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Barnes on Film- Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Review

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Barnes on Film- Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Review
There Will Be Games

This is not going to be an impartial, unbiased review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It is also not going to be one that dwells on the blemishes and imperfections, the "issues" and "concerns that some may justifiably have with the film. I'm not going to pick nerd nits about it. Director J.J. Abrams, his cast and his crew have given us (and longtime Star Wars fans in particular) a very special, joyful and celebratory gift this Holiday season. It absolutely deserves a joyful, celebratory review free from the kinds of deflating cynicism and narcissistic sarcasm that tend to greet even the best genre films in the Internet age.

In a year in which we already had one major genre masterpiece that took us back to a time when films were made on film instead of in ones and zeros, there is another. Another film that makes us remember when characters were created by actors instead of being created in postproduction, through performances on sets- when there actually were sets. Another film that made me feel like I was a kid again in all of the best possible ways.

You've likely already read other reviews or heard from others everything that I could probably write here. The new characters are practically iconic out of the gate- Finn, Poe Dameron, Rey and Kylo Ren all live and breathe as bona fide Star Wars characters thanks to stellar performances by young actors bringing a surprising level of nuance to their roles. John Boyega's Finn is nervous, jokey and was obviously more than just too short to be a Stormtrooper. Poe makes a huge impression with an easy-going swagger befitting the top X-Wing pilot in the Resistance. Rey will make a star out of Daisy Ridley. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren is a genuinely scary, psychotic creation that could wind up with the most compelling (and tragic) character arc in the entire series.

Performances. Human performances by actors interacting with other actors and physically present elements, executing surprisingly well-written dialogue that is among the best Star Wars has ever had to offer. It's up there with Empire, and it is very telling that Lawrence Kasdan is one of the screenwriters. You can't help but wonder why Lucas didn't call him up to help out with the forlorn (and now more or less nullified) prequels. Or why he somehow forgot all of the things that made Star Wars great to begin with.

The specter of those three films' disappointment looms large over The Force Awakens but it is clear that JJ Abrams and his team didn't forget what Lucas did before he lost heart. And in many ways, this film feels like a back-to-one refreshment, getting back to where it once belonged so to speak. Some may chafe that it is almost a sort of remix of A New Hope, but it kind of had to be that to win back the world after the damage done by the series' own creator.

There is one point, no spoilers, that really struck home with me where a character talks about the Force. She closes her eyes and touches back to the mysticism of Ben Kenobi and Yoda. Not to the rightfully maligned, pseudo-science of "midchlorians" espoused by Qui-Gonn Jinn. That moment really moved me because I remembered being a kid, in wonder with what the Force is and it really being a more important spiritual concept for me than anything I heard in church. And it felt good to have the film acknowledge it as an unknowable, vast force rather than cynically dismissing it with some kind of microbiology.

I was moved over and over again to the point where it almost felt exhausting. It's easy to go on and on about how emotional and great it is to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher together again (and it is), it's easy to point out any number of incredibly moving, powerful moments of action and emotion in the film. There are lots of them. You could almost say that Abrams' manipulation of our Star Wars-loving hearts borders on Spielbergian. But when two beloved characters that if you are like me you have had on pajamas, underwear, T-shirts, in toy boxes and on your desktop at work meet and one says to the other "my old friend, how I've missed you" I defy you to feel anything other than pure love and joy, tempered with the bittersweet passing of years and the growing distance from youth. When Han and Chewie declared "we're home" in that amazing trailer earlier this year, that set the tone for the whole production.

It is a homecoming. But it isn't just facile nostalgia like some have suggested. Instead, I think where The Force Awakens transcends being just a new, great Star Wars film is that it is actually the richest in subtext. The postmodern kicker is that this film is about Star Wars and what it means culturally as much as it is Star Wars. The young characters in this film grew up thinking that Luke Skywalker was a myth- just like we did. Kylo Ren idolizes Darth Vader and the traditions of the Sith. The events of the Original Trilogy made a huge impact in this world and its characters, and on Jakku we see the remnants of the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. When Finn gets into the gun turret on the Falcon, Luke is there with him. And we are too, because we have always wanted to be there too.

