopers were led by a calculating, careful politician, evil to be sure, but in a strategic sort of way. Enter Kylo Renn, who exhibits a sadistic, chaotic evil not seen before in the cinematic universe. It quickly becomes clear that everything has escalated in the 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi.
This is the recurrent theme of TFA. The universe is more dangerous, more is at stake, and the old generation must give way to the new. Luke, Leia, and Han must stand aside to let Rey, Finn, and Poe take over the fight between good and evil. And that is what feels so different about this, so disconcerting for fans of the original trilogy; this is not the original trilogy. This is not our familiar heroes and
villains. Even the prequels, for all their faults, could be forgiven some transgressions because we knew the endgame. We knew that Episode III would end with the birth of the twins and the rise of the Sith, setting up the original trilogy. We don’t know the endgame of this new trilogy. We have no familiarity with the story or the characters and there is an ingrained response of mistrust from older fans. We are scared. Scared that this will ruin the franchise or scared that kids these days will ignorantly love the new trilogy more than the classics.
But the conclusion I came to is this: nothing will ever take the place of the classics. They are the foundation of this franchise and, as a fanbase 38 years strong has proven, love for them will never wane. Yes, people for whom Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are their first introduction to the universe will probably cite those as their favorites. But, if Episode VII is any indication, it’ll be well-deserved. Episode VII is a Star Wars film, and a good one at that. It has every marker of the Star wars story and it will inspire legions of future fans to love and protect this franchise for generations to come. TFA is not a disposable sequel or a shiny new reboot; it is a worthy contribution to a mythology ingrained in our culture and the Star Wars legacy is stronger for its inclusion.
Episode VII off this saga ensures that the Force will be with us, always.