How 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Gives Fans Exactly What They Want
By now, a common consensus on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has circulated, and most are in agreement that while the movie is great, it’s also a bit familiar. Calling The Force Awakens the best Star Wars movie since Episode IV: A New Hope isn’t just a compliment, but a cheeky way of pointing out that The Force Awakens is seriously similar to the original Star Wars film. That's not a bad thing, however; the repetition adds to the movie's quality. And besides, it’s pretty much what fans have been asking for all along.
When it was first announced that director J.J. Abrams was going to direct the seventh film in the series, it was clear there was a lot of pressure on him. He had a lot resting on his shoulders, as if he screwed this up, he would never hear the end of it. Being a white male director with a long resume, he might still have a Hollywood career regardless of how The Force Awakens fared, but let's be real — he'd lose a lot of respect if the movie ended up being bad. After all, the beloved franchise had already faced disappointment from fans with the prequels; a bad Force Awakens would be unbearable. As for the director himself, it soon became obvious that Abrams wanted to avoid any resemblance to those poorly-received films, and go back to the puppetry, characters, and fun of the original trilogy. Spoilers ahead!
And it clearly worked. Force Awakens feels far more like the original Star Wars trilogy than any of the newer films. As I said to a friend as we left our screening, “That felt like a Star Wars movie, unlike the prequels, which felt like a Star Wars cartoon.” The main reason for this? Fan service, in the form of familiarity. The Force Awakens opens with an important piece of information being relayed by adorable droid. The main protagonist is an orphan marooned on a desert planet. The villain is a dark figure in black robes and a mask. There's a bigger Death Star this time — the Starkiller Base, a planet-sized Death Star that sucks power from a star and blasts planets many solar systems away via multiple red beams of death. It’s even got a singular, mechanical weakness that can only be reached by flying a tiny ship through a perilous trench (yes, really). Also, practically nothing is known about the new supervillain, Snoke. Much like the Emperor’s first appearance in the original trilogy, you kind of just go, “Who’s this guy?” and figure you’ll learn more later.
There are some differences — unlike Darth Vader, who wears a mask and helmet because of his injuries, Kylo Ren seems only to wear his mask as an homage, for instance — but overall, there is a lot of repetition from the original films. Still, isn't it kind of what fans were begging? We all wanted to revisit the Star Wars of old because we had been so disappointed by the new. I, for one, had always loved the fact that the original films, unlike the prequels, feel like the future of the past. The ships are old and clunky, the creatures weird, and the people real, with no overuse of CGI or untouchable glossiness to bring it down. So I couldn't help but feel happily nostalgic with The Force Awakens' throwbacks to the original series. When Han, Rey, and Finn walk into Maz Kanata’s bar, it looks and feels exactly like the Mos Eisley cantina. When Rey carjacks the Millennium Falcon, we know why she calls it a piece of garbage, and the audience cheers at the moment of its reveal.
And the cheering, by the way, at least at the screening I attended, mostly and enthusiastically happened at the reveal of the old. The opening scrawl called for it, naturally. Everyone smiled at the first sight of Han and Chewie. There was a group chuckle when an Arcona stuck his head out of a sand dune. It was hard not to clap at the appearance of Resistance X-Wing fighters, or at seeing General Leia, or at the epiphany when Rey used the Jedi mind trick just like Obi-Wan. You had to celebrate seeing all of Han's throwbacks, like looking for a garbage chute into which to throw a villain or saying “I have a bad feeling about this.”
My fellow fans and I wanted Star Wars from 1977, and we got it. Sure, it may have been overboard at times; this Star Wars film is such a fan of Star Wars that even its characters are fans of Star Wars, as shown as when Rey and Finn, mouths agape, are both in awe of Han Solo, or by the fact that Kylo Ren's mask feels like a bit too much of an homage to Darth Vader. Yet you can’t blame a Star Wars superfan like Abrams for giving fellow superfans exactly what they wanted. Besides, along with the fun throwbacks and return to memorable plotlines, there are plenty of new characters to care about. And it certainly isn't lost on anyone that these new people include a Latino pilot, a young black hero, a powerful female Stormtrooper captain, and female protagonist wielding a lightsaber. The Force Awakens may be filled with and borne of the past, but it has thankfully made its way, with or without the hyperdrive, into our future.