It’s been more than a month after the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and after seeing the movie I resisted posting a “review”. Since it is a Star Wars movie one needs some time to decompress from it, and over the last month I’ve had a lot of time to see the movie multiple times and think about it. And after seeing The Force Awakens seven times in theaters, I’ve realized that Abrams’ first Star Trek is better than his Star Wars.
My issues with Into Darkness are well documented on this site, but I absolutely love the 2009 Star Trek and think it’s probably still the best movie JJ Abrams has ever done. Even more so than the huge box office success of The Force Awakens. From the way the movie is paced, it was more of a Star Wars movie than a Star Trek movie and it leaves you with a more satisfying first installment of a series.
Star Trek felt like a reboot of a franchise made by someone who admitted they weren’t a fan, but felt new and propelled that franchise forward into the future opening new possibilities. Orci may be a crazy 9/11 Truther, but he is a Star Trek fan and that was reflected in a lot of the movie. On the other hand The Force Awakens feels like a Star Wars sequel made by a huge fan, but put together by a committee desperate to manufacture a “retro” movie that appealed to the misplaced nostalgia of a vocal minority of fans.
Lucas has even said that his Episode VII would probably have looked very different, as a Star Wars movie is supposed to push filmmaking and design forward, not wallow in nostalgia. The overall design of the movie bugged me, just like that of BioWare’s The Old Republic franchise.
That video game series took the Original Trilogy stuff and just made it fatter and slightly older, where The Force Awakens does the opposite and just streamlines it. The Old Republic comics looked ancient with gnarly looking lightsabers and way out-there ships. There were amazing ship designs for The Force Awakens that looked new, but using those would’ve alienated that vocal minority who only seems to like A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and Disney wanted to win them over.
Abrams’ Star Trek was absolutely nostalgic, but it also looked and felt modern. The movie harnessed nostalgia by using Spock Prime and reminding people that his friendship with Kirk defined their characters. It didn’t ram it down your throat with cute call backs, like “hey remember the Kessel Run?” or “here’s Han and Leia bantering, love it!” (something Into Darkness was guilty of with the dead Tribble and dialog). But at the same time, those forced call-backs to the Original Trilogy are probably the best and most memorable parts of The Force Awakens and that’s my problem with it. The movie, emotionally, just feels flat without that stuff.
The best part of The Force Awakens isn’t Rey (the main character), it’s Finn. He has the most complete arc of any character in the movie, and the scene of him chasing after Kylo’s shuttle with Rey captured is probably the most emotional part of the whole movie and for many one of the most memorable. You don’t get enough time with Poe and Rey remains mostly a mystery. That’s what the sequels are there to expand on, but as a complete movie The Force Awakens just feels flat.
Just compare the Starkiller base battle to the Death Star battle in A New Hope. Seriously when the movie comes out on disc play them side-by-side. The original trench run and finale of the battle has an incredible amount of tension that Abrams never came close to matching in The Force Awakens. It almost feels like another forced callback, “hey, remember the trench run?” It’s like Abrams used up all his dramatic tension in Star Trek and was just coasting along with Star Wars to manufacture that retro movie that Disney wanted to deliver to nostalgic fans.
In Star Trek, the opening scene is probably the best thing Abrams has ever filmed and has yet to top. While George Kirk sacrifices himself on the Kelvin, James Tiberious Kirk is born. It’s an incredibly moving scene that doesn’t really call back to anything as we never actually saw Kirk being born before. The movie does call back and reference things, but it’s mostly in small bits of dialog (a lot of people completely miss the Star Trek Enterprise reference, for example).
Even the ending is filled with more tension than most of The Force Awakens. Kirk is fighting to the death on board the Narada, Spock is about to sacrifice himself just like George Kirk, and then BAM the Enterprise warps in and saves both of them. It’s a big crowd-pleasing scene, something like Luke making that impossible shot to blow up the Death Star. And that’s something The Force Awakens was missing in the end.
I don’t hate The Force Awakens at all. I saw the movie seven times: opening night on a REAL IMAX screen in 3D, five times in normal 3D, and once in 2D. It just doesn’t have the same emotional highs that other Star Wars movies (even the Prequels) or Abrams’ first Star Trek did. I really does feel like Star Wars manufactured by a company wanting to put out a retro movie that some fans wanted more than a Star Wars movie that felt new and pushed things forward.
And by the way, I know one of the first comments on this article will be by some smart-ass pointing out how much The Force Awakens made compared to Abrams’ Star Trek. That’s because it’s a Star Wars movie and Disney made it a cultural event no one would be caught dead missing. James Cameron’s Avatar is still the highest grossing movie of all time, and that’s nothing more and an unoriginal re-telling of Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves that made all its money on a 3D gimmick.
I’m really hoping that now that Disney gave those fans who only really like ANH and ESB the movie they wanted, both Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow can start to move Star Wars forward. Give us some of those awesome new ship designs that were rejected for the retro X-Wings. Take Star Wars in new design directions. Don’t wallow in nostalgia. Us older fans who grew up in the 70s and 80s are going to start dying off soon, and Star Wars is going to need to evolve to keep things fresh.