Pacing and escalating tension

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A few weeks ago, I went to see Star Wars The Force Awakens. What a movie! Of course, with all the hype about the movie there was always a risk that it wouldn’t live up to fans expectation, or that it would not true be to the the original trilogy. ┬áBut most of the critics liked it and it did’t seem to upset what is a very sensitive the fan base. I certainly loved it, and can’t wait for the next two movies.

I’m not going to critique the movie or give any spoilers out for those that haven’t seen it yet. But one feature of the movie that struck me was the sheer intensity of the action in the storyline of the movie. One action sequence would lead to another and another with little time for the actors to reflect on what was going on. It made for great cinema sequences, but with little time for the audience to catch their breath. Don’t get me wrong on this: I enjoyed the ride… even though it was at times exhausting.

One of the thoughts I had was whether it was possible, or for that matter even desirable, for a fiction writer to pace their stories at this continuous level of intensity. Most stories have a natural flow of escalating action through the story leading to a climax in the final act, but that action is not continuous. There are ups and downs, and times where the characters have time to reflect and where the reader and character can bond. The same is true in movies, even action movies. So why not in the Force Awakens?

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that The Force Awakens is a trilogy. The action sequences are just a way of introducing the characters and setting up the central conflict between the forces of good and evil. New Hope was also full of great action sequences, certainly more so than The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Perhaps JJ Abrams was trying to remain true to the original spirit of New Hope. Or maybe there was just too much action to fit into the movie and the more reflective scenes fell to the cutting room floor.