I firmly believe that when one reviews a film, TV show, comic, or whatever one must always focus on the work in question and not on the self. A critic’s voice must encompass the work of art and be buried beneath the work being deconstructed. When reviewing something, I never want to mention myself or make myself part of the review, but in this case, it’s impossible. I am such a “Star Wars” lover that I cannot put my own voice and life story aside in order to dissect it in the ways you people deserve. But, I suspect many of you are the same way, so please, indulge my usage of personal pronouns as I talk about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
I first saw “Star Wars” when I was four years old during its initial 1977 release. On that day my life path was laid out before me. After the film, no – during it, a lifelong love affair with sci-fi, fantasy, and comics was born. I was right in that sweet spot of “Star Wars” fandom and my upbringing was filled with Kenner toys and pure love for all things “Star Wars” and the passion never wavered. It altered though from reenacting Han Solo and Boba Fett battles in my backyard to studying the works of Joseph Campbell so I could stay immersed in the lore and inspiration of the saga. Oh, I kept collecting the toys and following most of the novels (even I couldn’t keep up a complete deep dive), but my love for “Star Wars” was as deep in me as any life passion. During the prequel era, I was giddy with excitement for each movie even though I knew in my heart that George Lucas had lost some zip off his fastball. It was a frustrating era, but like many of you, to me, it was more “Star Wars” and that was a good thing. But at the end of the prequel era, when “Revenge of the Sith” was in the rear view, it felt like “Star Wars” had ended with a whimper and that a part of my life was over. Now, I understand the prequels are for the younger generation. I understand that to a whole legion of “Star Wars” faithful fell that in love with the prequel cast as deeply as I fell in love with Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the Droids, Indeed, to millions the prequels are very special. But the clumsy, wooden, disconnected narratives of Episodes I-III were not the way this lifelong “Star Wars” booster wanted things to end. In fact, I didn’t want an ending at all. There were just so many stories to tell. That’s why, when a buddy of mine texted me the day after Hurricane Sandy and told me Disney had bought Lucasfilm and that new films were on their way, I felt a sort of (and I want to apologizer if this stretches into giddy fanboy hyperbole territory) rebirth. Disney was doing a bang up job with Marvel and Pixar and this acquisition could only mean great things for the galaxy far, far away. From that day to this, I thought about the new films and anticipated meeting my old friends again. This week, I had that reunion and it was glorious.
Now I am going to try and avoid spoilers but a few things such as plot structure or some none earth shattering character beats might slip through, so proceed with caution. So if you just want the brass tacks, from my point of view, the POV of a internet columnist, critic, and comic book historian who has a basement full of “Star Wars” toys, this was a very, very good movie. A great movie. A movie that will send a “Star Wars” fan into a frenzy of joyful emotions. A movie that will make fans feel like they are seeing very old and dear friends again for the first time in decades. Is it a perfect film like “The Empire Strikes Back?” No, it is not. Does the film have some flaws? Yeah, it does. But the abject reverence that everyone involved holds the “Star Wars” universe to makes up for any hiccups or momentary wrong turns. In short, this film is the film fans were praying for. Not only because many were burned by the prequels but because “The Force Awakens” is meant to kick off an era of a “Star Wars” film every year for the foreseeable future. The bottom line is that “The Force Awakens” has returned the “Star Wars” franchise to true relevance and glory and scratches every itch it is supposed to.
So let’s start with the breakdown, so hit the escape pod now if you want to avoid any sort of idea of what to expect. First off, J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have such a reverence for this franchise and that love really shined. There was a rhythm and cadence to this movie that was pure “Star Wars.” It was swashbuckling and funny but not pandering. It hit all the right notes. Some might even think it was too self referential but I think at this point it would be impossible to make a “Star Wars” film without throwing in references or nuggets that are designed to be a little wink or a nod to people who have watched these movies a gazillion times. In fact the film’s one major flaw is that certain sequences were designed to pay homage to major scenes from the original trilogy. There is a bar filled with strange aliens and the big action sequence in the third act that will ring very familiar to fans and it all kind of seems tackled on, as if the film just had to have these kinds of familiar beats in order for this to be a “Star Wars” film. The big action at the end never felt like it had the intensity or drama that it was supposed to because every fan knew the sequence of events that was to follow because it was following the “Star Wars” formula, but listen, this did not derail this film not at all.
