The Force Awakens is the most satisfying Star Wars film in years. Though not perfect, it’s a new hope for old fans and new!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens had Bantha sized shoes to fill. It had to restart the recently Disney acquired Lucasfilm flagship franchise after the panned prequels. It had to knock the socks off critics, eager to pull the ears of this Gundark and some of the smartest and devout fans in the galaxy alike. (“Jedi” is a recognized religious practice) Finally, it had to support a marketing campaign the size of a small moon. For the most part it does all that and more! The story is good, but isn’t epic. It’s basically a treasure hunt and the newest bad guys are laughably evil without much plausibility but the interweaving tale of the Family Skywalker is familiar enough and both the old and new characters pull the heartstrings of those who remember the original trilogy fondly.
Some Spoilers Ahead:
Set 30 years after the Rebel Alliance victory at The Battle of Endor, with the Emperor dead, Death Star 2 destroyed, and Darth Vader redeemed at the end of Return Of The Jedi, things haven’t gone as expected. Luke Skywalker is in self-imposed exile after a disastrous attempt to start a new Jedi Order. The remnants of the Empire that survived Endor have reformed in The First Order. Lead by a shadowy figure Supreme Leader Snoke (CGI Gollum like figure by Andy Serkis) with sneering henchman and Peter Cushing stand in General Hux (a rabid Domhnall Gleeson) and Emo Vader fan boy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They have secretly constructed a new planet sized super weapon (because third times a charm?) to destroy The New Republic’s Resistance movement and a mission to seek out high value target Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi who they fear can foil their sinister plans.
All long running series like The Bond Movies or Star Trek bear some unavoidable expectations of familiar themes that long time fans expect. My 8 year old son, who loves and is quite knowledgeable about Star Wars but doesn’t have the 40 years emotional attachment to the tale, pointed out “They tried too hard to make it [The Force Awakens] like the old Star Wars” and in some ways he’s right.
The story is a retread of the original trilogy and the expanded universe. (Imperial Remnant, New Death Star, Desert Planet, Cantina scenes) And this being a hero’s journey familiar themes of light and darkness, our choices that define us, enlisting a wise mentor to help us on our path, the cost of war and having the courage to become who you are meant to be are there too. However, the best things about this film are the life that JJ Abrams & the cast breathe into the new characters. The leads do a great job and the franchise is in very good hands thankfully. It’s a fantastic thrill to see how well the new characters interact with the older characters that inhabit Lucas long established and highly respected mythology. Their performances showcase the filmmaker’s love for the source material and great talent to create something fresh. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Ardents riff on the Leia/Luke/Han core protagonists and gave us Rey (Daisy Ridley) a plucky spaceship scavenger, abandoned on Jakku as a child who lives in a derelict AT-AT walker. Finn (John Boyega) a fast talking Storm trooper defector who refuses his orders to fire on helpless civilians. And Poe Dameron (Oscar Issacs) a cocky ace pilot. All are familiar tropes but to the actors credits none of them feel like clichés. Needless to say the cinematography and music was top notch. There is a beautiful sunrise shot of TIE Fighters approaching to strafe the Jakku settlement where Finn and Rey are hiding that’s got to be an homage to Apocalypse Now. I wonder if Abrams was making a political statement? The original Star Wars came out after Vietnam and the parallels between the flame-troopers burning the village and killing civilians being the catalyst for Finn’s defection wasn’t lost on me.
Ms.Ridley & Mr.Boyega in particular have a wonderful geeky chemistry and were instantly compelling characters. That the filmmakers chose a woman and black man as the emotional center of the new franchise and employed such a cultural and ethnically diverse cast is also a way overdue bonus fans were looking for. Finn’s conscientious objection wasn’t cowardice, Stormtroopers who fail to follow orders are killed. His self-preservation was overridden by his affection for Rey as her life of solitude and self-reliance were tempered by her attachment to Finn. They worked. Both hold their own when aging smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) whom they both idolize as legendary figures, show up as they science the heck out of technical problems with the Millennium Falcon or go toe to toe with Black Sun Gangsters or First Order bad guys. They earned my respect and found I had great affection for them by the end of the tale. I look forward to their growth throughout the new trilogy.
We first meet Poe at a secret meeting on the desolate desert junkyard planet Jakku where a cottage industry of starship salvage has sprung. He’s seeking a map fragment to Luke Skywalker’s last location. When the First Order attacks he, you guessed it, hides the map in his faithful little droid BB-88. He’s then captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) frankly not my favorite Star Wars villain. Strong enough in The Force to stop a blaster bolt in mid air but still has the demeanor of a petulant child? That and a strange nazi like ceremony and unhinged speech by General Hux at the inaugural firing of Starkiller base aside, the film had some wonderful action set pieces, brisk character development of the leads particularly Rey & Finn, bleak well acted emotional moments (a devastating loss that is telegraphed early on) and delivers great helpings of humor with a wink and a nod to old timers like me.
I won’t spoil the entire film for you, but suffice to say it’s like Han says to Chewie when he first steps aboard the rediscovered Falcon “Chewie….we’re home.” You will feel that way too. I look forward to the next chapter eagerly! #TheForceAwakens is a satisfying palate-cleanse of the prequels. JJ Abrams & crew did a fine job serving several masters. It’s chock full of the action, drama and humor that die hards like myself jones for and while not overshadowing the original trilogy (nothing’s as good as your first time) it embraces and moves the story of the Skywalker clan forward for a new generation. See it. Repeatedly. And let me know what you think below!