I watched Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens on Saturday of its record-breaking opening weekend. Since late last November, when the first teaser trailer was released, I had been following as many of the details of the production of the film as I could–from the early shots of the animatronic alien creatures to the construction of the Millennium Falcon and Harrison Ford’s injury on the set to the first script read-through by the cast, where the new ensemble of unknown actors took the baton from original trilogy stars Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. This process aroused the Star Wars fanboy in me to the degree of my spending $300 on twelve original Kenner action figures including the very valuable “Blue Snaggletooth” and “Big Head” Han Solo.As we learned in the first full Episode VII trailer, the Force likewise undergoes an awakening in that mythological galaxy far, far away setting the stage for a revival of the conflict between the light and dark sides of George Lucas’s literary device representing the universal instinct of human religiosity, which John Calvin called the sensus divinitatis. While Lucas’s Force features the earmarks of Eastern mysticism, Lucas was less interested in promoting Eastern mysticism to his Western audiences than he was in merely representing the spiritual and supernatural side of human existence in the form of his modern “Science Fantasy” genre. The bottom line for the Sparknotes on Star Wars Episodes IV-VI is that “the Force is a rather vague entity, serving primarily as a vocabulary for good and evil and as a way to explain the ‘magical’ powers of the Jedi.” This revival, or “Awakening” of the Force in Star Wars, Episode VII occasions our return to the theater for the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. It has been that long, I say, because this movie comes on the heels of Lucas’s decision to sell Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise to Disney. In the intervening years between Empire and Force Awakens was a dark time of Lucas introducing less than endearing characters like the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks in films featuring Lucas’s less than stellar writing and directing. Don’t get me wrong—George Lucas is a revolutionary filmmaker, but it is due to his hitting upon a great idea for a modern space age fairy tale and some groundbreaking developments in the art and science of special effects. But in my humble opinion, this is where Lucas’s strengths end. For this reason, I think it is good that Lucas has once and for all handed off his legendary franchise to the media giant that has mastered the art of producing high quality fairy tales for the big screen. As you may know, The Empire Strikes Back excelled for a similar reason. Lucas wanted his series to take off, so he knew the sequel to A New Hope had to be really, really good. Tapping Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay and film school instructor, Irvin Kershner to direct, George Lucas hit upon the formula for a well-made Star Wars film post his 1977 magnum opus: get someone else to write and direct. So, for this year’s The Force Awakens, Kasdan returns to co-write the screenplay with the next Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, who also agreed to direct. The quality of the resulting film reflects the wisdom of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy’s choice of writers and director. J.J. Abrams was the right pick to revive the Star Wars franchise. In this film, he seems to have done what made his Star Trek (2009) reboot work. In that film, Abrams gathered the perfect cast to mirror the first generation crew of the starship Enterprise, and planted lots of nostalgic references to classic Star Trek tropes, breathing new life into the rival sci-fi classic. This must be the reason Spielberg recommended Abrams to Kennedy, who then pursued him for the job. Not only is The Force Awakens the seventh episode in the series, but in many ways, it is arguably a reboot of A New Hope. Without spoiling the film for you latecomers giving place to the teeming masses you think camped outside the world’s theaters for days before the December 18th opening (not so much), The Force Awakens parallels the first Star Wars in many ways. Himself a fan since age 11, Abrams knew that what the die hard audience wanted was a return to the “used universe” look and feel of A New Hope, building props and sets the old fashioned way, keeping his use of computer generated images to a minimum, along with Abrams’s infamous lens flare habit. I counted two, maybe three such incidents of lens flare.
One thing which surprised me about the show was that, despite the many links to the original trilogy scattered throughout the film, I did not find myself overwhelmed with emotion. I’m a sentimental guy, so I was disappointed by this. I don’t fault the film, though, for this may be due more to the fact that I’ve been watching the production very closely all year, so there were fewer surprises for me, other than some of those spoilerific elements of the film which I cannot yet discuss openly. I was happy with the fact that the awkward dialogue and acting so prominent in the prequels was absent in this first installment of the sequel trilogy. Lucasfilm at last has awakened to the fact that George Lucas’s great ideas must be complemented by equally good writing and directing.