2/366 – The Spoiler-ific Summary Of Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens Is Doing Just Fine
WARNING: This blog post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the other films in the series. Please insert your favorite Star Wars quote/meme/picture here about avoiding said spoilers and not being silly enough to ignore this warning and read them.
Personally, I like to think of this Star Wars moment when I think of how badly people stumble into spoilers despite warnings:
(On a side note, just imagine how much shorter the whole saga could have been if this had happened):
I’m a Sith fan, so that’d mean we’d have less hours of whiny exposition and inexplicable Rebel scumbag escapes, and more kickass Empire and Dark Side bromance execution. C’mon, even you Jedi types would appreciate that a little, right? But I digress. You’ve been warned. Don’t be Episode IV, first-hour-of-the-movie Luke, guys and gals.
Like many people out there, I had the fortunate opportunity to go to the theater and see the latest episode in the Star Wars series, the much-anticipated Episode VII: The Force Awakens. At the risk of being called Captain Obvious, it’s pretty safe to say that the film is pretty much a critical success right now. There’s a really good article up on good old Entertainment Weekly about which records Star Wars: The Force Awakens has set, and the highlights are as follows as of today:
- Fastest movie ever to hit $1 billion at the global box office
- Biggest Christmas Day movie ever at $49.3 million on that day alone
- Biggest domestic debut weekend of all time at $247.9 million
- Only movie to exceed $100 million domestically in a single day
- Went right past Titanic for at $686.4 million domestically overall, Avatar being next.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this makes it into the top 3 movies of all time in terms of cash pull, wins a ton of awards, and will have been seen as having done the Kessel run in 13 parsecs (c’mon, you know no one’s shattering the 12 parsec Millennium Falcon record). So why has it been met with a ton of love and affection after the rather mixed reviews that episodes 1-3 got?
Simply put, it was a recipe of:
- Storytelling (both callbacks and new stuff)
- Modernizing of all the great things that made Star Wars badass, fun, and exciting
..but the primary and most important reason it’s succeeding is:
- Not fucking with the great things that made Star Wars badass, fun, and exciting
The last bullet point is what made Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace screw up Star Wars for people. If you take a trip back to the middle of 1999, the cusp of the beginning of the 21st century and the release date of Episode I, you’d see a ton of anticipation, hype, and excitement around the fact that a new set of Star Wars movies was coming out. I remember looking at a picture of the two week before release lineups like this:
..and saying “man, how lame of them to wait like that”, yet thinking how envious I was of those people to be the first to get to see the first new Star Wars in years. Filled with memories of Luke’s daring Death Star run sans computer, epic Millennium Falcon misadventures, and familial plot twists leading to amazing space battles, fans were amped up to see a new and exciting entry into one of the most beloved sci-fi sagas of all time.
Instead they got this:
and (hilariously, after he bested the most competent Jedi fighting in the film one-on-one) this:
and of course, THAT, which needs no introduction:
In short, many people left The Phantom Menace confused, upset, and worst of all, feeling like they didn’t get Star Wars – just a story that happened to be set in the Star Wars universe that made vague, fleeting attempts to connect people to what they’d known and loved from the originally released Episode IV-VI trilogy. It soured people, making enjoyment of the next two prequel episodes more difficult, even when the pivotal Anakin vs. Obi-Wan duel finally took place.
So when Episode VII was set to be filmed and eventually released, you can imagine that director J.J. Abrams, probably partially motivated by the fact that were he to fail he would probably be found, captured by the 501st Legion and forced to watch Jar-Jar clips til his head exploded, wanted to ensure that the same mistakes weren’t being made. Already probably taking a bit of flak for messing ever-so-slightly with the Star Trek universe (a certain “KHANNN” moment comes to mind, among other things), I’m pretty sure Abrams and rest of the folks filming Episode VII wanted to play it safe this time around, and remember what made fans love Star Wars in the first place.
Thus we got our character of destiny with mysterious parentage coming from humble means on a desert planet:
Millennium Falcon shenanigans:
A planet-killing weapon of mass destruction that needs to be destroyed against near-impossible odds:
A goodbye to a treasured mentor:
That one character who does a lot of standing around looking dangerous but who you know could kick some ass if they needed to:
…and of course, lightsaber duels done right:
There’s a lot more in the film, but the point is that Episode 7 evoked just enough of what people originally loved to see in Star Wars to bring them back and give them faith that future films will treat the Star Wars saga right. The (few) negatively-minded folks out there may criticize the film as copying a lot of Episode IV or the original trilogy’s best moments, but really, that’s part of what it needed to augment the original and new stuff the film introduced.
It’s easier and more believable to put up with “emo” Kylo Ren when his story of journey to the Dark Side involves literally killing his past and following it as an inverse storyline to Luke (or even Vader) finding his way to the Light.
It’s more exciting to see where Finn’s character development and change in mentality from Stormtrooper to Resistance hero might go when it has a parallel to Han Solo’s change from his selfish and mercenary tendencies as a smuggler to a noble (yet still smart-mouthed) war hero.
It’s more interesting to see how characters from the original movies like Luke, Leia, and Han play out in these movies since they take the places of mentor characters like Obi-Wan and Yoda from the past, rather than just be setpieces for cheap nostalgia.
And it’s definitely more thought-provoking and intriguing to speculate on Rey’s heritage and history when it has so many callbacks and notes to how Luke trained, developed, and learned to be a Jedi, under the auspices of an association with a family traditionally the strongest and most impactful of Force users.
These are the things that helped draw Star Wars Episode VII those ridiculously huge (and counting) box office numbers and praiseworthy reviews and blogposts. The message and mission, delivered loud and clear, was to say that Star Wars is back. The real Star Wars you remembered and loved, not the one who made the Gungan ambassador screw up everything Republic is back. The one that evoked enjoyment of good old fashioned ideas of good versus evil, of zero to hero, of huge and important space battles and duels with ancient yet powerful forces and weaponry. The one that took all those things, built an epic tale and plot around them, and gave you a saga you loved and cherished.
Near-700 million reasons (domestically) say it worked, and that I’m right. Star Wars is back.
P.S.: Speaking of callbacks, the Empi-er, First Order is still making the mistake of building enormous planet killing stations with one obvious flaw like an 8-bit boss fight, but hey, you can’t have everything be perfect. Did the son of the engineer who built that vulnerable exhaust port into the Death Star make it past First Order job screening and build a larger-yet-still-vulnerable thermal oscillator or something? Geez.
Bet that guy is SO fired.