Sean’s from the 70s. Jay is an 80s chick. Sean is kind of a nerd. Jay, not so much. Sean saw Star Wars: A New Hope (though he still just calls it, “Star Wars”) at least 20 times before his eighth birthday. Jay had never seen any Star Wars movie until this past weekend. So what did they think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Sean: As a kid, I always loved Star Wars. I’m at the younger end of the Star Wars generation since I never knew a world without it. Too young to see the first two in theatres, I caught up by Return of the Jedi thanks to the miracle of VCRs and HBO showing Star Wars around the clock in 1983 (and I kept watching it over and over every chance I got). Star Wars felt like it belonged to me since it was happening just as I was growing up and learning what movies were. And because of my age I was still young enough to not be at all cynical about product placement or Ewoks by the time Return of the Jedi rolled around. To my seven year old self, it was all positive that Return of the Jedi served firstly as a mechanism to manufacture more toys and second as a conclusion to my favourite movie series.
The only negative was that I had to convince my parents to buy all those action figures and vehicles, but fortunately I was a very spoiled kid so I got more than my share (but sadly, not the amazing Imperial Shuttle, though I’m over the disappointment, I swear). It helped that I was willing to do pretty much anything to “earn” more toys, whether it was mowing the lawn or painting the deck or saving my proofs of purchase from other toys so I could send away for the Emperor!
The prequels were a whole other matter. I was so disappointed to see how boring Darth Vader’s backstory was on screen, as opposed to how awesome it had been in my head, having patched it together through whatever references were offered by the original trilogy. And I don’t think it was the 16 year gap in between, since even in university I was perfectly happy to watch the original trilogy over and over (and I wasn’t alone, my roommates and I would often spend Saturday afternoons watching all three back-to-back-to-back). Anyway, even though I
was still am mad about the prequels’ wasted potential, I watched all three, even seeing the last one in theatres.
Which leads us to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Having really enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and since chronologically we could sort of forget the prequels ever happened, I have had high hopes for The Force Awakens ever since it was announced. And Jay was nice enough to track down tickets even though she could not have been less excited to see it.
Jay: The only exposure I’ve had to Star Wars was a set of sheets I inherited from my cousin Tim, who’s a decade or more older than I am.
I guess he grew out of his single bed so I got his sheets, and spent a good deal of my youth sleeping with Harrison Ford. Plus, I exist in the world. I haven’t seen the movies, but I’ve seen plenty of stuff that references them, so I almost didn’t have to. I can never remember if C-3PO is the big gold robot or the little blue and white one, but I know it’s a robot. It’s just that the Star Wars universe never appealed to me. Science fiction will always have to work harder to convince me, and so will movies with talking animals, green aliens, and make-believe weapons.
So no, I hadn’t seen Star Wars, and I really didn’t care to. My life felt perfectly complete without it, and to be honest, I think 2015 is already way too inundated with movies that are meant for young boys but consumed by grown men (I’m looking at you, Marvel). But I could see that this movie meant something to Sean. It was a revival of his childhood, a tribute to his youthful imagination, and a chance for the franchise’s redemption after the last trilogy sullied things up. Kevin Smith said he cried when he visited the set of the Millennium Falcon because it reminded him of that feeling he’d had for it as a child. And how many times do we really get to recapture those magical feelings once we’re grown up? Not too damn many. It did nothing for me, I wasn’t even curious about it, but I resolved to be by Sean’s side when the portal to his boyhood opened up on the big screen before him.
And you know what? I didn’t hate it. I was enchanted by John Boyega’s Finn and the arc of his character. I had fun slotting together the puzzle pieces of Star Wars trivia I’ve picked up over the years (mostly from The Simpsons, I think) and seeing how they translated 30 years later. I was charmed by Harrison Ford’s rapport with the furry beast Chewbacca. And I felt the momentum of the piece really drove me forward and kept me interested despite the fact that I was jumping in blind for movie #7. So I was feeling pretty juiced about it, squeezed Sean’s hand during all the parts I thought he must be loving, and had plenty of follow up questions for our car ride home. But you know what? When the credits rolled and I looked over at Sean expecting to see rapture, he shrugged his shoulders. It was okay, he thought, but not great. Not even as good as Creed – not even as good as “The Avengers” he said – “Wait- there was an Avengers movie this year, right?” He couldn’t even remember if there was an Avengers movie this year, but if there was, it was better than this.
Ladies and gentlemen: Sean’s lacklustre response FUCKING BROKE MY HEART. Here I had drummed it up as this Big Fucking Deal and it’s not even going to crack his top ten this year.
Sean: I had no idea Jay was so invested in this, for my sake. And she’s invested in everything I’m interested in, she’s amazing like that. I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My complaints about it are minor and spoilery so I won’t get into them here, but it’s a solid movie and objectively I would rank it third out of the Star Wars movies, behind A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (yes, ahead of Return of the Jedi as a standalone movie). That seemed like a ringing endorsement but Jay was expecting more and after reading her thoughts above, I understand why.
This should have been my thing, it should have taken me back to my childhood, it should have sucked me in and made me talk about it for days, and it didn’t. As a gateway/jumping on point for the next generation of fans/consumers, The Force Awakens works really well. As fan service, it ticks all the boxes and I don’t think that anyone who anticipated like I did will leave the theatre disappointed, exactly. But you know what? This all felt like something I’ve seen before (twice) and I’ve seen it BETTER before (twice). I’m not trying to be a contrarian asshole (just a regular asshole) when I say that if J.J. Abrams was shooting for greatness, he missed the mark here. Paying tribute to the feelings I had as a kid is not enough to give me those feelings all over again. And if you pay tribute by imitating something beloved, the fact the script includes ironic acknowledgements of the imitation does not help make the imitation great. It only tells me that the imitation was a conscious decision and you went this way rather than coming up with something new. That’s not reassuring to me in any way and it didn’t invoke nostalgia within your movie. It just made me wish I was watching the original trilogy and that took me completely out of what was happening on-screen in yours.
Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough for The Force Awakens to take a new path. Maybe my expectations were too high. Because again, The Force Awakens is a good movie and I enjoyed the ride, but I couldn’t truly love it when it felt so much like a remake. To quote Jimmy Johnson for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life, “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?” The Force Awakens is safe and good, but it’s not the great movie I was hoping for, and that’s why I can’t put it in my top ten for the year.
I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a score of seven Kessel Runs out of ten. Seeing that score is as painful for me, Jay, as it is for you.
Jay: What the fuck’s a Kessel Run?
Sean: Oh Jay, we absolutely have to watch the original trilogy. Something tells me I still hold all those magical feelings from my youth, but the path to them is through the greatness of Episodes IV, V and VI rather than trying to recapture those feelings through something “new”. There will always be room for new Star Wars stories, but for me I don’t think the originals will ever be topped.
Jay: I think you of all people should be a little more open-minded about sequels. You are, after all, husband #2, and you’d better hope I don’t court warm fuzzy feelings toward “the husband of my youth.”