A few years ago, in a post about The Empire Strikes Back, I wrote, “it’s time to admit that I am not the audience for these films. That was clear when the new trilogy came along … only Revenge of the Sith was even tolerable to me. But the fact that I don’t have any real desire to watch Star Wars movies over and over, even as I’m always ready to sit through Attack of the Crab Monsters one more time, says it all.” This holds true for the new Star Wars movie, which I finally saw almost two months after its release.
How does it compare to other Star Wars movies? I’d say it’s a contender with The Empire Strikes Back for the best of the series. But never have personal taste preferences been more illuminating. Watching Episode VII, I got the feeling the true fans of the series probably like this one, which is respectful to traditions (hello, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) while moving forward in good and entertaining ways (hello, Daisy Ridler and John Boyega). Casting Adam Driver was also perfect ... the first time he takes off his helmet and speaks in his unmistakable accent, we understand the emotional turmoil inside the character. Not everything is good, again if we’re talking about my preferences. I had thought to myself, “at least we don’t have to put up with that damned C-3PO”, and within minutes, the sucker turned up.
The key for fans is to place the film in the context of the series. But that’s useless for someone like me, who doesn’t care about the series. Which is why my saying it’s arguably the best movie in that series is largely irrelevant. Because once I compare Episode VII to other movies I like, Star Wars doesn’t do well. For my tastes, there was a superb action picture in 2015, one that extended a favorite series of mine, one that I greatly anticipated, and one that fulfilled my every hope: Mad Max: Fury Road. But is Fury Road a better movie than Episode VII, or does it just better match my tastes? I prefer stunts done by humans to space ships fighting each other, CGI style. But that’s not fair to Star Wars, which is a space opera ... it’s not like they can put stunt people on space ships. I do think Fury Road has visual creativity that the Star Wars series has rarely approached ... think of the men on the poles, or the flame-throwing guitar.
I enjoyed Daisy Ridler, and was reminded of how revolutionary it seemed in the first film when Leia was part of the action scenes. We’ve moved far beyond that, now. John Boyega presented a different problem ... one more time, from my perspective. He was in Attack the Block, a favorite of mine that cost around $13 million to make. Is Attack the Block a better movie than The Force Awakens? Let’s just say I liked it more.
When a movie gets five Oscar nominations and none of them are “people” categories like picture or director or acting, I am wary. Episode VII is nominated in editing and sound and visual effects and soundtrack. If we compare it to other films that pile up the nominations in these kinds of categories, I think The Force Awakens looks quite good. But I’m guessing I'll watch Attack the Block again a few more times before I ever get around to watching this Star Wars movie a second time. To say nothing of Attack of the Crab Monsters. 7/10.