You know, as I sit here and try to gather my thoughts, I’m really taken by just how difficult it is to not attach spoilers to any review or mention of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There was a lot that happened in that film, man, most of it really cool and intriguing.
But since it’s likely many of you haven’t seen the movie yet, I’ll behave myself here and simply talk about what worked for me and what didn’t, as best I can without giving anything away.
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: The Force Awakens is very much a Star Wars movie, in all the ways you’d hope for. It’s a completely fun ride and well worth your hard-earned cash. I had a blast. My 11-year-old daughter had a blast. It’s a great adventure with action, heart and humor.
It’s Star Wars, in all the ways it should be (and many of the ways the prequels missed completely).
So let’s break it down, author-style, by the elements of story: Setting, character and plot.
The Force Awakens has that wonderful “used universe” feel of the original trilogy. It’s not afraid to get dirty and grungy when needed. The First Order still has the sleek, shiny vibe of the Empire, and the Resistance has the cramped, well-used feel of the Rebellion on Yavin IV. On the desert planet Jakku, where the Empire and Rebellion fought many years prior (no major spoiler there, gang), the detritus of war is everywhere, and the scavengers are out in force to try to make a subsistence living with battered tech and hope.
The spaceships, bases, costumes and weapons are all evolved from the original trilogy, looking both familiar enough for fans of the originals and new enough for a new generation. The locales are worn, lived-in and lovely. And the CGI blends so well with the real effects that it seems seamless.
One thing I have to mention, though, is that the “science” — intentionally put in quotes — in this particular film is going to set some teeth to grinding. Yes, even in a franchise where we have laser swords and Death Stars, the science behind the First Order’s latest nefarious scheme is a huge clunker. Sure, we can accept artificial gravity and a small planetoid-sized space station, but the shenanigans here will strain even that credulity. But Star Wars was never about the science in “science fiction.” It’s space opera, a fairy tale set among the stars. Just roll with it and leave your physics textbook at home.
In terms of character, the writing, directing and acting all knock it out of the park. Gone is the clunky dialogue of the prequels (and occasionally the originals). Here you have real people speaking real words. The direction seems to have allowed the actors to shine, rather than what we saw in the prequels. And the actors themselves, man, they’re all uniformly excellent.
The characters from the original trilogy are fantastic. They’re instantly recognizable as our beloved heroes, but they’ve also evolved in the intervening three decades in really interesting ways. Nobody’s mailing it in, either. It’s great to see them back in the saddle again.
And as for the newbies, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are an absolute joy to watch, tackling their roles with the kind of enthusiasm you’d really hope to see. Oscar Issac is a great, cocky flyboy in the Han Solo mold, and Adam Driver brings huge depth and complexity to Kylo Ren, the villain of the piece who could’ve been a mere cardboard cutout in lesser hands.
Finally, there’s plot. In all honesty, this is where The Force Awakens likely delves too far into fan service, or leans too much on the original trilogy. The plot is very much taken from the original Star Wars, with a smattering of Return of the Jedi mixed in. You can practically see where the beats and twists were cribbed from the earlier movies.
Now, given what we saw in the prequels, this kind of makes sense. In some ways, The Force Awakens is about re-earning the fans’ love, and to grab what worked before is understandable. And thankfully, there are enough twists and turns in the various character arcs to make it seem more fresh than it is. But I think they went just a touch too far on the plotting, in terms of rehashing what came before.
But you know what? I’m kind of OK with that. In many ways, this is a reboot of the entire franchise, and reminding us of what we loved is an important piece of that. This movie had enough of a self-contained plot to make it worthwhile and satisfying, and yet provided so many different and interesting threads to follow up on in future films, it’s easy to lose count. They not only continued a world, but expanded it and teased the possibilities to come.
The various characters, new and old, have so much room to grow and change and twist about. (Well, except one. *sad face*) The new dynamics set up here are going to pay off big time in the right hands. And I think, this time around, Star Wars is in the right hands.
Some other random notes:
- It’s funny! And not in a cute or cloying way. The banter and fun that marked the original is back. It’s refreshing after the dreariness of the prequels, frankly.
- It’s perhaps not as romantic as other films in this series, but that’s fine. Rey doesn’t have time for that nonsense right now, though there are certainly options for her down the road.
- Both Leia and Rey are super strong, super competent and drive the story forward. No fridging here, folks. I was proud to watch them in action next to my daughter.
- The intervening years between Jedi and Force are hinted at in broad strokes, but there’s a lot of meaty storytelling that’s bound to happen in there. Origin stories for Rey and Kylo, in particular, will be fascinating to see eventually.
- One of the threads tying these movies together is the Skywalker family. Without getting too spoilery, this movie continues on that path. And for the most part, it works.
- The 3-D looks fine and isn’t overused. I think you could see The Force Awakens in 2-D just fine, though, without missing anything.
- John Williams’ score remains the best. He’s the G.O.A.T. when it comes to film composers.
- Yes, we have a great opening crawl and in media res opener.
- Jar-Jar is a Sith Lord. (Just kidding there.)
Now, other folks are gonna feel differently, and that’s cool. Nobody’s saying you’re a lesser Star Wars fan if The Force Awakens left you cold. But as for me, I loved it. Star Wars is back in a big way, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.