After seeing The Force Awakens a second time, I think that I am ready to decide where I would place the movie among the other movies of the Star Wars franchise. As I wrote in my early review, I really enjoyed this movie. On the second viewing I liked it even more. For me, this is the first Star Wars movie that can be characterized as one that grows on you. All the other movies are either obviously bad or instant classics, but I think that the more people watch The Force Awakens they will fall more in love with it. So how does it stand among the other movies?
First things first, it is better than any of the prequel movies. The acting, story writing and effects are leagues above anything that the prequel movies offered. I really noticed this in the first act when Rey and Finn escape in the Millennium Falcon. I realized that I knew exactly who these characters were and I knew exactly what they wanted. I knew what the stakes were, and all the character motivations were clear. That was a great feeling. Compare that to the Naboo escape scene in The Phantom Menace, and the superiority of The Force Awakens was clear. The quality held throughout the movie. There was never a point that I was confused as to why characters were taking the actions that they were and I was always invested in what was going on, which is more than I can say for the prequels. Anybody who thinks that The Force Awakens needs to go to the doctor and get their heads checked.
What about its ranking among the original movies? The Force Awakens does not have the same measure of quality as Empire Strikes Back or A New Hope. Mostly this is due to a muddled second act and the pacing issues that I mentioned in the review. If the movie took a bit of time to breathe, then it would have easily been on par with those movies. My minor concerns are what knock it down in my mind. But its hard to compete with two movies which are perfect.
However, I think The Force Awakens beats Return of the Jedi. Out of the original trilogy, ROTJ is the most problematic. It has the same issue of a muddled second act, compounded by the annoying inclusion of the Ewoks as something cute for the movie. TFA does not have the inclusion of any cutesy creatures like that. The comedy is much more natural and fluid than anything in ROTJ.
ROTJ also struggles due to the fact that it is essentially two movies pasted together. The stuff in Jabba’s palace is fun, but it really does not have much to do with Luke’s battle with the dark side. Really, you can skip the first hour of ROTJ and it does not really effect the story in any significant way. That does not mean the first hour is not good, but it is unimportant to the later development of the characters. In contrast all the events in TFA are integral to the action of the story and the development of the characters.
The one thing that ROTJ does really good is give a good conclusion to all the main characters. The confrontation between Luke and Vader is emotional and exciting, and on its own rises above anything in TFA, being almost matched by the death of Han Solo.
So when it comes down to it, ROTJ has a superior last act, but the first hour of the movie is not as engaging as TFA. It really comes down to the wire, but in my mind TFA stands barely above ROTJ and far above the prequel movies.