Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Cinematic Comfort Food

by Trey Hock on December 19, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews


[Minor Rock Fist Up]

So much fretting.

For months now, people online and off have been speculating, hoping, disavowing their interest in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So with so much non-film related stuff swirling around J.J. Abrams‘ latest installment of the Star Wars serial, how is one to offer any insightful critique of The Force Awakens? Should we even bother?

My answer is probably not, but I’ll give it a go anyway. I will look at the cultural event surrounding The Force Awakens, and maybe even offer a brief and spoiler-free analysis of the film itself.

Kisses self on cheek and says, “For luck.”

Many of my colleagues are either offering undue high praise of The Force Awakens or are unfairly blasting it. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and most critics are allowing the spectacle surrounding the release to cloud their critique.

The release of The Force Awakens is like midnight services on Christmas Eve, or the Super Bowl. Even those who rarely attend church or dislike football will participate in the events because of the community that surrounds them.

Adults will see The Force Awakens in remembrance of there anticipation for the previous Star Wars films. They will take their own teen and preteen children in order to reclaim some of their former excitement by attempting to see this new film through a younger generations’ eyes.

People who hate science fiction space epics will go to participate in a gathering of other human beings that will rival all other global gatherings. They just want to be a part of it.

And why not? How often do we get millions of people, across the globe, to participate in a single event that is happy and full of energy or even hope? Yes we rally around tragedy, but how often do people get to join each other on a worldwide parade for something fun?

Star Wars has its own gravity. That gravity is so powerful that it bends and distorts our perception of the films at the center.

I have seen The Force Awakens twice. The screenings were very distinct. The first viewing was at an advance screening with other members of the press. I walked out of the film disappointed.

I grew up with Star Wars. My childhood from 3 to 10 synced up with the release of the original films, and they were hugely influential on my elementary school years.

But you should know that I am the antithesis of a fan boy. I intellectually devour my childhood, and distrust anything that smacks of nostalgia. For this reason, I saw too clearly that The Force Awakens is something of a reclamation project. A film that mines the best parts of Episodes 4 through 6 in order to make a film that feels like the original trilogy, but offers few surprises.

Abrams was perhaps too focused on setting The Force Awakens apart from the prequel trilogy, and appeasing those who just wanted to feel that this new film fit with the originals.

Why must we force the childhood of men, now in their 40s and 50s, upon the children and teens of 2015? Can’t we focus this energy and talent on creating the next great thing? You know kind of like Star Wars was in 1977?

Needless to say, I was grumpy and even a little down after the press screening.

My wife wanted to see The Force Awakens, and, because even weeks ahead of its release it was already set to decimate all opening weekend totals since forever, theaters were scrambling to open more screens to take all of that free money. The morning of Thursday, December 17, 2015, because I love my wife, I purchased tickets to see The Force Awakens with the other slavering masses.

Thank goodness I did.

Because, The Force Awakens is not just a well-crafted, yet mediocre repackaging of a decades old trilogy. It is not just a greedy attempt to seize the disposable income from a bunch of 45-year-old men bent on reliving their own childhoods.

The Force Awakens is cinematic comfort food. It is the smell of your grandparents’ house. It is cultural sense memory, and unless you participate on or near opening weekend, you will miss what is great about this event. Like a beloved holiday dish from someone else’s childhood, this film’s specialness will be lost to you.

So sure, The Force Awakens plays a lot like a graduation ceremony in which beloved characters are paraded across a screen for over 2 hours to the applause of the audience, but who cares. On opening night, because my wife made me, I was there, applauding in unison with everyone else in the theater. For that moment of fleeting solidarity, I owe The Force Awakens and my wife a debt of gratitude.

For another response to the film, read Trevan’s review.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Chris December 21, 2015 at 8:49 am

Spot on. It’s hard not to separate the film from the event. It was as nostalgic as anything I’ve seen since Super 8. JJ certainly manipulates the essence of childhood. I’m very skeptical of how the franchise will be managed going forward. This movie seemed to set the table for a slew of spin offs. I’m not looking forward to the cheapening of the brand. I echo the desire to see someone with JJ’s skill set to make something new that can rival the cultural impact of 4-6.

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