On the way to the release of "Force Awakens" a friend of mine said he'd heard talk that this was the best Star Wars ever. I couldn't help but pump the breaks. If there's one thing that life has taught me, it's that it's best to temper expectations. That way you're protected if the film is garbage, and pleasantly surprised if it isn't. "The Force Awakens" is not garbage, not by a long way, but it is also most definitively not the "best Star Wars movie ever."
It's a little bit difficult to give Star Wars films a fair shake immediately after seeing them. After all, "A New Hope" came out in 1977, which is basically as long as I've been alive. When I watch that, I can't help but remember playing with the plastic figurines in my back yard; going to see the film on various occasions with friends; having some idiot ruin the twist of "Empire" and make me hate spoilers to this day. For many of us, there is a lifetime of nostalgia associated with Star Wars, a new film feels kind of like celebrating Christmas with dad and his new wife.
That being said, my first thought after watching "Force Awakes" was that the prequels didn't seem so bad anymore. I realize there have been a lot of "click bait" articles defending the prequels lately (I've dismissed those), the feeling I got at the end of VII was curiosity as to what Lucas would have done with the source material. I never thought I'd be wondering that.
Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that VII does right. Daisy Ridley is as perfect as can be for this film, as is Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. The casting for the new characters was spot on...which is a relief.
The actual interactions of characters is a lot more natural than what we saw in the prequels. The dialogue is better, although I think they swing into "joke mode" a little too frequently. The prequels missed comic relief completely, this one gives us maybe 20% too much.
Let it be said that doing a legacy type film is always a challenge. The characters everybody loves present themselves and then turn over the baton to a younger group. This is one of the places where film is limited in a way novels are not. In the novels, a character can live for a thousand years and never age a day. In a film, actors show their years.
In terms of modern film making, JJ Abrams is much more on the cutting edge than Lucas is. However, there's a certain gravitas that Lucas managed to hit from time to time which elevated the franchise which seems beyond Abrams. Obviously things like Ewoks and Jar-Jar were misses, but Alec Guinness, for example, always spouted his lines with the dignity and poise of absolute belief. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if maybe Alec Guinness is almost single-handedly responsible for the success of the whole franchise. Much as Sean Connery showed us what James Bond acts like, Guinness showed us what a Jedi is, and all other actors aspire to his example. Even Max von Sydow's presence in VII can't evoke the grandeur of Guinness.
What does all this mean? Well, it means the dog fight scenes in VII are more spectacular, but you care less; the camera moves more frequently, but your imagination is limited; everything is bigger and better, yet smaller all at the same time. When it comes right down to it, there are some issues with the script...again. I think Abrams and company locked themselves in to some "end game" ideas early on, and they stuck with them even though they couldn't come up with reasonable motivations to get their characters where they wanted them to go. It's a shame too, because the film is beautiful.
I remember leaving "The Phantom Menace" completely shell shocked and semi-angry. I wasn't that angry for this one, but I wasn't thrilled or elevated either. There are a couple very solid high points in this movie though. I am curious to take my 5 year old daughter and see what she thinks. Honestly, I believe her impression will be a more accurate indicator of VII's quality than mine.
I think I'll revisit this in a month or so. It's entirely possible that my opinion will change. Again, I don't think it's a bad film, but there are impossibly high hopes floating about and it would greatly serve viewers to temper their expectations.