This film is positively haunted by the first three films, but it is telling us that what we have felt for all of these years about them is real. It's telling us to believe in those heartfelt feelings about the Force and Luke and Chewbacca again. This film is about Star Wars- the great cultural myth of our time- and how it affects us. How it can inspire us and move us, how it can remind us of heroism, love, goodness and light in times of growing darkness and hatred. It is a genuine Star Wars film for our time, our children and for those of us who can't imagine a world without X-Wings and lightsabers, the light side and the dark side, and all of the tactile wonders of a galaxy far, far away.

There Will Be Games
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #217879 21 Dec 2015 10:33
Amen Barnes! I was nodding in agreement with the whole review. Awesome stuff.
Hatchling's Avatar
Hatchling replied the topic: #217881 21 Dec 2015 11:15
Lovely review.
OldHippy's Avatar
OldHippy replied the topic: #217884 21 Dec 2015 11:28
A beautiful love letter to Star Wars and your youth.

I disagree with it with every fibre of my being and would rather see you save your strangely criticism free reviewer mode for new aesthetics and new worlds like Ex Machina (which received your full scorn) because I believe that someone filming the thousandth hour of Star Wars and making what is destined to be the biggest money maker of all time should be handled with big boy gloves in full on critique mode.

But like I said, it's still a beautiful love letter to Star Wars and your youth and I'll try not to sully this page with any more of my honest emotion. Well done.
Grudunza's Avatar
Grudunza replied the topic: #217885 21 Dec 2015 11:34
"when two beloved characters that if you are like me you have had on pajamas, underwear, T-shirts, in toy boxes and on your desktop at work meet and one says to the other “my old friend, how I’ve missed you” I defy you to feel anything other than pure love and joy, tempered with the bittersweet passing of years and the growing distance from youth."

Geez, Barnes. You just made me cry. And yes, I absolutely LOVED that moment, and you nicely articulated why. Such a beautiful sentiment that carries so much emotional weight among all of what we've experienced. And it's spoken between two droids! How amazing is that? The only comparative moment is Toy Story 3 when we are riveted by the impending death of animated toys in a garbage dump.

Wonderful review, Michael. I definitely won't argue with you about this film. :o)
433's Avatar
433 replied the topic: #217889 21 Dec 2015 12:14
Agreed 100%. Looking forward to taking my 16-year-old nephew and 11-year-old niece on Thursday.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #217894 21 Dec 2015 14:09
Definitely had a lot of nerd-cry moments while watching this film. The ideas and emotions that welled up weren't entirely nostalgia for me but rather a heady sense of resonance between Abrams' personal realization of the significance of Star Wars and my own newfound respect for some of its core aspects. Repeated scenes and micro-exchanges just constantly, intoxicatingly telegraphed "this is what these films are about. This." without breaking character, so to speak. They always seemed to fit the intradiegetic motivations and needs of the characters but also reached out to two different audiences of viewers.

You can look at that early scene between Han, Finn, & Rey -- when they're standing in an intentionally out-of-focus star field hologram, creating an ambient wonder and shimmer in the air around them while Han is telling them that the mythology is alive, real, all of it -- as being a message that reaches beyond the intradiegetic spellweaving for the new kids in the film, and entreats both the new generation of viewers and the older jaded, burned, generation to start believing again and find potency and relevance in the Ur-stories. It's really a masterful moment in the film's direction and there are so many of these.

It's funny, when you mentioned the midi-chlorian bullshit from the prequels it occurred to me that this entire concept had been purged from my memory as I watched the film. The concept of the Force is something that deserved more respect than Lucas gave it in that awful series, and signified a true departure from his earliest conceptual inspirations. In fact, it strikes me that a personal aspect of himself really did die when he went down the rationalist rabbit hole that he did with the prequels. I just got through reading a fascinating article about the significance of 21-87 (Finn's numeric designation and Leia's cell number), that's not nearly as nerd-seven-degrees-of-separation as I assumed it would be:

www.telegraph.co.uk/film/star-wars-the-f...eorge-lucas-fn-2187/

Apparently Lucas was obsessed during his formative college years with an Arthur Lipsett short titled "21-87" which, as I watched it, was an obvious inspiration for the ideas he went on to develop in the initial trilogy. He wasn't just playing around with Campbellian archetypes as a structural shorthand for his movies. These were concepts that clearly resonated with and affected him on a personal level in his youth. I hadn't even finished reading the article as I watched the short film and this jumped out immediately from the overdub:

"Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God."

