Like GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939, STAR WARS in 1977, and JURASSIC PARK in 1993, this will go down as The Film Event of a generation.
It’s most certainly a JJ Abrams/STAR WARS film. There are moments of brilliance, as well as occasional narrative shortcomings that frankly come with the territory. It’s almost as if the creators came together to make the perfect ode to all things Long Time Ago/Far Far Away, even the flaws that tend to make the films all the more treasured. There is amazing technical wizardry on display along with a wry and splendid sense of humor that the Original Trilogy thrived on. And I for one am glad to have sat in awe for two glorious hours of welcome nostalgic joy that myself and numerous other fans of the Force have waited too long now for.
To talk cast, the original crew is still in prime form. Ford is now a fine vintage Han Solo, fully developed after his rollicking adventures with Luke and the gang aboard the Millennium Falcon. Alongside Solo, Luke’s mere presence gives all fans strength, Chewie is still violently charming, and Carrie Fisher is a breath of nostalgic majesty as General Leia who’s only gotten better with age. Now if only they’d allow her to hold some true screen time, but there be a firm reason for that.
The Force Awakens functions as a film that passes the torch down the line. The Original Cast won’t be around much longer, and therefore an insurance policy must be taken out in the form of the new characters. And what a solid policy they’ve landed!
Oscar Isaac is The Man! From his excellent supporting moments over the years in projects like Drive to his powerhouse roles in A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina, I have been fanboying all year in anticipation of him truly hitting the big time with this here War in the Stars franchise. He gives the charming ace Poe Dameron a vivacity that rivals Ricky Ricardo in just his ability to smile.
John Boyega is solidly enjoyable as the Stormtrooper turncoat Finn, who makes strides to improve his lot in life by escaping to better worlds, stumbling over each step as he goes.
There’s also the wonderful revelation that is Daisy Ridley as Rey, our Luke stand-in who has spunk, a history, and a no-nonsense sense of feminine agency that is more than welcome in the STAR WARS canon, seeing that the character of Mara Jade has been retconned entirely (boo!).
Of the new arrivals, the one that had the most to prove was Adam Driver as our antagonist, Kylo Ren. I was most worried that this was going to be another Anakin situation, with a promising actor being forced to play up angst in a character that needs a finer touch in performance. Lo and behold, I was impressed by Mr. Driver’s palpable sense of impotent rage and innate menace that the Prequel trilogy just couldn’t quite harness. Bravo, sir.
My hesitant attitude towards Kylo Ren mirrors my thoughts on the director, JJ Abrams. Previously, his films have proven to be hit-or-miss at best, strange and obtusely irritating at worst. Don’t get my words wrong, I was not going into the film expecting a total trainwreck, but having seen his prior work in science fiction (Star Trek +Into Darkness, Super 8), I was cautious about expecting anything extraordinary from the now 49-year old boy genius, who tends to struggle with the third act of storytelling.
But my thoughts were for naught. This film is thriving with imagination, grit, suspense, and childlike glee. Abrams knows how to intrigue fans by not insulting their intelligence. I loved the look of the film, the practical effects, the minimal obvious computer effects, the classy atmosphere of fun and high adventure, the colors, and the glorious situations he presented for our enjoyment. And the film magic he brings forth in the third act is probably some of the strongest work he’s ever made in his career.
Several moments just stick out as all-time best franchise moments: The first glimpse of the Falcon and the associated comments from the characters; the Falcon dogfight on Jakku; Kylo Ren’s lightsaber tantrum; “We’re Home”; and best of all, the final moments, which shan’t be spoiled here, which will drive home the stakes of what we can expect of the next installment in 2017, helmed by Looper director Rian Johnson.
While I have had much positive to say about the film, there are a few minor hiccups in the storytelling. Yes, this film is a retread of the first STAR WARS, but it is the good kind of retread that takes the same goals of the first but takes it on the road less traveled. The final sequence steals outright from the initial Death Star run so much so that I thought aloud, “Haven’t we seen this before?”
Along those same lines, a lot of happenstance moves the story forward. Han and Chewie appear in the film mostly out of a stroke of good luck more than anything else. The cute droid BB-8 only happens to go in the right direction to run into a Force-sensitive junk forager on Jakku. Finn barely escapes a TIE fighter crash with only stress and plenty of sweat stains. At this point, you’re either in this series for the long haul or you’re not. I do have gripes, but blast it all, I’m glad to be seeing a new STAR WARS movie!
There is a genuine sense of wonder and fun that has been missing since Return of the Jedi in 1983. Since that flawed film concluded the series proper, fans have been scrounging the corners of the galaxy for things to sate their thirst for all things STAR WARS, be it books, television properties, LEGO sets, lunchboxes; the marketing juggernaut at Lucasfilm Limited has boomed in the absence of proper continuations of Lucas’ science fantasy epics (I refuse to rant on the Prequel trilogy, as there is more than enough valid and overhyped criticism of that saga on the internet as is, from much more qualified personnel than I). Heck, I’ve been going on a mini-binge of licensed properties since watching the Despecialized Editions at home in preparation for the release last week. But, since the Disney corporate heads decided the Expanded Universe is no longer canon in tandem with my local library vastly depleting their catalog options, my options for satisfying this STAR WARS craving has been limited outside of spending my hard-earned Christmas cash on various tithes of formerly licensed literature, television programs, and video games.
Thankfully, this movie is a welcome retread that changes just enough aspects of the Original Trilogy while keeping things fresh enough for the old and new fans to stay excited for the upcoming installments. Overall, ’tis a bravura example of popcorn science fantasy done right, just as they were 35 years ago. You’ve got your hooks in me and the audience, Lucasfilm. I can’t wait to see this one again au cinema. I can’t wait until Rogue One is released next year. I Definitely can’t wait until the next installment premieres in 2017. Heck, I can’t wait to go home and break out Shadows of the Empire for the N64 to spend some of my break time on.
Bravo, Mister Abrams. And Thank You!