Malachi Rowswell is SpiritLive’s resident movie buff. He’ll be reviewing all kinds of films — from current flicks to old-time favourites — for our readers’ pleasure. Think of this as a “Movie Lover’s Guide To The Industry.”
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I’ve come to realization that I may be TOO big of a Star Wars fan. In fact, my dad, little brother and I ended up seeing The Force Awakens twice on December 19th, the day after 2015’s most highly-anticipated film’s official release. However — popular to contrary belief — we didn’t see the movie twice because we were so impressed by it; more so because we felt as if something was missing.
I couldn’t figure out how to properly review this film without including spoilers — so, if you were simply looking for a second opinion on whether or not you should see the film, my apologizes. There is a spoiler-free paragraph at the end of this review that contains my thoughts on the kinds of people who will like this film — and why.
So without further ado, here’s my review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
(Also, here’s the official Rowswell Spoiler Alert)
Almost immediately, it’s clear that director J.J. Abrams has crafted the loving tribute to the original trilogy that most fans have always wanted. For me, this is both a good and bad thing.
I am in the camp (which includes a minority of fans) that believes the prequel trilogy was not a stain on the Star Wars legacy. Sure, those films definitely have their flaws — but I believe they told stories and introduced lore that added a lot of depth to the franchise’s canon. I found it really interesting to learn about things like the origins of the Clone Wars, and concepts of the Jedi code.
I’ve come to realize that The Force Awakens was made as a kind of rehab for the franchise; an attempt to take Star Wars back to the glory days. For a lot of people, they ended in 1983. For a few others — myself included — those days ended a couple years ago, when Disney decided to start a new Star Wars canon. Many aren’t aware that the original Star Wars timeline extended far beyond the films and TV series. Hundreds of books, comics, video games, etc. formed the “Star Wars Expanded Universe” — and this timeline added literally thousands of years of lore to George Lucas’ pop culture dynasty (see below).
This isn’t even half of what was created as a part of the “Expanded Universe.” To give you an idea of the scale of it all, the canon eventually reached 140 years past the “Battle of Yavin” (the battle at the end of the original Star Wars) and began as early as 36,000 years before that same battle. When Lucas sold the rights for the franchise to Disney, they decided to wipe out the entire expanded universe — all of it. What remains? The first 6 films, the two animated TV Series, and any other branded content created after 2013.
I was hoping this wouldn’t have any negative impact on the new film — but it did. The result is a film that completely ignores content that was originally developed within the “Expanded Universe” in order to tell a story that essentially mirrored the original movie. Filmmakers seemed to be working off a list that contained elements from Episode IV that needed to be included in the new instalment. Desert planet? Check. Cantina band? Check. Pretty much the exact same final 30 minutes as in the original film? Complete with new death star, death of the wise mentor, x-wing trench run and destruction of said new death star? Check, check, checkity-check.
Beyond the script’s unoriginality, this film just feels lighter. Before the expanded universe was destroyed, Star Wars felt larger than a simple science fiction adventure. There was a whole world, complete with a mythology deeper than that of any other Sci-Fi franchise. The Force Awakens throws all of that away in favour of sucking up to die-hard fans of the original trilogy.
What’s frustrating is how smart the decision to make a Star Wars film that’s built exclusively on nostalgia was. Disney realized that most fans longed for a film that replicated the feeling associated with viewing the original Star Wars movies. Clearly, it worked; The Force Awakens has become the third highest grossing film of all time. While I may not be entirely thrilled with the film’s storyline, I can respect the Hollywood powerhouse’s ability to make the franchise successful again.
I’ve talked about a lot of things I didn’t like about The Force Awakens, but there were things I actually enjoyed. The dialogue is far superior than that of the prequels, and it was refreshing to see practical effects and on-location shooting versus heavily-used CGI. The result is something more visually organic and real as opposed to the look of the films produced in the early 2000s. The acting (for the most part) is fantastic in The Force Awakens. Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all bring renewed energy and charisma to their performances — making me fall in love with their characters instantaneously. Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew made me realize how much I had missed Han and Chewie, and their chemistry has certainly evolved in comparison to the original films. I also should take a second and acknowledge that the film did feature some of my new favourite scenes, including (HUGE SPOILER) the gut-wrenching death of Han Solo at the hands of his son, Kylo Ren, as well as the light-saber fight in the snowy woods between Ren, Finn and Rey. Not only was it well choreographed, it rivalled the emotional intensity of the fights in Episodes V, VI and III.
Tying this all into the Oscars, a lot of people were surprised to see the film garner zero nominations in some of the major categories — such as Best Picture and Best Director. I’m not all that surprised for two reasons: 1) the film was released on December 18th, after all of the secondary awards nominees had been announced and 2) the Academy already had two great sci-fi blockbusters to include on their ballots — The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not as if the film was completely snubbed; it racked up five nominations in the technical categories.
We’ve (finally) reached the point where I try to rate this thing, and honestly — it’s really hard. Even though I’ve highlighted a lot of negative aspects of the movie, it’s simply because I have such a deep love for this franchise. If I recall, both times I saw the film, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it — I got to see the world I love so much on the big screen for the first time in over ten years. That being said, my true feelings for this film will depend on how the rest of the new timeline is forged. There are a lot of new questions the film opens up, and if the answers are not satisfying, my feelings for the film may change. I sincerely hope that Episodes VIII and IX do not rehash Episodes V and VI. That kind of recycled writing was tolerable this time around as it was necessary to engage the existing fan base, but I’ll be really annoyed if the next instalments don’t include all new, original stories.
For now though, go see The Force Awakens, and enjoy the homage to the spirit of the original trilogy.
By: Malachi Rowswell
This movie blog will focus on reviews, actor profiles, etc. with the hopes of transforming content into a YouTube series. Please let me know what you think about the first review! You can contact me on Twitter (@malachirowswell) or on Facebook. I would appreciate any general feedback, as well as any additional suggestions for future posts.