Well, folks, the wait is at an end. We were uncertain upon the announcement that the story was being continued, we became hopeful when more details were given, we were intrigued by the promotional material, and we celebrated prematurely when the new movie seemed more interested in replicating the whimsical awesomeness of the original trilogy as opposed to the insipid gimmicks of the prequels. And now, Star Wars Episode VII is in theaters for all to see (a few days earlier in Sweden, even) and check whether it lives up to its insane hype.
So here we have The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film since 2005 and the first one to truly understand what makes Star Wars good since 1982. Mind you, that is not something I wanted to have cloud my mind as I went to see it. I didn’t want to have my expectations set too high and/or judge the film solely based on how much better it is than George Lucas‘ prequel trilogy – which wouldn’t exactly be a remarkable feat. However: the point isn’t that it’s a better movie. The point is that it made Star Wars great again, recapturing the original spirit and excitement as well as production design, and no amounts of H*yd*n Chr*st*ns*n whining or CG slapstick can take that away from us anymore. That, dear readers, is a feat, and knowing this was the intention, seeing the Star Wars “opening crawl” on the big screen again never felt so intense.
Now put in the hands of Disney and director J.J. Abrams (plus co-writers Michael Arndt and Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan), the new Star Wars film takes place decades after the supposed fall of the Galactic Empire, the Battle of Endor, and the exctinction of the dark Sith Lords. But there are remnants of the sinister Empire spread across the galaxy, and one of their Stormtroopers, Finn (John Boyega), decides he no longer wants a part in their business. He makes a run for it, saving a captured rebel named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in the meantime. I enjoy this concept as it shows a more human side to the faceless Stormtroopers we remember from the original movies, and also josses the idea that they too are clones of Boba Fett’s father á la the prequel-troopers.
After he crashes on a desert planet (not Tatooine) and loses Poe, Finn meets a tough but poor scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and teams up with her. Rey has also befriended an important rebel droid named BB-8 – an amusing little special effect, achieved with exactly 0% CGI.
On the run from the bad guys, our two heroes seek what’s left of the Rebel Alliance, now called the Resistance. And yes, nostalgia does kick in when they meet characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew),
Princess General Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). It’s extra touching if you know that all the non-human characters are still the same actors who wore the suits in the classic trilogy decades ago. I know that nostalgia is subjective and that it has been used in the film’s marketing to manipulate fans at least as much as the prequels did, but again, this one actually followed through and got Star Wars right. I’d say it’s excused.
There is a villain amidst it all – a cloaked and masked sword-fighter named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who commands the armies of the “First Order” (as the Empire is now known) and aims to “finish what [Darth Vader] started”. Kylo Ren knows how to channel The Force, yet he is apparently not a “Sith lord” and his homemade lightsaber isn’t a proper one, but more like a knight-type sword with crossguards, made of weaker beams than the sabers we’re used to (and I’m sure the Internet nerds will give us an additional piece of their mind about it now that they’ve seen it in the finished film). To defeat Kylo, one of our two new heroes must nevertheless learn about The Force, perhaps from an old and lost Jedi master such as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) even?
The movie also features such humongous names as Max von Sydow, Lupita N’yongo, Domhnall Gleeson, Warwick Davis, Gwendoline Christie and Simon Pegg in supporting roles, and additional returning characters from previous Star Wars episodes include Admiral Ackbar and Lando’s little co-pilot from Return of the Jedi. And yes, as far as I know, even those roles are performed by the same actors as 30+ years ago.
What’s praiseworthy about the film’s marketing, I should firstly point out, is how it realizes the notion that less is more. Unlike Terminator: Genisys or Batman V Superman, where the trailers seemingly go out of their way to spoil and ruin as much of the respective films as possible, much of The Force Awakens was wisely kept in mystery. We didn’t know much about Luke Skywalker’s role in the story, nor the true nature of Andy Serkis‘ character, barring the fact that he portrays his role via motion capture as usual and that he is very, very evil.
The film itself mostly proved me wrong in my skepticism and for that I am grateful. On top of being as well-made and genuinely thrilling as the classics (it even has sneaking-scenes as so few movies nowadays do), it has these nice touches when it comes to the characters we know and love from the past. Han Solo has gone from a stern non-believer in The Force and the Jedi Order to a person who confidently reassures Rey that the old stories of the Jedi knights are all true – because he knows one of them, and happens to be going out with that Jedi’s sister.
There are, however, a few things that are done for the sake of fanservice but don’t make sense (I’m not sure how Luke’s lightsaber is still around if he lost it during his first duel with Vader) and the climax feels a little too reminiscent of a certain other film, as well as far too easy for the good guys considering the “bigger and supposedly badder” Imperial superweapon they face. Also, most of the “twists” and other moments that made audience members at my screening gasp in unison were things that I either saw coming or hoped wouldn’t come to pass, although I won’t go into too much detail.
In terms of the new characters, I sadly only enjoyed Kylo Ren as a villain when he kept his mask on, and I had a hard time feeling anything for his familial relationship with this one other character I won’t name. I liked many of the side characters, though, and the choice of having the two protagonists be a woman and a man of color is of course one that I applaud (it’s like a high-budget version of Iron Sky, including the not so subtle “Space Nazis”). I know the Internet had a field day poking fun at fans who allegedly vowed to boycott the film on the grounds of this casting decision back when it was made public, but I speculate that the latter group of people were joking around and that the real suckers are those who poked fun. Irony. ‘Tis a beautiful thing.
There is so much to love about The Force Awakens. John Williams‘ score is still epic; the acting is at least 99% good; the “futuristic but gritty” imagery is pitch-perfectly carried over from the originals; the new heroes and villains are instantly memorable, as are their interactions; the action is intense and well-choreographed; the sensibly under-used digital effects are mighty and real-looking; the other effects are made extra powerful by the quality of the puppetry and the props in front of the camera; the camera work itself is great (clearly not Lucas-work); the sound-design is just as grand as the imagery, and the nostalgia factor is sky-high. Watching X-Wings have dogfights with Imperial TIE fighters again, watching the Millenium Falcon soar across the screen again, meeting all these great characters again – all of it is delightful. Indeed it may be pandering, but I stand by my statement that it can be done right and with heart, something movies like The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith only wish they could have done. It’s not like I’ve been punked into buying every new piece of merch I see, especially when it’s this ridiculous.
Still, the film feels very much like what it is: the first part of a bigger story. I won’t give it my highest rating, but I suspect that whatever comes after this will be even better now that all the build-up and introduction is taken care of. I am aware that this is also reportedly the first movie in a planned series of spin-offs and sequels that will span for decades more, and I already gave my reasons as to why I’m optimistic about that idea in my The Empire Strikes Back review, so go read that, chaps.
All the same, I adored The Force Awakens exactly the way I hoped: mainly as a movie but especially as an episode in the saga of Star Wars. True fans have yearned for this moment for so long and I advice all my readers to see this film once it reaches them! Now if you pardon me, I shall unapologetically commence fanboyism and attend a second screening of this film as I pretend that Yoda never held a lightsaber and Christensen never told the world what he thinks about sand. And remember: The Force will be with us, always (or at least for 20 more spin-off movies).