My wife has always loved The Force Awakens. Following our visit to Takodana last weekend we watched Abrams’ film once more, and her enjoyment hadn’t diminished. Without the knowledge of the story that came with growing up on Star Wars it remains a charming and accessible entry point for her – although certain plot contrivances still threw her out of the film at times (Poe Dameron, looking at you).
Watching The Force Awakens at the cinema with Emma provided my most enjoyable experience of it in 2015, and watching it again with her this week was the most I’ve ever enjoyed it. So, what exactly made it better this time around?
A few months ago I wrote a post, which I later removed, about how The Last Jedi makes The Force Awakens a better film. This was when I was still trying to pretend that The Last Jedi was good both as a film and as a sequel to the seven films that came before it. Yet as I considered justifications such as “I had been focusing on the wrong story” or “failure was inevitable”, I began to realise how indefensible Episode VIII is – which is why the post is no longer live.
What first struck me as we watched The Force Awakens again was how much I had missed the new characters. Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren were always the best creations of the Sequel Trilogy, and it was nice to remind myself why. Much has been said of how The Last Jedi wasted this character potential, and while I won’t go into that here, the charmlessness of the cast in Johnson’s film is in sharp focus by comparison. It’s interesting that while my expectations are now set rock-bottom for Episode IX, re-watching The Force Awakens does have me looking forward to seeing the characters in JJ Abrams’ hands once more.
This leads on to another factor that’s become clear since The Last Jedi: Abrams all but nailed the tone of Epsiode VII. Clumsy moments exist, no doubt, and Han shooting a Stormtrooper without looking still makes my toes curl. But from Rey’s charm to Ren’s devotion to the dark side, through to the sincere menace of Hux, there’s a consistency in the characterisations that unfolds from scene to scene and befits the Empire vs Rebellion story.
That said, it’s still at Takodana that The Force Awakens falls apart. Starkiller Base is introduced, Han Solo’s total failure becomes clear, some planets are destroyed in a CG firework display that makes zero sense. Despite this, my new connection to the location pulled me through for this viewing. It was this spirit that helped me to bypass some of my more pedantic hang-ups, such as the abuse of hyperspace, and that helped me to, well – if not enjoy the film more, then at least have a greater appreciation for what it accomplished. And this is where things get tricky.
As I’ve always maintained, The Force Awakens is enjoyable but struggles as a sequel. That it does a better job of being a sequel than its own follow up may be fitting but is also, for us fans, unfortunate. Watching The Force Awakens again now after The Last Jedi has left me even more disappointed in the many opportunities missed by Episode VIII.
Perhaps this makes The Force Awakens better. It definitely makes the Sequel Trilogy worse.
Over the last week much has been made of Bob Iger’s interview with the Hollywood Reporter, in which he discussed the need to “pump the brakes” on Star Wars following Solo’s failure to ignite the box office.
Iger’s own failure to mention Rian Johnson’s previously announced film trilogy as part of the upcoming slate was glaring. Given his considered answers to other tough questions this absence was most likely intentional; although whether this actually means anything has changed only time will tell.
Still, none of this comes as any surprise, right?