Saw The Force Awakens last night — no spoilers in this discussion, so no worries. On the whole, it was good-to-very-good, if not quite the sheer jolt of electricity that we got back in 1977 (but really, nothing is ever going to be — not in the same way, certainly).
A couple of things come to mind:
1. Star Wars has always borrowed freely from other genres and films, and this one sees fit to borrow mostly from other parts of Star Wars itself (although there is an Alien homage-of-sorts). This isn't by itself fatal or even problematic, but it does give the movie something of a "Star Wars's Greatest Hits, Remixed" flavor. (No 12" version yet; that's next year.) It's also something of a shame because the truly original stuff in it this time around is the best part of it. Finn and Rey are excellent torch-bearers for the future of the franchise, and it's good that they lead the action instead of following it.
2. J.J. Abrams does fine work with the film, but only because he's the sort of director who's only as good as his material. With both go-rounds on Star Trek, he was saddled with the job of trying to turn the franchise into action fodder, which it most certainly isn't, and the end result was ghastly. Here, he's more or less at home — it's clear he loves Star Wars with all his throbbing heart — and so his choices are more in line with what this project demands. But it also confirms my thinking that Abrams is ultimately no more than a competent mime of other directors; left on his own he doesn't really do much of anything except recap other people's high points. The thing about Spielberg and Lucas is that they grew up with an earlier generation of filmmakers that deserved study: Kurosawa, for instance. It's obvious Abrams grew up watching Spielberg and Lucas, but that's about as deep as he can dig.
3. I am now wondering if some of the bits and pieces left over that Lucas never used — the Kiber Crystal, for instance — might end up being pivotal in future installments. Some major untapped possibilities remain there.
4. It's weird to come back to Star Wars after all this time, in big part because it was Lucas's film-school experiences with Kurosawa that sent me down the road to Japanese film and Japanese culture generally (and later anime and manga). By the time the prequels came out, I felt like Star Wars had outlived its usefulness for me, so I went in with zero expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. But all the same, when I walked out of the theater, I knew in my marrow that there was no going back to 1977 no matter how hard we might try.
5. Harrison Ford's pointing finger has become at least as iconic as Luke Skywalker's lightsaber.
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