Why The Force Awakens is the Star Wars Movie We Deserved

The Star Wars universe feels like home to me.

That’s the best way I can describe it, that feeling I get when I sit down in front of one of the movies, or pick up one of the books, or queue up a few episodes of one of the TV shows. And I don’t know why it should feel that way: I’ve been obsessed with plenty of fictional worlds before and since I came to love Star Wars, and I can acknowledge that the series has flaws scattered throughout – hell, the last Star Wars movie, Rogue One, I actively didn’t like very much at all. But that doesn’t matter. I just…when I hear that first chord of the iconic score over the opening scroll, it’s like getting home after a long time away. It just feels right.

So I’m not the most objective person to take a look at the world of Star Wars. It’s one of those things that I just physically can’t bring myself to be objective about. If I could be, I would know that I have wasted substantial hours of my life sitting through Attack of the Clones multiple times and reading some of the, uh, less-than-excellent X-Wing Academy series. Every critic I know has a world that they are incapable of being anything other than swooning, shrieking, sweating fangirls/boys over, and Star Wars is mine. When The Force Awakens came out a couple of years ago, I spent that entire day re-watching the trailers and tearing up at how much I loved all of it. I fucking loved it. I laughed, I cried, it change my life (pretty much). I remember sitting there in the cinema, in the moment after the certification card had come up and just before the credits rolled, thinking fuck, this is actually happening, I’m actually in the cinema, watching a new Star Wars movie. I might have manfully teared up over the opening credits. I might definitely have done that.

So when TFA was subject to some critical shruggery in the years following it’s release, I was naturally defensive. Pretty much everyone I know appreciates The Force Awakens for being a voyage into the SW universe once more, but there seems to have been this shift in opinion after the adulatory reviews it received on it’s release (especially from me): Rey was a Mary-Sue, it felt far too much like A New Hope, the story contrivances often seemed far too convenient, etc.

And you know, I accept all those criticisms. I even agree with a lot of them – yeah, Rey’s incredible power can come off as a little tropey, while R2-D2 choosing to suddenly come to life right when they needed it is a big ol’ jump in storytelling. The First Order are poorly-defined, Poe Dameron feels like a holdover for another movie, and, bless them, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill still aren’t the best actors in the world. The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie. But would it really be Star Wars if it was?

Yes, it’s a complete cop-out to say that the rest of the movie franchise is inherently flawed and therefore a new movie reflecting similar problems is to be expected. But then, A New Hope was saddled with just as many flaws (including a plot hole they needed a whole movie to explain away), with Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back suffering from their own unarguable problems, and we still committed then to exalted cinematic history despite their problems. I think what TFA did more than anything else was capture the spirit of the original Star Wars films, the ones that had been lost in Trade Federations and clone armies in the interim of prequel movies (I’ll admit I find a lot of the politics of the prequel trilogy pretty interesting, but that’s only because I’m an enormous loser and not because the films make them that way). The real effects, the engaging characters, the big, sweeping familiar story beats that could have been plucked from a dozen different adventure movies (A New Hope being just one of them): this is what I come to Star Wars for.

If I wanted pure cinematic perfection, there are plenty of other places I can look for that (Hello, It!). And I’m not saying I think that a perfect Star Wars movie would somehow be less Star Wars by default. Judging by the early reviews and reactions of The Last Jedi, we could well be in for a slice of filmmaking brilliance from the inimitable Rian Johnson. I’m just saying that flaws like the ones that TFA and, indeed, the original trilogy have been lumbered with don’t take away from the utter joy of entering that universe and once again finding it filled with characters I care about, villains who spook me, and convincing special effects that leave me actually believing in this world in a way no other fictional one has managed and probably never will.

This article is the first in No But Listen’s Star Wars week, where we’ll be taking a look at the new movies of the Star Wars cinematic canon, including Rogue One and, of course, The Last Jedi. If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Patreon!

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