It’s possible that some of you have maybe heard about this movie. After years of hype deafening enough to make a wookiee plug his ears, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally here. And going by the jawa-dropping box office returns so far, there’s a good chance that most people reading this have already seen it by now. In case you haven’t, though, I’ve made an effort to keep this write-up as spoiler-free as I can, but if you want to walk into the movie completely blank, you might wish to wait to check this review out until after you’ve gone to see it. It’s hard to talk about a film even as vaguely as possible without inadvertently giving something away, so consider that your warning.
When J.J. Abrams was officially announced as the director of Star Wars: Episode VII, some fans threw their arms into the air with confusion, but I let out a sigh of relief. After all, Abrams had already proved himself with the pulse-pounding Mission: Impossible III, the magical Super 8, and two outstanding Star Trek films. With a track record like that, I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to helm a new Star Wars adventure (well, except for perhaps Brad Bird, or, whether I’m in a minority or not when saying so, George Lucas). But with Abrams behind the camera, there also came the usual Abrams “secrecy” before the film came out, meaning that audiences were drooling with excitement for months in anticipation of a movie event that they knew almost nothing about. Needless to say, The Force Awakens had insanely high–some would even say unrealistic–expectations surrounding it. Would it be able to live up to them?
Here’s the first thing to be said about the movie: it’s familiar. Even though Disney has made an effort to keep the story as top secret as possible, it won’t take the audience long to realize that the plot is essentially A New Hope done over again. Instead of the Empire, we have the First Order. In the place of an older but still quite active Obi-Wan Kenobi, we have an older but still (almost surprisingly) quite active Han Solo. There’s another gigantic super weapon that wipes out planets which the heroes must destroy. And, since this is a Star Wars movie, there are also “shocking” revelations involving the familial connections of certain characters.
But here’s the thing: the execution of everything–from the action, to the special effects, to the acting–is so exceptionally good here, that you won’t mind or even care. There’s a gleeful, almost intoxicating spell of nostalgia that Abrams is able to cast on his audience, even with no previous experience with the franchise. Taking the best visual cues from both the prequel and original trilogies, everything looks and feels like Star Wars. In fact, Abrams’ direction is so terrific and capable that you’ll probably find yourself wishing that he was signed on to do the next two films (although both of them, fortunately, appear to be in good hands).
It’s also reassuring that the new leads–which really are the focus here–are extremely likable and appealing. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both great as Rey and Finn, respectively, and Oscar Isaac, while not getting as much screen time, is still fun whenever he appears as Poe Dameron. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, but he may end up giving one of the most impressive performances in the movie; rather than play him as someone fully seduced by the dark side, Driver portrays Kylo as someone who is constantly tempted by the light. It’s a very interesting take on the character and one that I don’t think we’ve really seen in a Star Wars film so far. Lupito Nyong’o may be the biggest surprise as Maz Kanata, a completely digital character and old acquaintance of Han’s who should instantly win the audience’s approval. But the real star of the movie is Harrison Ford. Ford, despite his (probably earned) reputation as a lovable Hollywood grouch, seems to step back into the shoes of Han Solo effortlessly. Almost shockingly light on his feet, this is possibly the best form we’ve seen him in in years, equally funny and, yes, touching at the same time.
Unfortunately, the film does have a bit of a problem finding a consistent tone. For the most part, the movie seems to be trying to capture the fun nature of A New Hope, filled with action and plenty of humor (the argument could even be made that it’s the funniest Star Wars film to date). But then everything takes a franchise-altering turn for the deadly serious in the final act that it’s never able to fully recover from, at least during a first viewing. In fact, it might be enough to even ruin the film for some people. Even when directing the prequel trilogy, George Lucas knew that Star Wars should never let itself get too bleak, and while the finale is not all “doom and gloom” per se, you are likely to leave the theater feeling a little sad. In a way, having new Star Wars movies is sort of a double-edged sword for fans. As exciting as it is to have new movies, the final scene of Return of the Jedi was so satisfying and complete that it might’ve been nice to just let Luke Skywalker and his friends live happily ever after. After all they had been through to get there, the characters really deserved it.
In the end, though, that type of an analysis may be better suited for another review. And even though I’m still not sure how I feel about certain aspects of the plot at this point, they aren’t enough to keep me from declaring that The Force Awakens is seriously, seriously good, making it a movie that most fans are likely to want to see on the big screen at least twice. I can’t say where it ranks among the Star Wars films (I’ve seen the others way too many times to be able to do that), nor do I have any real idea where this new trilogy is going to go from here. But I can say–and I was going to avoid doing this–that, yes, the Force is strong with this one.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by J.J. Abrams