Now with the fully realized characters that Abrams, Kasdan, and company crafted for this, the seventh installment of the “Star Wars” saga. The first new character we met was Poe Dameron and Oscar Isaacs appeared to be having the time of his life playing this heroic pilot. There’s a lot of Luke in Poe, but there’s a lot of Luke, Han, and Leia in our trio of new heroes. Poe represents the heroic face of the Resistance against the First Order. Now, there’s great deal of backstory we are not privy to like how did the First Order rise and why are the heroes called the Resistance and not the Republic? But those are questions for another day because the galaxy is still in that perpetual state of war that we first stepped into back in 1977. And Poe is on the front lines of that war and it was a pleasure to meet him.
Speaking of joyful performances, how much fun was John Boyega having as Finn? Boyega brought the funny and the pathos as a rogue Stormtrooper that joins up with Poe and the Resistance. Most of the film’s humor is derived from Finn haplessly being swept into the film’s action. But he is every inch the “Star Wars” hero and was an absolute joy to watch. Through Finn, viewers learn a great deal about the First Order and he is a very different kind of “Star Wars” hero. He is a man making up for his past, a man on the run from a vile organization of thugs of which he was once a part. The relationship between Finn and Rey is sweet without being too saccharine and there is a great promise of romance and fellowship between these two new heroes.
As for Rey herself, she is shrouded with mystery but she just exudes bravery and confidence. What’s cool about each of the new characters is that they all have aspects of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa. Rey has Leia’s bravery, Luke’s background, and Han’s rough edges. Poe has Luke’s heroism, Han’s piloting skills, and Leia’s dedication. While Finn has Luke’s wide eyed heroic nature, Han’s military skill, and Leia’s loyalty. Any of these characters could be a stand in at different times for the original three, but make no mistake, this is Rey’s film and for those desperate for a female centric “Star Wars” film, well, here it is. When the film ends most (but not all) of the lingering questions surround Rey as she seems to be the new saga’s point of view character. Like the other three leads, Daisy Ridley is a delight to watch as she emotes tragedy with the same easy skill that she pulls off humor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the last of our new heroes, the wonderful y realized BB-8. Rest assured, BB-8 is not the Jar Jar Binks of this film. This new ball droid is cute when it needs to be, feisty when the plot calls for it, and not present when things turn intense. It is not distracting or pandering in any way and good lord, will kids love this thing.
Now for the bad guys. We have Grand Master Snoke and if I mention anything about this character other than mentioning how cool Andy Serkis was in the role, I would be delving dangerously into spoiler town. We have General Hux who fills the Moff Tarkin Hitler obsessed military leader role and we have Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren is a very different type of “Star Wars” villain. He worships Darth Vader but is so much different that the Dark Lord of the Sith. Somehow, Adam Driver fills his character with so much pent up rage and raw emotional energy that is even palpable beneath Ren’s mask. Ren is easy to hate as he is fraught with personality flaws and is every inch the bully and tyrant he should be. Ren is portrayed as a kind of a shadow to Rey and Finn and this conflict seems to be the one that will drive this saga forward.
All this being said, I’m sure it’s the original heroes that have you all giddy with anticipation. It was such a pleasure to watch Harrison Ford step back into the jacket and boots of Han Solo. This Solo is a little defeated, much frayed, very rudderless, extremely regretful, but every inch the scoundrel we all love. Ford is energized by this role and every second he is on screen is a treat most “Star Wars” fans never thought they would experience again. Leia does not appear as much as Han but when she does, she brings a sense of weary class and dignity to the proceedings. There is a scene between Rey and Leia that briefly takes the film into high art territory. It is brief and fleeting but it is there and it was all on the back of Carrie Fisher. C-3P0 and R2-D2 play second fiddle to BB-8, but 3P0 is truly funny and not in that “Attack of the Clones” forced pun nonsense way either. This is the old school 3P0 we all love. I don’t think I’m going to mention R2 or Luke Skywalker because therein lies spoilers. I’ll just say, you’ll like it. A lot.
I would be remiss if I did not mention composer John Williams who paints the whole thing with his brilliant brush strokes of musical gravitas and makes the film feel like returning home.
The movie rarely stops moving and never becomes too self important. It never speaks down to the viewer and its only flaw is the strict adherence to the plot structure of the original 1977 “Star Wars.” “The Force Awakens asks more questions than it answers but it opens up a galaxy of possibilities. All I can say is that the future is very bright for “Star Wars” fans.
The highest compliment I can give is this, and here is where I will return to myself. “Star Wars” is a major part of my life. When I am depressed, “Star Wars” brings me back. When I am overwhelmed, I go home to the original trilogy. I won’t hate on the prequels but I will not defend them as high art either. I love “Star Wars” more than I love anything but my family and friends.
And “The Force Awakens” is worthy of the name “Star Wars.”