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natemup

The personal blog of Nate Tinner.

The Forced Awakening: An Anti-Review (With Demi-Spoilers)

"Chewie... We're home."

That's about all I remembered from the trailer for "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens", which I watched once on the day it was released, then swore myself to ignorance of any and all information concerning J. J. Abram's newest baby.
I owe this idea to one Mr. Johnson, a New Orleanian friend who unknowingly helped me reject the modern tradition of watching every trailer possible for a movie before its theatrical release. This was just too big, the wait had been too long, and the canonical chasm too wide for me to spoil even the slightest plot detail of perhaps the biggest movie release in American history. So I waited. And forgot everything I knew about the new movie for as long as possible. Then, at the beginning of this week, I began a plot of my own.

One trial subscription to Netflix DVD and a semi-legal streaming site later, I had torn through Episodes I-VI in two and a half days, which I presumed would prepare me nicely for what was to come. And if I—*ahem*—"trust my feelings", I think they prepared me for disappointment.

Episodes I-III, for all the flak they get, were actually refreshing to me, mostly because I hadn't paid much attention to Episode III the first two times I saw it, and even then my attention span and thinking skills were apparently not strong enough to catch all the little details anyway. They felt almost like brand-new movies altogether, and watching all three in one day felt like a major binge-watching accomplishment (I don't watch much television or Netflix, mind you). Even Jar Jar Binks intrigued me as a character! No, really. (In 1999, sixteen years since the release of "Return of the Jedi", he should have been a welcome addition as a source of humor, novelty, and balance). I think the same fans that lambasted him into near non-existence in Episodes II and III are the same fanatics who will swoon over "The Force Awakens" in the next few days. They are just happy to have their series back, with little regard to how it came about.

Episodes IV-VI were the three films I remembered the least, though I knew I likened IV to I as the drawn-out, boring prequel of sorts to the real meat of the story: the second two films in the trilogy. I was surprised, however, to see so much packed into "A New Hope", and also to see how much better the acting was than "The Phantom Menace". That's not even to say the acting was good, but TPM at times was cringe-worthy. Overall, ANH felt like a movie from the late 70s in every way, and Episodes V and VI likewise felt like classic Star Wars, those must-watch VHS masterpieces from before my birth.

The other major build-up I engaged in before the new release—which, in addition to watching the original six films, I do not heartily recommend—was read the backstory. That is to say, I pored over Wookiepedia for some time, finding all the relevant information from before Episode I and after Episode VI that might help me understanding VII without spoiling the story. Then, I encountered the news that probably ruined "The Force Awakens" for me inevitably. In case you didn't already know, Disney bought LucasFilm a few years back, and in 2014, they used their powers as Emperor of the Star Wars Universe to wipe clean the entire storyline outside of the original six films (i.e. the "Expanded Universe"). Now that's what I call Force.

Now if that sounds like a shameless money grab, that's because it almost certainly is. By wiping out almost 40 years worth of George Lucas-sanctioned storyline, they might as well have wiped out half the original movies' worth as well. It would be like cutting off Luke's cyborg hand and telling him "Hey, it was an add-on anyway!"

So not only did I waste my time reading up on the story (which makes me wonder why Wookiepedia still lists all that newly non-canonical info in the first place), but Star Wars is essentially a brand-new franchise. Sure, we have Episodes I-VI to draw from, and the canon has already started to re-develop with new novels and such having been released over the past year and a half. But if you expected the new characters in TFA to have some tangible backstory, you are out of luck. We're back to square one. We are the new awestruck teenagers, children, and young adults who never grew up on (good) Star Wars movies that held us in genuine suspense as we had no idea what would happen in the next film.

It will keep us coming back. It will keep us shelling out ~$15 per ticket to see Luke's next adventure, just like our parents did—minus about $10. It will draw us back in even though the third Death Star just got blown up by a headstrong pilot and a motley crew of misfits, bandits, and Jedi. Simply put, I think Disney may have abandoned any attempt at great casting/acting/storytelling and just shoehorned into a decades-old story frame anyone who fit the newest cultural agenda (e.g. Daisy Ridley as Rey, who in a distant sort of way actually makes me think Hillary might just have her day next November).

So if you're expecting anything different from Episode V and VI's "Oh no, the Death Star is going to fire in t-minus 5 minutes, which will take half an hour and leave just enough time for us to blow it up without killing any major villains or resolving any story arcs, while somebody has a showdown with their dad", think again. It's just enough nostalgia to leave Star Wars fanboys in denial episodic bliss, and enough classic fare to leave Star Wars virgins completely mind-blown, but for those like me who have both seen the originals and think a new entry in a series should feel like more than a rehash with new characters...

"It's a trap!"

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