“I thought he was a myth.”
It’s been a long time coming… Like, a really long time. Star Wars never really disappeared, from the Expanded Universe and the prequels, to The Clone Wars and Rebels, but fans have been waiting for a true cinematic sequel since the credits rolled on 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Thirty-two years later, Episode VII: The Force Awakens is upon us, a modern love-letter to what we love about Star Wars.
Like Luke, Leia, and Han before them, new leads Rey, Finn, and Poe (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac) are on a quest to… Do stuff. I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the film’s beats, except to say it borrows most heavily from A New Hope in terms of its overall structure, with many nods to the original trilogy, and nary a trace of influence from the, let’s say, polarizing prequels.
Director J.J. Abrams, working from a script by himself and Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan, combines his unique style with the series’ established aesthetics and mythology. It’s a great combination which reveres what came before while adding a modern flair, retaining the timelessness of the best Star Wars stories, all set to John Williams’ iconic score, comprised mostly of reprises of classic themes. The dialogue is witty and quick, but never overly joke-laden, though there are a few big laughs here and there. In addition, the easily agitated nerds who’ve been stressing over the new droid can breathe a sigh of relief, as BB-8, the adorable comic side-kick, is way more R2-D2 than Jar Jar Binks in terms of his comic sensibilities.
Although the creatures are gorgeous and the sets and props, as promised, appear to be mostly comprised of practical effects, the environments themselves lack originality. Locales like the insides of spaceships are all gorgeous, but the actual planetscapes are all settings we’ve seen before. Jakku, for instance, is completely indistinguishable from the deserts of Tatooine. Other planets are hit-and-miss. At one point I thought we were on Yavin 4, but it was another ‘new’ location.
As for casting, the short straw is unfortunately drawn by Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa; while her emotional highs are palpable, and her chemistry with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo never misses a beat; she just doesn’t get enough time to shine as bright as she could. New villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) infuses the whiny personality of an Anakin Skywalker with more overt rage and temper tantrums that are played for drama and a bit of dark comedy. He’s an interesting character with a unique take on the inner conflict present in all of Star Wars‘ young sith, and one I believe audiences will strongly debate and disagree on.
The Force Awakens is part one in a new phase of Star Wars. There are mysteries present to be unfolded in future movies, but these phantom storylines only rarely detract from the energy that’s always propelling the current story forward. The First Order, essentially the new Empire, doesn’t get enough explanation and their goals are unclear, as is their current status in subjugating the galaxy. It comes across very strongly that they are a menace and must be dealt with, but a little more insight and background would have helped to get us to connect with the heroic opposing force of The Resistance and The Republic.
What was old is new again; from dreaded stormtroopers led by a deep-voiced black-clad figure with a cool helmet, to a ragtag group of young people on a rollicking journey with new planets and unique creatures. It’s a classic adventure devoid of cynicism, and what it lacks in gigantic setpieces it makes up for in unadulterated joy and surprising emotional weight. This is the essence of Star Wars at its best: moving forward on the power of imagination and the momentum of having one foot in the past with the other firmly stepping towards a bright future.
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