By: Kevin Jordan

Reviving the past.

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By far, the question I get asked the most is “what do you think the best movie of the year is?”  I like this question because it allows me to rant a little about how the main stream critics would never say a movie like Star Wars is the best movie of the year.  Now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has released in theaters, that question has changed to “do you think the new Star Wars is the best movie of the year?”  As much as I loved the movie, and considering how I now believe J.J. Abrams can do no wrong, I can say without hesitation that main stream critics are pretty much dead inside.  However, The Force Awakens is NOT the best movie of the year – that would be The Martian.  However again, The Force Awakens is definitely top three (if you are wondering what the third is, you’ll just have to wait until my Year in Review is posted in a couple weeks).

A much more difficult and interesting question to answer was posed by a friend of mine a couple of days ago – “is The Force Awakens the best Star Wars movie?”  I can’t think of a more loaded question than that.  And the answer, depending on who is asking, might cause diplomatic relations to deteriorate to the point of someone jabbing you in the neck with a homemade light saber.  I’d say we could start by tossing the three prequels out immediately, but even that argument has become vociferous in recent months.  Seriously, there are people out there actually defending those films as really good movies and not doing it ironically or sarcastically.  Those people are also dead wrong – the three prequels are garbage, and no amount of rewriting history in their heads is going to change that.

In the broader argument of which Star Wars film is the best, The Empire Strikes Back is the most often picked movie, but not by me.  As a kid, I watched all three originals dozens of times and Empire was my least favorite.  It doesn’t have enough action, it has the creepy cave scene with Luke and Darth Vader, and it has the kind of ending that a kid doesn’t like.  A New Hope is similar in that much of the beginning part of the movie is slow and the trash compactor scene was scary.  Return of the Jedi was my favorite because, you guessed it, action, action, and more action (side note: even I never really liked the Ewoks and always thought that dropping rocks on a storm trooper’s head and knocking them out was tough to believe).  Yes, the rancor was frightening and the pit of Sarlacc was a thing of nightmares, but the battle on Jabba’s pleasure barge was awesome and the climactic battle where three different battles were happening simultaneously never got old.  And, to answer your new questions – no, I did not have to look up any of those references and, no, I do not own a storm trooper cookie jar.

For me to answer the question of best Star Wars movie, I have to compare The Force Awakens to Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.  Why not A New Hope?  I’m glad you asked.  The Force Awakens is almost a remake of A New Hope, which is also the reason I don’t think it’s the best movie of 2015.  Now, if you have not seen The Force Awakens yet and you don’t even want tiny SPOILERS, stop reading now.  I’ve already told you I loved this movie and I’m even considering seeing it again and paying the 3-D surcharge (and you know how I feel about 3-D), so you know what my rating is going to be.  Last warning – very mild SPOILERS imminent.

The Force Awakens and A New Hope both feature a young hero living on a desert planning who is strong with the Force.  They both have a resistance/rebellion fighting against an evil empire, now called the First Order.  They both have a droid containing secret information that everyone is trying to get their hands on.  They both feature a super weapon capable of destroying a planet with a giant laser (this time the weapon is the size of an entire planet).  They both feature the resistance leaders looking at a hologram of the super weapon and determining that the best way to destroy it is to disable its shields and fire at a specific weak point on the globe.  They both feature a villain draped in black, wearing a respirator, and speaking with a modulated voice.  They both feature a secondary villain who is the military leader of the evil empire and doesn’t really answer to the other villain.  The point is that Abrams was most likely creatively restricted by his Disney overlords to ensure that a repeat of The Phantom Menace did not happen.  Again, I was wildly entertained by The Force Awakens, but it was impossible not to notice the volume of plot elements lifted from A New Hope.  But, what makes The Force Awakens better than A New Hope is that our hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is not whiny like Luke was, there is an almost perfect balance between the comedic relief and seriousness, the visuals are phenomenal (like I said, I’m strongly considering attending a 3-D showing), and of course, plenty of action.

Getting back to the question of if The Force Awakens is the best, it never asks you to believe that a bunch of primitive fur balls hurling rocks and sticks can defeat a heavily armored infantry wielding laser guns and walking tanks like Return of the Jedi.  Considering the quantity of action is roughly equal, Jedi is out.  As for Empire, thinking about it beyond its level of action (which there is plenty, just not as much as Jedi), could the plot distinguish the two?  The plot of The Force Awakens is essentially – “Where’s Luke?”  There’s a bigger story in the works – new rebellion, new empire, who is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), what’s going on with the new Republic, why is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wearing a mask if he doesn’t need to, to name a few – but the movie itself is really about finding Luke.  The plot of Empire is essentially – “Learn to be a Jedi, Luke.”  Yes, there is the bigger story of rebellion versus empire and Han Solo and gang being chased by the empire for almost the entire movie, but all of that is just setup for Luke to return as a Jedi.

Characters, maybe?  The Force Awakens introduces a bunch of new characters, all of which are well-fleshed-out or intriguing enough for us to wait for more in the upcoming sequels.  We’ve already mentioned Rey, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, but there’s also everyone’s new favorite droid BB-8, storm trooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega), and X-wing pilot extraordinaire Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).  They also bring back the old gang, though nobody besides Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) do more than scowl or utter more than a couple of lines.  Considering Empire was a sequel, they too brought back the old gang, but also added Lando Calrissian, the Emperor, and, of course, Boba Fett.  Wow – this is harder than I thought it was going to be.

I can’t tell you more without giving away spoilers that would make you want to maim me, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that The Force Awakens is as good as The Empire Strikes Back.  Either answer is defensible, and both should be embraced by both my generation and the younger generation.  But, regardless of which movie you think is better, we can all agree on one thing – thanking J.J. Abrams for resurrecting Star Wars in film and making us remember why we loved the originals so much.

Rating: All this movie needed to be worth every penny was to be better than the prequels.  It’s worth many times that.