No really, major spoilers ahead. If you don’t want to know intimate details about Star Wars Episode VII, turn back now.
I went in not expecting very much, but still feeling hopeful for JJ Abrams’ vision of the Star Wars franchise. To be frank… It was the perfect throwback! From the opening crawl, I could tell that the whole product was created with respect and reverence to the original trilogy and the fans. The invasion of a Star Destroyer (or as I call them, Imperial Cheese) called the Finalizer across the screen gave me my first true sense of scale that had previously not been demonstrated, despite the prequels’ best efforts.
Scale is a cinematographic motif Abrams uses to paint a picture of the galaxy. The life-size Millennium Falcon is absolutely radical, and he constantly uses vast landscapes to contrast the intimate personal interactions – Rey scaling the crashed Star Destroyer, the tiny salvage yard on Jakku, the size of every battle matching the scale of what I imagine D-Day and the subsequent European land battles.
This Episode also parallels A New Hope (and Phantom Menace) with intent and precision. It follows the classic Hero’s Journey structure, allowing both of the new main heroes to experience the journey at nearly the same pace. To be honest, this was a risky move due to the nature of movie viewership. I found that the second iteration (which each character performed, neither lead overtook the other) always felt a little bit late. But without showing the two scenes side-by-side this would be impossible to fix.
The story beats line up with Episode IV naturally. However, what I loved even more was the cinematic parallel. The dogfighting was just an enhanced and more chaotically real version of what we saw back in the day, and the return to cockpit-view of the action took my breath away. A combination of long shots and jump cutting between specific characters allowed me to feel an emotional connection to the battle, and therefore the characters within the battle whom I had yet to meet. It was also a perfect way to surprise us with Po’s fate.
The First Order is a perfect evolution of the Empire that truly captures the grandiosity of the organization, while showcasing the evils of the dark side and casting in a [canonically] new villain in Snoke, who the truest of Star Wars nerds may have already identified, with a new hologram style that just fucking rules. The interactions of Dark Siders – specifically Kylo Ren – really had me on edge. We finally got to see on screen some of the dark side power that earned it the moniker.
Among the parallels to the previous trilogies, the meeting of Han and Kylo Ren on the bridge perfectly mirrored the meeting of Vader and Obi-Wan. The movie clearly laid the groundwork for their relationship and as soon as I saw their meeting, I knew this was that scene for Episode VII. The main cast watching the battle happen and reacting… I mean, the whole thing felt like a shot-for-shot remake of the same scene on the Death Star (and the lesser version in Phantom Menace) but on the way more epic Starkiller Base.
Without giving away too much, this episode had superb writing and timing. One of the things about the dark side is how it compounds itself. Things just pile on and on and emotion becomes the only fuel you can run on, and that’s when you turn completely. The pacing of this movie reflected that exactly and it made certain scenes way more dramatic. There was no respite for our main cast, hero and villain alike.
I find it beautiful that I can already tell the relationships of certain characters whose bonds remained unspoken throughout. It speaks strongly to the power of acting without dialogue as well as blocking, gestation…. it shows the balance between actor and director and the teamwork it takes to make a movie all it can be.
The introductions of the old cast were all surprises – I didn’t expect any of them to show up when they did. When I realized we didn’t have time to get exciting Luke stuff, I started to dread his inevitable cameo. But once that scene reached its pinnacle, the breathtaking view of that massive Island with oceans crashing into the rock faces brought that perfect contrast against the two of them standing there, silently acknowledging that the moment had arrived. I didn’t think anyone in the cast upstaged anyone else; character treatment felt extremely balanced, honest, and fair. But goddamnit, Mark Hamill, you just stole the whole fucking show for me, you sly dog.
Anyway, I could gush for hours about how great it was, but the bottom line is that the movie did everything I was hoping it would and addressed a lot of complaints by the fans. The reduction of fanservice, all clean and unmistakably Abrams cinematography and production (Bad Robot) left me feeling satiated by the movie in a way that I honestly hoped I would but expected not to. They didn’t reach too far, but they didn’t “play it safe” either. They clearly looked at the source material and – in true Disney fashion – took the best elements they could find, struck the rest from the record, and set the grounds to build a beautiful new galaxy. I have high hopes that this new trilogy will turn out to be the strongest yet.
As for Rogue Squadron and the other spin-offs…. I’ll wait to pass judgment until I actually see one. That feels like a reminder that Disney is evil and will drain our love of everything we ever cherished until there is nothing remaining in the human soul and we are but slaves to the entertainment conglomerate…