I saw The Force Awakens last night. Without wanting to spoil anything, I left the cinema happy and thought one of the over audience members I overheard nailed it when he described the film as “Star Wars in a nutshell”. I had re-watched the original movie (well, one of the versions butchered with gratuitous extra CGI, that being all that was available on DVD) just a couple of days before, so it was fresh in my mind for comparison. The original is, well, it’s a great film from the 70’s. I don’t have an automatic hate on for older films, but you would have to be blind not to notice that the film-making art has evolved over the years and Star Wars was a film of its era. I’m not just talking about the dodgy sideburns sported by far too many characters (which The Ancient Gaming Noob has already pointed out) but also the fight choreography, dialogue, cinematography – modern films do these things differently. TFA takes many of the story beats of the original film (a GREAT many of the story beats – while it’s not an exact remake, there are plenty of points in common) and makes the film in a modern style while keeping the good vs evil moral sensibilities that so often get jettisoned to make things ‘gritty’ but are at the heart of Star Wars (side note: Marvel films have a similar theme, where even though Tony Stark and Star Lord are flawed human beings they are still heroes who when push comes to shove do the right thing. These films sell tickets by the metric shitload. Maybe we aren’t as cynical a society as we like to pretend).
I also saw a fair few nods to The Old Republic, real or coincidental. Some of the scenes and landscapes in the film just look like something from SWTOR – watching Rey clamber round the crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku reminded me intensely of the Endar Spire on Taris. And in this film’s take on the cantina scene, one of the patrons looks awfully like SCORPIO. Which could be coincidence, could be a little nod to the game by reusing the look… or could be a bigger nod. We are talking about an effectively immortal self-upgrading droid/AI, after all.
Of course, if you look to the customer reviews and the SWTOR forums it’s easy enough to find people who hated the film. Some of it is hate for hate’s sake, of course, what one of the posters described as trying to muster cool cred but there are also real fans genuinely disappointed by the premise of the movie. A lot of them seem to be unhappy that the universe has moved on (people and things are NOT as Return of the Jedi left them thirty years ago) but it hasn’t moved on in the way the now-defunct Expanded Universe novels did – no Grand Admiral Thrawn, none of the tedious hack-work Jedi Academy, no invasion of the Force-immune You Suck Dong from beyond the galaxy… yeah, I’m not a fan of the EU In its entirety and I honestly believe that jettisoning it and going with a new storyline, which has some common elements with parts of the EU without being bound by all the crap which went with it, was the right decision.
My own main grumble is that the ultimate Big Bad, Supreme Leader Snoke, seems to be a lazy copy of Emperor Palpatine who has appeared from nowhere to take on the role of manipulative master of the Dark Side. As of RotJ we were all outta Sith, yet Snoke has apparently popped up to orchestrate the (now much more diverse) forces of evil and to train apprentices in the Dark Side. We can only hope that there is more to be revealed, but for now the copy/paste Dark Lord is the weakest element of the film for me.