No review above the cut this time. While I won’t be spoiling anything major I will be talking about basic character information that you learn in the first 20 to the 30 minutes of the movie. I know I did my best to go into this movie with as little information as possible so I’m giving you the same chance. Click below to continue on to my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
A young woman is scavenging for parts in a crashed star destroyer, a long forgotten but still imposing remnant of the past. She takes her salvage and trades for food and supplies to survive. With this introduction we are told exactly what Star Wars: The Force Awakens is doing. It’s taking heavily from Star Wars past, from a series of movies that was once highly regarded but has since fallen on hard times, and bringing those parts forward to new, fresh faced fans. Director J. J. Abrams expertly strikes a delicate balance between pressing forward to new adventures and honoring that which came before him.
Luckily he knows what it was that made Star Wars great to begin with. If you were to ask me what the best parts of the prequel movies were I’d likely mention the fight against Darth Maul or the battalion of Jedi fighting on Geonosis. The problem is that these are just events. They are full of spectacle but devoid of character investment. Ask me what the best parts of the original trilogy were and I’ll tell you about when Leia said “I love you” and Han replied with “I know” or when Luke defied the Emperor by proclaiming himself a Jedi like his father before him. These moments are fueled by the characters and their desires, motivations, and histories. That is what makes a story great. A giant battle is great eye candy, but it’s only dumb shows and noise if you don’t care about the characters fighting that battle.
Abrams gives us plenty of spectacle and eye candy but more importantly his characters, both new and old, are great fun to watch. All of our new heroes are played by actors that are ridiculously charismatic and should have bright futures ahead of them. The first of the new trio we meet is Poe, a hotshot pilot that quickly establishes himself as brash and bold. He’s cocky, a fast talker, and the only reason he can get away with his swagger is because he actually has the skills to back it up. Getting the least screen time of the new central trio, it’s in his friendship with Finn that he shines. Finn, the loveable loser, is trying to save his own skin but clearly has a sense of honor about him. More brave than he is competent, he is immediately endearing and the best is brought out in him when he decides to help Rey. Left as a young girl to be a junker on a dusty planet, Rey longs to see the galaxy and find her family. She feels the closest to an audience surrogate as she has much to learn about the universe like newcomers would but also holds the people and events of the original trilogy in high regard just as long time fans would.
It’s clear from the care that went into every aspect of this film that Abrams is one of those long time fans. Everything from characters to ships and props from the original trilogy are handled with a deep respect. Let me tell you, the Millennium Falcon never looked so good. The special effects are top notch from beginning to end. Practical effects and location shooting as opposed to CGI and green screens lend everything a satisfying weight and sense of reality. Every actor is a joy to watch and character moments feel like triumphs and defeats we share with them. Ship to ship battles are kinetic and exciting and lightsaber duels are tense and dramatic. It’s clear that Abrams and everyone making this movie loves the franchise.
Perhaps they love it a little too much, however. When Abrams rebooted Star Trek it was a remake that was actually a sequel in disguise. The Force Awakens feels like a sequel that is actually a remake in disguise. The plot of the movie borrows heavily from the greatest hits of the original trilogy, sometimes to a frustrating degree. Very similar plot points are lifted from those earlier movies with little more than a fresh coat of paint. This can feel especially egregious when you can predict where the movie is going simply by thinking about where the older movies went. Is this an homage? Or is it cribbing from what worked before simply to play on nostalgia? As Obi-Wan once said, it depends on your point of view. I personally feel like this was a love letter to those original movies that ultimately sets up the pieces to go in new directions in future movies. It was fun to see, but the story will evolve in unique and interesting ways from here forward. We’ll have to wait and see if I’m right.
At one point a character is asked a question that I’m sure everyone in the audience would like to know the answer to. Her response: “That is a good question…for another time.” The Force Awakens has excellently set the groundwork for a high quality new series of Star Wars movies. The characters are great, the actors are wonderful to watch, and everything comes together into such a fun and thrilling movie that I can’t wait to get the answer to that question and many more. This movie has expertly passed the torch from the old guard to the new generation. There was a moment during the film’s climax when the music swelled and I got chills. The fact that it managed to make me feel that in a moment that didn’t involve any of the old characters tells me they got this movie right.
I want Star Wars to be great, and The Force Awakens really is a new hope.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
The Ewok Adventure – This made for TV movie tells of the further adventures of Wicket and the Ewoks as they help a family of humans that crashed on their moon. The Ewoks gather a group to go on a long journey Lord of the Rings style and…ya know what? This whole thing was pretty rough. The little girl playing the protagonist never acted before or since these two movies, so that should tell you something about how well she did. At some point they spin a space dreidel and I don’t even know.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor – This made for TV sequel was marginally better. Killing the little girl’s family right away we trade up from them to Wilford Brimley and a muppet. Also there is a witch and minions wearing armor and using swords and a castle and it all feels like a precursor to Willow and ow my head.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Essentially a theatrically released pilot for a children’s cartoon show, this “movie” shows us some of the time between episodes II and III. Anakin is assigned a tween apprentice who is fair in visual design and super annoying in everything else. Admittedly I am three times the age of this movie’s target audience, but the simplicity of the story, cheap animation, and woeful acting made this painful to watch. Small shout out to Ziro the Hutt, a flamboyantly effeminate Hutt that gave me a genuine WTF moment.
The Star Wars Holiday Special – Ah, I had only heard about this abomination in hushed whispers in darkened corners. The one bit of Star Wars history that was so bad it was never aired a second time nor ever released commercially. I am glad I finally got to see it and am sorry I can no longer unsee it. Han and Chewbacca are trying to get back to Chewie’s homeworld of Kashyyyk so he can celebrate Life Day with his family. Being high value rebel agents the Empire attempts to intercept them. Chewie’s family frets and worries while they pass the time by communicating with other worlds and enjoying some entertainment. This allows what plot there is to be strung together by dull performances and random celebrity appearances. You, dear readers, haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bea Arthur singing to a bunch of aliens to a tune that is a slowed down version of the cantina song. The budget of this thing must have consisted of loose change found in George Lucas’s couch. We get Luke, Han, and Leia for about 5 minutes each as well as shots of Vader that are just recycled from the first movie and redubbed. Poorly. Rifftrax did a riff of this thing and that is the only way this is worth watching.