(originally published Dec 21, 2015)
On a whole, my opinion didn't change too much upon a second viewing. I was still swept up in the film while watching it, but the flaws were a bit more apparent, and the afterglow that was missing from my first viewing was still missing this time too.
I think once the novelty of seeing old friends and making new ones wears off, the film has a harder time standing on its own two feet. The pace drops considerably after everyone leaves Jakku (aka Tat2ine), and doesn't really pick up until the tremendous lightsaber fight at the end. Pretty much right when the originality levels drop and the fan service levels pick up is when I felt the quality take a dip.
And really, like it or not the sheer amount of fan service on display is undeniable. Not just little moments, like where Han quips (practically to camera) about a trash compactor, but the whole thing feels quite familiar. It's A New New Hope, even if what happens isn't a one-for-one replica of something that came before it.
All of this got me thinking... Is that a bad thing? Hard to say. We're living in the golden age of fan service, where more and more media is tapping into fauxstalgia to make people feel feels. As a general rule, I think it's a cheap and easy way to wring an emotional response from the viewer. But films are all about manipulating your emotions anyway. And this is Star Wars. It's a bigger part of our culture than most things, and if any film can get away with winking at the audience a whole bunch, it's Star Wars.
And damn it, it works. It really does. As much as I don't think it's a good thing to resort to fan service to provoke a (usually positive) response from your audience, I feel like it's mostly done well in TFA. But is it really done well? Or is it just my longtime emotional connection to the series making me think that? And is THAT a bad thing?
My mom and I walked out at the end of the film, and after having just had an absolute blast, her first words were "wow that was exactly like the first film." Behind us were some guys who were extolling the virtues of, not the new and exciting original stuff, but the use of old characters and themes. The guy behind me "got chills" when he heard the "force theme" (Binary Sunset as it's known on the New Hope soundtrack). And in the moment, I did too. I can't deny it. I love that song.
The rose-colored joys the film brought me, while I'd argue were cheap and easy on an objective critical level, completely worked for me when I was watching the film, even though they don't sit well with me afterward. Does that make it a bad film? I suppose an argument could be made that what really matters most is how you feel while watching it, not how you feel afterward, in which case TFA is a mostly-rousing success. But will it stand the test of time? That's what I'm most interested to see, especially once this new trilogy is complete.
All that said, I maintain that the film successfully accomplished what it set out to do: Get people back into Star Wars by reminding them what Star Wars is. "Reminding" being the key word. Now that this has been done, my hope is that Rian Johnson will cut down on the fan service and deliver a truly original Star Wars sequel instead of Now That's What I Call Star Wars: Volume VIII. He has a real opportunity here, and I hope he doesn't squander it.