Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill. Directed by J.J. Abrams.
It’s thirty years after the fall of the Empire, and out of its ruins has risen the First Order, working on a new weapon of destruction. The First Order’s military leader is Kylo Ren, a tortured, possibly crazed villain with a chip on his shoulder. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, receives word of long-missing Jedi Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts. With the assistance of Han Solo, the resistance seeks to destroy the new weapon, defeat Kylo Ren, and find Luke.
Against this backdrop emerge three new heroes: Poe, the best X-Wing fighter in the Resistance. Rey, an orphaned scavenger who appears to be much more. And Finn, a. deserting Storm Trooper moved by his conscience to assist Rey.
Clearly, it is J.J. Abrams’s goal to bring the Star Wars fandom back aboard the LucasFilm train, reminding it of all the reasons it loves the first three films while making amends for the errors of the second three films’ ways. He does this, with more than an adequate number of callbacks to the first trilogy. He also builds a reasonable transition into the new reality of possibly limitless sequels, tributaries, and spin-offs under the franchise’s new Disney umbrella.
The Force Awakens accomplishes all of these, and although Abrams goes back to the A New Hope well more times than necessary, his new characters are compelling and charismatic in ways that the first movie never attempted. Rey and Finn are people I want to root for, people I want to get to know. They’re tinged with mystery and fun to watch. I haven’t yet read any reviews of the film, but I imagine negative reviews will say themes are not merely derivative, but repetitions of those in the previous trilogies, at worst a recycling of stuff we’ve seen before. It’s a valid criticism. Still, I hope these next two films will take the momentum and goodwill from the public response to this one, and run in new directions. There’s no reason what comes next must necessarily mimic The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, and with the vast expanse of untapped creative territory at its disposal, it could be no time at all before we’re forgetting all about midi-chlorians, Ewoks, and Jar-Jar Binks.
Action sequences, except for one beautiful, nostalgic trip in the Millennium Falcon, are so-so: interesting but not thrilling. Weaponry and spacecraft aren’t a huge departure from the earlier films, but this is only thirty years after Return of the Jedi, so that doesn’t bother me much. A new droid, BB-8, is kind of a neat next-wave of R2-D2 technology. Effects are effective without being distracting, and there is a determined lack of CGI porn, thank goodness. The score, composed once again by John Williams, is perhaps one of the best things about this film. It’s the best score in the series since Empire, almost sure to win an Oscar this year.
This is just the warm-up act for what could very well be an impossible return to glory for a series nearly wrecked by its own creator. I have a good feeling about this.