Well. What an odd, confusing journey took us to this place. It feels like a lifetime ago that the entire internet got blindsided by the announcement that Disney, that staid manufacturer of childhood dreams and frivolous litigation announced that it had purchased the Star Wars license, and on top of that, a brand new movie would be out in just a few years. And now that time has come, my duckies. The waiting is over, the days of poring over trailers, set photos and magazine interviews are behind us. The movie is out.
And it’s awesome.
We were all braced for the worst, I know. How many awful ways could it have turned out. But in defiance of expectation, Star Wars Episode 7: The Crisis at Fargate is an excellent movie and about as worthy an entry in the franchise as we could hope for.
The story picks up roundabouts a hundred years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Yes, a hundred years. Understandably, things are a little different than the last time we saw them. The galaxy is running strong under the leadership of the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances, with the New Jedi Order fulfilling roughly the same role it did back in the prequels, but with a better wardrobe. When a mysterious freighter of unknown make is found drifting just inside Federation space, a team of Jedi and Federation operatives are dispatched to Fargate, an outlying settlement they believe was the ships’ point of origin.
What viewers will notice right away is that the film has doesn’t hesitate whatsoever to defy our expectations, and this is probably the film’s greatest strength. I honestly went in dreading a movie that preferred to keep fans in their comfort zone and not show them anything new or interesting, preferring to just regurgitate the same imagery, themes and storylines we’ve all seen in every Star Wars property ever.
The best example of how the film triumphantly doesn’t do that is Anton Yelchin’s character, Vhan Skywalker. For one thing, he isn’t the main character. Crisis at Fargate is really an ensemble piece, and those expecting the film to be all about him may walk away with a blistering case of Skywalker blueballs. For another…he’s not a whiney little douche. I may get some heat for this, but Vhan may just be the most likeable Skywalker yet. The film makes it clear that he suffers from a few confidence issues due to his prestigious heritage, but he actually puts up a convincing from of confidence and charm. He seems almost like a microcosm of the entire film, the more I think about it. His character has shades of what came before but still genuinely feels like his own character.
What this really reminds me of, come to think of it, is the old cell-animated Clone Wars miniseries by Genndy Tartakovsky. At no point do you forget that this is set in the Star Wars universe, the score, visual elements and other cues are all still there. But what it feels like is someone sat down and said “Ok, where can we go with this that we haven’t seen before?”. Case in point, one of the Jedi half of the cast, played by Jan Milligan, can’t lightsaber fight. Like, at all. But when it comes to telekinesis, he’s probably responsible for some of the better fight sequences in the entire movie. Apparently J.J Abrams had the same thought as me that it’s kinda silly for every Jedi to have the exact same skill set. The movie isn’t afraid to take previously established concepts and push them in new and interesting directions.
There are numerous other examples I could list off for new things the movie brings to the table, the new “variable geometry” starfighters that are already selling out of toy stores by the truckload seem like a natural evolution of the x-wing fighters from the original trilogy, the fact that the eventual villains of the piece aren’t fucking stormtroopers again. But what it all boils down to is that the film isn’t afraid to take chances and show us something new. Of course, hardcore fans will still find plenty of tidbits and easter eggs to keep them satisfied, but the movie doesn’t rely solely on evoking the previous films. Of course, the script, acting, etc are all fine. Great, even. But it’s this willingness to go the extra step and start having fun, rather then get mired down in self-referencing and fanwank, that really makes the film.
The only problematic element I can really see is Abrams’ direction. Thankfully, he took the the hint and finally toned down the whole lense-flare thing a bit, but it’s still there to a degree, and couldn’t have distracted me more if it walked out of the film and called me a dick. The photography itself is decent enough, clearly trying to go for that same middle ground of evoking the classic trilogy while still staying new and fresh, and in some cases it works, like the space battles. Other scenes, like the final showdown between our heroes and the eventual villain whose identity isn’t really important enough to spoil, feel like more thought could have been put in them.
To say I’m relieved at how this turned out is probably the most drastic understatement since “maybe getting Michael Bay to make a Ninja Turtles movie was a bad idea.” There’s SO many ways this could have blown up spectacularly in the faces of all involved, but with a little guts and willingness to experiment and take chances, for the first time in over 20 years, we actually have a Star Wars film we can genuinely be proud of. Bout fucking time.