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This will be a completely spoiler free review which, frankly, will be difficult, because the “spoilers” in the movie have so much to do with the overall joyful experience of it! I’ll post a more complete review in the coming days.
For now, as you have already heard from what seems to be every media outlet in the world and unless you’ve been living in a complete media blackout for the past week, let me begin by saying The Force Awakens is a more than worthy addition to George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy and succeeds wildly in linking the past of that universe to a future that is very bright, indeed!
Director JJ Abrams accomplishes something with The Force Awakens that Lucas himself was not able to do with the prequel trilogy. Abrams has made a Star Wars movie that feels like Star Wars. This achievement cannot be overstated. The stirring opening crawl (which is almost perfectly written including lines like “Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission…”), the rousing John Williams score and the re-introduction of legendary characters that movie goers (not just Star Wars fans) have plunked down their dollars in record pace to see, The Force Awakens immediately takes its place in the upper echelon of the seven Star Wars films.
I believe it is better than any of the prequel movies and is at least as good as Return of the Jedi. While not as good as The Empire Strikes Back and not as original as A New Hope (more on that in a paragraph or two), The Force Awakens is a wonderful movie, Star Wars or not. It is warm, funny, emotional and rousing. It is a powerful starting point for the new trilogy and terrific movie overall.
Abrams and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have done something pretty remarkable in The Force Awakens. They have balanced the needs of the audience to see familiar faces with the need of the franchise to move forward with new faces. While allowing us to re-connect with many of our favorites from the original trilogy, The Force Awakens sneakily and wisely places the focus squarely on the new group of heroes and villains, creating characters that, in their initial outing, seem almost as compelling as the ones from the original films. That’s no mean feat as audiences have lived with Luke and Han and Leia for almost 40 years. That Rey and Finn and Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren already stand on their own feet in the company of these characters is impressive to say the least.
These new characters, particularly Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, are very compelling and The Force Awakens does something very, very smart with each of them: it does not tell the audience too much. In fact, the movie really tells the audience very little about who these characters were or what they were doing before the movie starts. Rather, we are dropped into the middle of the action and the middle of their lives. This is a great choice and it matches the frenetic pace of the movie overall. Our first experience of Finn is in battle, our first experience of Rey finds her nonchalantly risking life and limb, our first experience of Kylo Ren is seeing him hooded, menacing and marching down the ramp of a suitably imposing First Order shuttle craft. Who are these people? What are they doing? Should we care about them?
The answer to the last question is the real trick. Obviously, it’s an emphatic “yes, we should care about them.” The trick is that we do care about them before we can even ask if we should.
Daisy Ridley is so perfectly cast as Rey, it is already impossible to think of anyone but her in the role or to imagine the Star Wars universe without her presence in it. She immediately connects with the audience and we are ready to root for her from the first moment she appears on screen. John Boyega is equally good in his role as Finn and, if the character is less complex than Rey, he is certainly as engaging especially from the standpoint of injecting humor into the sometimes very dark proceedings in The Force Awakens. Adam Driver is magnetic as Kylo Ren though the less said about this character in a spoiler free review, the better. Suffice it to say that it is difficult to take your eyes off him when he is on screen whether he is masked or not. His is a powerhouse performance.
Additionally, Oscar Issac is a more than worthy Han Solo/Luke Skywalker amalgam – a true believer with the heart of a rogue. And Gwendolyn Christie (Captain Phasma) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) certainly hold their own in their less developed roles. At some point, the packed script had to give and, if there is a weakness for me, it’s found in the treatment of these two characters. I enjoyed them both and wanted more from them at the same time.
I wanted to see Han Solo. I got to see him in spectacular fashion. I wanted a moment of greatness from Princess… er… General Leia. It came. I wanted to be in awe of … okay, no more here. No spoilers are coming from me. Suffice it to say that I got what I wanted from all of the major characters of the original trilogy, each of whom had a special moment or two in the film. To say more would be to break the seal…
Rather than focus on the returning characters, let’s not lose sight of what Abrams and company do with the new ones. The Force Awakens places a young woman (new character), a black man (new character) and an senior citizen (okay, if you didn’t know that Han Solo was prominently featured in the movie, you really haven’t been paying attention) at the center of the action. It features women in positions of power throughout the film. It should be praised for its clearly intentional focus on creating a world that, in some ways, looks like the world in which we live – a diverse, varied and full one. Of the many ways in which the movie succeeds, this is surely one.
This movie is absolutely not a re-tread of A New Hope, nor is it any kind of remake of any of the wonderful films of the original trilogy. But it is very conscious of a central fact of the so-called Star Wars saga: the stories are mythic. They are cyclic. The themes are familiar. The tropes are comfortable. The idea is that the struggle of good vs. evil continues and, while it would be nice to believe that evil can be conquered once-and-for-all, that is not always the case. In fact, The Force Awakens actually has more to say about the nature of good vs. evil from a philosophical perspective than any of the other six films do. In the internal struggle of one character in particular, we discover that recognizing good and evil and acting upon those impulses depends greatly upon one’s point of view. This re-interpretation of the struggle is a powerful addition to the over arching themes of Star Wars.
The Force Awakens is a terrific movie. The effects are truly special. The nostalgia is wonderfully thick yet not overpowering. The performances are as good as any in the other six films. It is a self contained story that also lays the ground work for the next episode. It provides emotional closure while leaving us in anticipation of what’s to come.
May 26, 2017 GET HERE.
STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS receives FIVE BIG DEALS out of a possible five.