Things are often clearer in hindsight, as the thrill of the moment wears off, imperfections become more focused. This isn’t a bad thing, but in terms of the entertainment industry oftentimes it gets taken too far. Minor problems become focal points for full-scale takedowns and denouncements, while the good points are marginalized. This is especially true for major/beloved franchises wherein they’re so popular some people can’t seem to wait to knock them down a peg.
With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on the horizon, and preview footage garnering plenty of accolades, I’ve started seeing a number of think-pieces land taking aim at last year’s Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. I get it, “out with the old, in with the new” and all that, but so many of the writers seem out right vindictive about it. Even those that still seemingly defend the film offer up back-handed comments like “Rogue One looks like the Star Wars movie Force Awakens should have been”, or “Rogue One is finally giving us what we want”.
I’m not here to come out in a guns blazing defense of J.J. Abrams Star Wars movie. To be fair, there are legitimate criticisms to be made regarding The Force Awakens. The plot is a little thinner than I would have liked and it jumps from one thing right to another at a hurried pace without enough exposition to bring you fully into it. These are things I mentioned even in my initial review, even as I was glassy eyed from the experience of seeing a new Star Wars flick. That said, The Force Awakens absolutely succeeds in the way it needed to most, promising a brighter future for the franchise than some are willing to admit.
The film sold you on the new characters, endeared you to them, and made you care to see what happens to them next. It’s a crucial point that was critical to not only this film but the rest of Disney’s plan for the property they spent so much money on. Despite their issues, I like the Prequels and the story elements they brought to the Saga. I’m fully aware of their issues and I’ve long argued that one of the biggest problems plaguing the Prequels is the disconnection with characters.
Getting attached to the characters in the Prequels wasn’t the easiest thing, many were characters we already knew from the original movies, and the new additions just didn’t resonate. While many of those characters were fleshed out more fully in The Clone Wars series, that wasn’t until years later. Personally speaking, I think the cause has something to do with the expectation that, being Prequels, fans would already have some sort of built in attachment before seeing the films.
When Disney took over Lucasfilm and announced plans to not only continue the Saga with sequels, but also new TV series and spin-off films, fans were ecstatic (well most of us). They made it clear that a new era of Star Wars was about to begin with an unprecedented amount of material. From the outset, fans were thrilled with the idea of seeing the “Big 3” back on the big screen for all new adventures. Those who hated the Prequels saw Episode VII as a chance for (unnecessary) redemption, while others simply wanted to know what happened to the galaxy after the destruction of the second Death Star.
Nostalgia can only take a franchise so far, and with all Disney has planned it’s not something they can rely on to keep bringing audiences back year after year. Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford aren’t getting any younger and relying on their characters to keep the series going just isn’t feasible. As such, one of the most important things Disney/Lucasfilm had to do, was be able to convince audiences (new and old) to love all new characters. More so, characters that weren’t directly connected, lineage-wise, to Original Trilogy people…at least, not yet.
If they want the other elements to work (comics, series, books, etc.) they had to prove that audiences would be able to fall in love with new characters. If the entire future of Star Wars’ success was dependent on the original, existing characters, they’d be in trouble. We need new characters to latch on to, where the torch can be successfully passed and move on.
In this regard, I think The Force Awakens was incredibly successful. More so than any of the new characters brought in from all three Prequels, I felt almost immediately engaged with them. Between their introductions and the chemistry in their interactions with one another, it was hard to NOT fall in love with them. The result being, after the film’s release, I’ve seen a great majority of fans talking about what’s NEXT for Rey, Finn, Kylo, and Poe rather than wondering what’s next for the original cast members.
It’s a subtle shift in the conversation from before the film launched, but it makes a definitive point. Not only are older Star Wars fans engaged with the new characters, a whole new generation have found a cast they can identify and grow with. Sure, everyone is anxious to see Luke actually do something this time around, but people are equally eager to see what Rey’s journey will bring next.
So yeah, The Force Awakens could have used some story polish and pacing adjustments, but it still was succeeds where it counts. Not only does it pave the way forward for the upcoming films by making us care for the characters, it proved that they can convince audiences to love NEW Star Wars characters, regardless of their connection to previous films/material.