The article gives this more context, but in that moment, I realized just how much of a real tragedy the prequels had become for Lucas and for the fans. The cynicism and jaded quality of those films was just oppressive and overwhelming.

It took an equally overwhelming return to the source for Abrams' to save this series, and it's clear that he was successful in doing this. I think this film was a real triumph in this respect.
Black Barney's Avatar
Black Barney replied the topic: #217896 21 Dec 2015 14:38
Great review. Appreciate u avoiding spoilers. Can't wait to see it
JMcL63's Avatar
JMcL63 replied the topic: #217904 21 Dec 2015 15:35
I once blogged a similar hymn of praise to season 5 of Doctor Who, so I get the uncritical applause and where it comes from. Star Wars is like an artistic Sorelian myth , one of the most important cultural artefacts of our time. Glory hallelujah!

Heaven forbid we all feel like that JJ- such enthusiastic uniformity would be worse than a nightmare.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #217905 21 Dec 2015 15:40
Great job, good sir.

This review is clearly from the heart and that's how it should be.
Deleted's Avatar
Deleted replied the topic: #217933 21 Dec 2015 19:18
To me, it seems like JJ is doing what he does best. He took an already beloved story, changed some characters and settings around on a superficial level in large part, and made a "new" movie.

It's A New Hope and Empire smashed into one film, and redone. Like Star Trek and Into Darkness both.

It's a great film, but I've seen it two or three times before. Which is fine, because I loved it then, too. Very nostalgic.
MattFantastic's Avatar
MattFantastic replied the topic: #217938 21 Dec 2015 20:02
It's impossible to compare to groundbreaking and awesome movies you first saw as a kid, but this is probably the best Star Wars movie, despite a lot of it's greatness coming from the fact that it's the NEW Star Wars movie and exists where SW in general is such a huge part of the cultural lexicon.
JMcL63's Avatar
JMcL63 replied the topic: #217941 21 Dec 2015 20:18

MattLoter wrote: It's impossible to compare to groundbreaking and awesome movies you first saw as a kid, but this is probably the best Star Wars movie, despite a lot of it's greatness coming from the fact that it's the NEW Star Wars movie and exists where SW in general is such a huge part of the cultural lexicon.

I clung to this point for 2 days, but then I found myself digging up a Georges Sorel reference from the internet. That was when I realised that the greatness of this particular film is that it assured fans that Star Wars' place in the cultural lexicon is not overrated and is far from accidental.
Ken B.'s Avatar
Ken B. replied the topic: #218094 23 Dec 2015 12:12
We've seen it twice. It's fucking fantastic. I told someone on another message board, "If you consider yourself a Star Wars fan, and you somehow dislike this new movie, nothing is ever going to please you, it's time to move on."

It is just a fucking thrill and joy to watch. I used to defend the prequels as, "Hey, they're sorta okay, and they're Star Wars!" This is what we could've gotten all along. I can't really defend the prequels anymore.

George Lucas has been such a pissbag about it, too, saying that he's sure this is a movie "the fans will like," in his backhanded complimentary way that says everyone else's vision is shit and inferior, despite the fact that his "vision" was clearly past its sell-by date when he jammed a fucking obnoxious musical number into Return of the Jedi: Special Edition.

Fuck Joh Yowza. Fuck him in his stupid screaming asshole.
Black Barney's Avatar
Black Barney replied the topic: #218113 23 Dec 2015 15:33
Is the best reviewed star wars movie not a George Lucas one?!?
boothwah's Avatar
boothwah replied the topic: #218120 23 Dec 2015 16:23

Ken B. wrote: We've seen it twice. It's fucking fantastic. I told someone on another message board, "If you consider yourself a Star Wars fan, and you somehow dislike this new movie, nothing is ever going to please you, it's time to move on."

