Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

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Star 3.5

The Force Awakens is much more than a new installment in the one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, it’s also an event of grand magnitude for hundreds of thousands of fans. You can tell director J.J. Abrams paid close attention to that fact when he brought this new installment to the big screen. This new movie wastes no time on giving rabid fans what they want and drives our nostalgia at warp speed.

(Minor Spoilers to follow)
We get right to it when the film opens up on the planet Jakku, where hotshot X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his trusty droid BB-8 have just acquired a map that could lead to the exact location of the missing Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Just as the map is acquired Storm Troopers ascend on the desert village to recover it. They’re led by our new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is a short-tempered commander of The First Order (What we used to call The Empire?). He’s Darth Vader for the millennials. An angst ridden emo, who hides behind a black iron mask and cape. As BB-8 narrowly escapes, Kylo Ren captures Poe for interrogation and as soon as we see the first wipe transition, we meet our new heroes – bam, bam, bam! We meet the heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she struggles to collect valued parts from abandoned ships in the vast desert of Jakku to make ends meet. She happens on BB-8 and then meets Finn (John Boyega), a disgruntled storm trooper who has defected and crash-landed on Rey’s desert home. As things hum along in act one our old chums, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO, R2D2 and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) hop aboard the journey to locate Luke’s whereabouts. The speed in which the story unfolds is one of the movie’s strengths while you’re watching it, but in retrospect it’s also one of the movie’s major flaws.

The story being laid out with such fervor and zeal is just the right combination of adrenaline and sentiment. But then again, how did we get here? First order? What’s Rey’s Jedi connection? How did she get so good at using the force? Etc., Etc. Abrams is more concerned with giving fans their re-imagined stroll down memory lane than he is with good character development, but despite that the new characters still end up leaving you wanting more. Ridley is spectacular as the tough-as-nails Rey and Finn adds levity and a great outsider perspective to our new crew.  Ridley and Boyega turn in instant star-making turns and they show just how important casting was in the new series.  I would assume that some fans will find Kylo Ren a bit whiny and misty-eyed à la Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, but I thought it worked. As Abrams righted the character representation of gender (Rey) and culture (Finn) to reflect the world we live in today, Driver’s hipster subculture presence in Ren exemplifies a younger generation relegating their emotional expression to 140 characters and helps accentuate the new facelessness of film criticism in the comments section. He’s also got some hidden psychological and emotional issues that give him a certain depth we rarely see in Star Wars characters.

The Force Awakens is far from perfect, but it’s such a gas to spend time with our old friends again. Abrams and company deliver a solid start to this new chapter of the saga. It’s good old-fashioned cinematic fun. Abrams noticeably stays away from fan boy land mines that George Lucas stumbled upon over and over with the prequels. He wisely frames the new chapter in an eerily similar way akin to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. What Abrams lacks in originality, he makes up with a keen vision on how to make old new again. Rey, Poe and BB-8 are essentially the new Luke, Han and R2. But seeing all the characters together like this is just magic. Seeing Han and Chewie back aboard the Millennium Falcon alongside our new heroes literally gave me chills.

There’s something to be said about Star Wars and its place in our lives. The movies are much more than just that. We grew up with the movies and now we grow old with them. A new generation of characters and stories to share. Building a bridge between young and old, black and white and more than anything giving us something we can laugh, cry and applaud to…TOGETHER.

 

-JB