Dueling Critics: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

15:30 December 21, 2015
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Episode VII in the Star Wars sage takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has mysteriously disappeared and in his absence an army of darkness has arisen. Can a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) and a Stormtrooper defector (John Boyega), with the help of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), find Luke and restore order to the galaxy?


Fritz: It's funny that as I leave Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my thought isn't on how similar it is to another Star Wars. It's on how similar it is to a movie released less than a month ago: Creed. Both are sequels/reboots of beloved franchises whose more recent installments left a lot of fans disappointed. While I generally liked both films, both followed their original source material's basic story beats a little too rigidly for my taste. Both feature iconic characters (Rocky Balboa, Han Solo) as old men filled with sadness and regret. And in both cases, general response has been over-the-moon positive. Yet while I'd give each a thumbs up if we were on Siskel & Ebert, I feel the two movies have been a tad overrated. They're decent films, not great ones and there's a better-than-average chance there will be a backlash to both (backlashes are one of the Internet's primary reasons for existence anyway). So what did you think of JJ Abrams' take on Star Wars?


David: I enjoyed it but was underwhelmed at the same time. The Force Awakens is watchable but it's no classic Star Wars film. There were way too many call backs to the original 1977 Star Wars. And it just didn't have any memorable set pieces. But most of all, the mythology that George Lucas imbued into the previous films seemed absent.

And yes, the general response has been ecstatic, and I think it is mostly the result of the hype machine. Only when things die down and fans get control of themselves will the real feelings for this film emerge.

So, what did you find positive about The Force Awakens?


Fritz: It's got plenty of positives. Ford is still a pleasure as Han Solo. John Boyega, who was utterly convincing as a menacing street teen in Attack the Block, is convincing as a jittery ex-stormtrooper.  Daisy Ridley is wonderful and a real find as the scavenger Rey. I enjoyed the sequence where Boyega meets Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Ditto the first entry into the Millenium Falcon. I like that Abrams and his co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt gave stormtroopers actual lives and personalities here. Aside from Boyega, there's a funny bit later on where two stormtroopers stumble upon the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) throwing a temper tantrum. It's a gag, but those two extras are given more personality than any stormtrooper in the other films. Lupita Nyong'o does good voice work as Maz Kanata, who starts off a little too much like Yoda, but has potential to become an interesting character.

You're right than some of the callbacks fall flat, but others work. In particular, I liked a scene where Rey mimics Alec Guinness' mind control techniques from A New Hope. It got a laugh out of me.

In your review you mentioned the film lacks the sense of wonder and joy that the original trilogy had. I'm about to ask you an impossible question, but try and answer it anyway. If 9-year-old David Vicari watched The Force Awakens and A New Hope back-to-back, do you think he would've felt more wonder and joy at A New Hope? I ask because a nagging thought I've had during the build-up to The Force Awakens is that grown-ups who loved the first trilogy as kids are all chasing a feeling of excitement and wonder we'll likely never get again because we're all adults now. I also ask this because my eight-year-old nephew loves the original trilogy, but his favorite Star Wars film is actually Attack of the Clones. For him, that movie has a sense of wonder and joy. Anyway, I'm rambling. What do you think about that?


David: Sure, it may be because I am older and more cynical, but then again, I still get a lot of fun out of the original trilogy every time I revisit it and I got that sense of joy when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year. I'm willing to bet that if a 9-year-old me took the Pepsi Challenge with A New Hope and The Force Awakens I would pick A New Hope. And good for your nephew for loving Attack of the Clones because it's a good movie. Yes, the prequels have flaws but they are exciting and Lucas did try to expand on what came before them and not just recycle the same plot and story.

Another thing is that Lucas' inspiration for his Star Wars films were old Flash Gordon serials as well as the classic western The Searchers and the great samurai film The Hidden Fortress. The inspiration for The Force Awakens is...Star Wars films. Much of The Force Awakens feels mechanical. What saved it for me are the performances, which are very good across the board. And Ford seems to be having much more fun here as Han Solo then he did in his phoned in performance in Return of the Jedi.


Fritz: I think people are generally too hard on the prequels as well, which have their good moments, but their weakness are incredibly glaring (some of the acting and chunks of Lucas' dialogue). What I'm hoping here is that this trilogy got its fan-service segment out of the way and that Rian Johnson, who made a terrific character-driven sci-fi film in Looper, is able to bring something new and interesting to the series with the next installment. I hope these characters are allowed to develop different dynamics.

And you were right about Oscar Isaac - he's a fantastic actor with not too much to do here, so hopefully Poe will be expanded upon in the next installment.

So I think we're mostly in agreement here - pretty good but not great. But as a cinema geek, I am really happy that there are not one but two movies coming out this month (The Hateful Eight being the other) that people are so excited to see that they're actually buying advance tickets in large quantities.


David: I'm in the same boat. I have hopes for the next one because the final scenes of The Force Awakens did give me chills, and Johnson is a smart filmmaker and definitely has the ability to make a kick-ass Star Wars movie.

That's that. See you at The Hateful Eight

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