It is just a fucking thrill and joy to watch. I used to defend the prequels as, "Hey, they're sorta okay, and they're Star Wars!" This is what we could've gotten all along. I can't really defend the prequels anymore.

George Lucas has been such a pissbag about it, too, saying that he's sure this is a movie "the fans will like," in his backhanded complimentary way that says everyone else's vision is shit and inferior, despite the fact that his "vision" was clearly past its sell-by date when he jammed a fucking obnoxious musical number into Return of the Jedi: Special Edition.

Fuck Joh Yowza. Fuck him in his stupid screaming asshole.


www.decktech.net/vs/resources/buzz.php?showmore=1&id=6389

/I think you called some of this stuff out a scant 11 years ago
//I've missed you old friend
///You should set up a Jorge Lucas account here on FaT and share some
Ken B.'s Avatar
Ken B. replied the topic: #218124 23 Dec 2015 17:01

boothwah wrote: www.decktech.net/vs/resources/buzz.php?showmore=1&id=6389

/I think you called some of this stuff out a scant 11 years ago
//I've missed you old friend
///You should set up a Jorge Lucas account here on FaT and share some


HOLY SHIT...there is actually a post on there...from 2005...where someone says, "I'm glad you're back, Ken." I think I just lost my shit.
JMcL63's Avatar
JMcL63 replied the topic: #218134 23 Dec 2015 19:36

Ken B. wrote: We've seen it twice. It's fucking fantastic. I told someone on another message board, "If you consider yourself a Star Wars fan, and you somehow dislike this new movie, nothing is ever going to please you, it's time to move on."

Yeah. What're all these kvetching 7s from the fans fer chrissake? The Force Awakens had to clear the decks of a trilogy's worth of crap. All that 'nostalgia' was nothing more than necessary reassurance for us vets of the classic trilogy that the new Star Wars is the real mccoy.

It is just a fucking thrill and joy to watch. I used to defend the prequels as, "Hey, they're sorta okay, and they're Star Wars!" This is what we could've gotten all along. I can't really defend the prequels anymore.

That which must not be named.

George Lucas has been such a pissbag about it, too, saying that he's sure this is a movie "the fans will like," in his backhanded complimentary way that says everyone else's vision is shit and inferior, despite the fact that his "vision" was clearly past its sell-by date when he jammed a fucking obnoxious musical number into Return of the Jedi: Special Edition.

Passive-aggressive BS from Lucas there. Still smarting from the fans' reaction to, y'know?

Fuck Joh Yowza. Fuck him in his stupid screaming asshole.

I've been spared Joh Yowza. Fortunately, it sounds like.
JMcL63's Avatar
JMcL63 replied the topic: #218136 23 Dec 2015 19:49

Black Barney wrote: Is the best reviewed star wars movie not a George Lucas one?!?

Here's an IMDb poll agreeing with what I typically hear- that The Empire Strikes back is the most acclaimed of the classic trilogy, taken as a whole. Lucas only had a 'story' credit for that. Writing and directing were in other hands. So no.
SebastianBludd's Avatar
SebastianBludd replied the topic: #218144 23 Dec 2015 21:21

Ken B. wrote: George Lucas has been such a pissbag about it, too, saying that he's sure this is a movie "the fans will like," in his backhanded complimentary way that says everyone else's vision is shit and inferior, despite the fact that his "vision" was clearly past its sell-by date when he jammed a fucking obnoxious musical number into Return of the Jedi: Special Edition.


The full quote is, "I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for."

If by that he means a well-acted, well-directed film with compelling characters then yes, he's absolutely correct. What gall he has to try and act like the shitty prequels are the cinematic equivalent of him making us eat our vegetables. As if we're supposed to overlook every one of his terrible decisions and subpar directing and storytelling skills because his "vision" trumps all.

