Blockbusters With Brigham: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Sam Brigham on Friday, January 22nd, 2016
On December 18th, 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in American theaters. Directed by JJ Abrams, the film depicts the ongoing conflict between the light side and the dark side of the force in a galaxy far, far away some time after the events of the original trilogy. The film definitely did not disappoint, but I was somewhat surprised to hear that the The Force Awakens had grossed over $1.7 billion worldwide, already making it the third-highest grossing movie of all time. One has to wonder: why is this movie making so much money?
I thought that The Force Awakens was a solid film that deserves its place in the Star Wars franchise, but it was not spectacular. The narrative resumes approximately thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star in Star Wars: Episode VI : Return of the Jedi, by which time the evil First Order has risen from the ruins of the Galactic Empire. The two main characters—Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who fled the First Order after being appalled by their cruelty in battle, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on desert planet Jakku patiently waiting for her long-gone family to return—find themselves together with BB-8, a droid who contains the secret map to Jedi Luke Skywalker, who went into hiding years before. With the map to the one person with the power to destroy the First Order, Finn and Rey soon find a large target on their backs.
The movie is exciting enough, and contains both the starship battles and the lightsaber duels that proved so popular in earlier films. The planetary landscapes and varied life-forms in the new Star Wars universe are no less entertaining to look at. Boyega and Ridley perform well in their lead roles, and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher return with strong portrayals of Han Solo and Princess Leia. However, other performances aren’t as strong—notably those of actors on the dark side of the force. Even with his imposing red crossguard lightsaber, villain Kylo Ren (actor Adam Driver) comes off as unintimidating and petulant, and the rest of the actors playing evil characters are similarly unimpressive. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) overacts so much, it is hard to believe he was so acclaimed in his role as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies.
I believe that much of The Force Awakens’ success can be attributed to its both obvious and subtle ties to the original trilogy. While the films in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, released between 1999 and 2005, were definitely a financial success by most standards, grossing between 500 and 800 million dollars worldwide, they have not made nearly as much money as The Force Awakens has in less than 4 weeks.
Fans of the original trilogy didn’t recognize the universe of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in the newest episode and may have been isolated by the lack of familiar characters. However, the return of characters such as Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca in The Force Awakens may have encouraged older viewers, who normally would not rush to see a new science fiction film, to wander into the theaters.
The similarities between The Force Awakens and the original 1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope are striking. Matt Magann (II) believes that The Force Awakens was “somewhat derivative of the original film.” Indeed, many elements of the film resemble the plot of the original Star Wars: Droid BB-8 reminds viewers of the spirited R2-D2, while Rey resembles a younger princess Leia in many respects, and the story increasingly parallels the plotline of A New Hope as the film goes on. However, Matt agrees that an emulation of the original film “was what the audience wanted” and added that The Force Awakens was “still really fun to see.” Juliet Pesner (I) chimes in with an even more positive assessment, stating that the film “successfully incorporated elements from the past movies, but someone who didn’t see the other movies would still enjoy it.” Despite its similarities to A New Hope, or perhaps because of them, The Force Awakens has attained not just financial success but widespread acclaim, earning an excellent 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Although it has proved its worth as a stand-alone movie to millions of viewers who have never seen other Star Wars, The Force Awakens is in fact the start of another trilogy. Two sequels, for now referred to as Episode VIII and Episode IX, are scheduled for release in May 2017 and 2019, respectively. Given The Force Awakens’ current success both at the box office and among critics, and signs that still more characters from the earlier films will appear in the future, I have no doubt that the Star Wars franchise is in the beginning of a true revival.
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