Over the years, the Star Wars movies have either created majestic memories for someone, or been a jumbled mess, depending on your perspective. George Lucas created the best kind of magic with the original Star Wars trilogy, but then, for some odd reason, felt like messing with his own work, between Special Edition treatments with questionable decisions (like the whole “NOOOO” thing in Return of the Jedi) and, even more, a prequel trilogy that, while successfully viable in terms of making money, didn’t quite have the same emotional punch. Too political, even with all the lightsaber fights.
But then Disney snapped up the franchise rights from Lucas (for a nice chunk of change), and immediately assigned J.J. Abrams to bring the series roaring back to its old-school goodness. And I’ll tell you, there were doubts aplenty – many folks feared the whole “lens flare” thing from Star Trek would affect this film as well. However, after sitting through the finished product of The Force Awakens, here’s the best way to put it – relax, fans, the magic is back.
While there are some issues with smaller characters in the film, and some hard-to-miss parallels with the original A New Hope (right down to a final climactic battle or two), there’s no question that Abrams was the right man for the job when it came to returning this franchise to glory. He directs with a deft, serious hand, but injects the film with the kind of sense of wonder we got from the original three films. Gone are the politics, and in their place we get the level of discovery that makes us believe in film again. (Well, if Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t already do that earlier in the year.)
There are no spoilers here, but here’s a quick breakdown of some plot basics. Finn (John Boyega) is a former Stormtrooper for the First Order who finds himself on an interesting mission that pairs him with Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a troublesome little roller-bot named BB-8, as well as a cocky fighter pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Along the way, older faces enter the fray as well, including Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and, yes, eventually Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as well. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) plays a vital part in the story as well, especially with revelations about his character that make him even more enraged.
Let’s talk performances first. The new actors in the film really keep up with the material and add an extra sense of character we haven’t seen in the franchise in years. Boyega’s innocent-yet-confident approach to Finn is a revelation, and his best work since Attack the Block, obviously. Ridley is outstanding as Rey, and really provides the screen with a great female face that will hopefully stick around for years to come. Isaac channels his best Han Solo as Dameron, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Driver is a tour-de-force as Kylo, giving the Star Wars universe yet another great villain, as conflicted as he may be. And, yes, Gwendoline Christie rocks as Phasma, with her silver plated armor.
And of course, we can’t doubt the old pros. Ford has his best role in years stepping back into the shoes of Han Solo, while Mayhew is every bit his equal as good ol’ Chewbacca. More could’ve been done with Princess Leia, I think, but as is, she’s suitable enough for the story, if a bit subdued. Again, though, no spoilers.
The special effects are electrifying, carrying a rush of new energy into the film while keeping some of the classic aesthetic we’ve come to expect from the Star Wars franchise. Later on in the film, you really get to see these effects at work, especially when the Resistance finds itself going up against a major new threat that makes the Death Star look like child’s play. And that’s all I’ll say about that. Just watch and be amazed, especially on an IMAX screen.
What’s really a surprise here is the storytelling. J.J. Abrams must’ve taken a microscope to earlier films (and for that matter, probably the prequel trilogy too) to learn what makes a Star Wars movie tick, and, working alongside Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, has created a wonderful script where everything really comes together. There are a couple of minor issues with smaller characters in the film (again, not spoiling), but even they seem like tiny blemishes in an otherwise gorgeous picture. And yes, the action sequences are awesome. The minute the Millennium Falcon takes off for the first time, you know you’re in for a ride.
Really, the best way to experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens is to simply see it on the big-screen. Avoid the spoilers, put aside your doubts, and even brush aside the prequels if you feel the need, and enjoy what Abrams and his team has put together. The original Star Wars magic is back, and that’s not an easy task to come by. But, damn, is it fun to watch.