Not only that, but he refuses to acknowledge that three of the movies fans have been "looking for" are the unaltered original trilogy films. He's spent years claiming that there aren't good enough sources and it would be too expensive(!) to make proper, hi-def versions of the original theatrical releases when the Harmy Despecialized Editions prove that he's full of shit on both counts. Fuck him.
Joebot's Avatar
Joebot replied the topic: #218170 24 Dec 2015 09:08

SebastianBludd wrote:

Ken B. wrote: George Lucas has been such a pissbag about it, too, saying that he's sure this is a movie "the fans will like," in his backhanded complimentary way that says everyone else's vision is shit and inferior, despite the fact that his "vision" was clearly past its sell-by date when he jammed a fucking obnoxious musical number into Return of the Jedi: Special Edition.


The full quote is, "I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for."

If by that he means a well-acted, well-directed film with compelling characters then yes, he's absolutely correct. What gall he has to try and act like the shitty prequels are the cinematic equivalent of him making us eat our vegetables. As if we're supposed to overlook every one of his terrible decisions and subpar directing and storytelling skills because his "vision" trumps all.

Not only that, but he refuses to acknowledge that three of the movies fans have been "looking for" are the unaltered original trilogy films. He's spent years claiming that there aren't good enough sources and it would be too expensive(!) to make proper, hi-def versions of the original theatrical releases when the Harmy Despecialized Editions prove that he's full of shit on both counts. Fuck him.


At this point, who has the more unlikely redemption arc: Kylo Ren or George Lucas?? Discuss.
Mr. White's Avatar
Mr. White replied the topic: #218286 27 Dec 2015 01:09

It is a homecoming. But it isn't just facile nostalgia like some have suggested. Instead, I think where The Force Awakens transcends being just a new, great Star Wars film is that it is actually the richest in subtext. The postmodern kicker is that this film is about Star Wars and what it means culturally as much as it is Star Wars. The young characters in this film grew up thinking that Luke Skywalker was a myth- just like we did. Kylo Ren idolizes Darth Vader and the traditions of the Sith. The events of the Original Trilogy made a huge impact in this world and its characters, and on Jakku we see the remnants of the war between the Empire and the Rebellion. When Finn gets into the gun turret on the Falcon, Luke is there with him. And we are too, because we have always wanted to be there too.


I'm a cynic who thinks this film played too similar to the OT trilogy to really rate it highly on its own, but this is a great paragraph. And I do really like the cast in this new trilogy.

Also, the personal hatred the online community spews on Lucas for something as trivial in life as films is easily my least favorite thing about Star Wars.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #218291 27 Dec 2015 01:56

Mr. White wrote:
Also, the personal hatred the online community spews on Lucas for something as trivial in life as films is easily my least favorite thing about Star Wars.


I agree with this -- it is his creation and his to do with how he sees fit. For fuck's sake, it is like everyone bitching at Martin for not finishing GoT yet; like it is owed to the fans, or something.

Having said that, I thought the next three films -- VII, VIII, and IX -- were based on the stories that Lucas prepared prior to the sale to Disney. So, other than the direction, he is still responsible for the "core" of what is happening and the direction everything is moving in.
Hex Sinister's Avatar
Hex Sinister replied the topic: #218295 27 Dec 2015 03:02

Mr. White wrote: Also, the personal hatred the online community spews on Lucas for something as trivial in life as films is easily my least favorite thing about Star Wars.


Films aren't trivial to all of us.

Artists shall have no sanctuary from criticism.
Grudunza's Avatar
Grudunza replied the topic: #218304 27 Dec 2015 10:58

Space Ghost wrote: I thought the next three films -- VII, VIII, and IX -- were based on the stories that Lucas prepared prior to the sale to Disney. So, other than the direction, he is still responsible for the "core" of what is happening and the direction everything is moving in.


No. ALL of Lucas's ideas for 7-9 were rejected by Disney.
OldHippy's Avatar
OldHippy replied the topic: #218305 27 Dec 2015 11:05

Hex Sinister wrote:

Mr. White wrote: Also, the personal hatred the online community spews on Lucas for something as trivial in life as films is easily my least favorite thing about Star Wars.


Films aren't trivial to all of us.

Artists shall have no sanctuary from criticism.


But it's gone way past just criticizing his films. Many of these comments are grossly personal and judgmental, it's gross. He gets more vitriol and hate than Bill Cosby.