The basis of this review was going to be expanding upon the specific criticisms and issues I had during my first viewing of The Force Awakens. I intended to write this up shortly after my second viewing of the film, but a few things happened along the way to this second take. First, I discussed the film and my issues with it in depth on my podcast. Then, I participated in a spoiler discussion with fellow CHUD contributors Travis Newton and WilliamB. By the time I got to the theater for my second screening, I had exorcised a lot of my initial problems with the movie.
I think I need to give a lot of context for my second screening. My mom, stepfather, and I drove two hours to go see the film in 70MM 2D IMAX. It was a birthday present to me, and especially endearing since my mom and stepfather aren’t what you’d call Star Wars fans. To say they have a passing familiarity with the property is even a little generous. Nevertheless, they saddled up and went to indulge my cinephile shenanigans.
And they LOVED The Force Awakens.
And I think I did too.
Admittedly, seeing the film in 70MM was jaw-dropping. In my previous review, I praised every visual aspect of the film, and the 70MM print (I didn’t realize how much I missed the sound of a film projector) only enhances what a treat to the eyes The Force Awakens is. I’m actually a little bummed that J.J. Abrams will be vacating the director’s chair (apparently, so is he) because he brought an optical splendor to the Star Wars universe that hasn’t ever really existed before. I implicitly trust Rian Johnson going forward, especially on a story level, but Episode VIII has some extremely big shoes to fill on the visual side of things.
I’m not saying that this viewing completely wiped away any complaints I’ve made (which you can hear about at length in that podcast episode and that spoiler discussion), and the legacy of The Force Awakens will hinge a lot on what’s to come, but I feel like I need to address the big problem I had during my first viewing: The Force Awakens is a quasi-remake of Star Wars (or A New Hope for those needing clarification). It still is, but I found that problem a lot less distracting on my second viewing. Maybe it was because of the film’s brisk pacing, its deft handling of tone, its fantastic use of humor, and how enjoyable the lead performers were. I still don’t dig that the final showdown was another version of the Death Star, but I can’t criticize how excellently it was pulled off.
I wish I had a whole lot more to say (feel free to pose questions or things you want to discuss in the comments), but my second viewing of The Force Awakens really enveloped me in the feelings and emotions the filmmakers wanted from me. It was honestly a strange experience. When Maz Kanata was talking to Rey about the Force and that familiar John Williams theme softly started playing, I found myself inexplicably tearing up. I can’t really pinpoint why this happened but it did. My analytical brain had surrendered and my heart was watching the movie. I can see how The Force Awakens is going for hearts but not minds. That will probably affect it in the long run, but right now it feels so good.
If nothing else, The Force Awakens has me eagerly awaiting the next installment. It has me reinvigorated for another Star Wars film. That’s an energy and a joy a lot of us haven’t felt for a long time (…a long time). If The Force Awakens achieved that, then I can’t be completely dismissive of it. I’m sure two years from now, my opinion will reconfigure itself once again, but for the time being, I’m happy to welcome back Star Wars this way.