"Star Wars" - The Force Awakens With a BANG!

When I was about five years old, I got my VHS copy of the Star Wars trilogy, and summarily proceeded to wear those tapes out. I was absolutely hooked on the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo as they fought the Empire and the evil Sith lord Darth Vader.
These films have been a part of my life for so long. I’m a huge fan: I know so many of the classic lines and insults (“Why you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerf-herder!” “Who’s scruffy-looking?)) back-and-forth, I’ve watched twists and turns, action and comedy. And like you all, I’ve suffered through that dark period we refer to do as the prequels (Natalie Portman, I still love you even though you were forced to say all that wooden dialogue!).
In 2012, when it was announced that Lucasfilm was being sold to Disney and a new trilogy of films were to be created, to be honest, I wasn’t excited. I was nervous. as. hell. George Lucas had dropped the ball majorly with three stilted films whose lead floundered at stepping into Darth Vader’s boots, and whose plots focused on way too much CGI for its own good. I was terrified my childhood memories were going to be trampled once again. I was ready to just let MY Star Wars end with Episode VI. But once more details began to emerge of direction, casting and the story, I fell back to that little five-year-old version of myself. I couldn’t deny wanting to see more Star Wars, and I think that’s a major part of why we’ve all been waiting for this. We had to, (quoting Pink Floyd) eat our meat (the prequels) before we could have our pudding (the new trilogy).
And our first helping of dessert, so to speak, The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Star Wars saga, is just absolute perfection. I say that as a fan, a moviegoer, and a critic.
If you’re looking for a detailed version and review of what happens in Episode VII, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Despite being an addict for spoilers some times, I treat these movies very seriously, and I want everyone to enjoy them untarnished. So I’m going to be giving you the barest of bare bones of descriptions. Sorry all, I’m a Jedi, not a Sith! StarWarsPoster
The sequel trilogy takes place nearly 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and not everything is peaceful. The fight is on between the sinister First Order - a group of hardline believers aimed at destroying the New Republic, and the Resistance - our new Rebel Alliance, for lack of a better term. The film features scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), stormtrooper-turned-good Finn (John Boyega) and ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) as they face off against the First Order, in particular the sinister Kylo Ren (Girls star Adam Driver) - leader of the Knights of Ren who seek to finish what Darth Vader started when he killed off all the Jedi. Along the way, these new characters run into some old friends, namely the galaxy’s favorite scoundrel, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), his copilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), as well as Princess….err….General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
We still get all those things we love about this series: good vs evil (but not the way you think, this time), some nice funny bits of dialogue, incredible chases, X-Wings vs TIE Fighters, and yes, some fantastic lightsaber duels. (…Let’s save the debate over the practicality of Kylo Ren’s crossguard saber for another day please.)
What I love most is that this film feels like the perfect blend of old and new. If you’re an old fan like me you’ll love the nudge-wink throwbacks, the musical cues (John Williams delivering yet another fabulous score!), it’s all there for you to geek out on. And as for the new? The way the film is set up, to usher a new trilogy in, it leaves you wanting more. The three protagonists really excel, you want to root for them, and it doesn’t feel like affirmative action in the way they are in the film. Boyega helps capture Finn’s enthusiasm and heart, and it hearkens me back to those days of wearing the VHS tapes of the original trilogy out. Adam Driver brings emotion to the actions of Kylo Ren, and it’s a welcome surprise for the villain of the piece.
But my main praise for acting goes to Daisy Ridley. Rey soaks up the screen in every scene she’s in. This is a girl on the rise, and I’m thrilled to see what will happen to Rey in the next installments, but I’ve also got my eye on Ridley for any non-Star Wars projects she may pick up in the interim. Her introductory scavenging scene (the only hint of a spoiler you’ll get out of me!) is wordless but done so wonderfully you just fall in love with the character.
It’s no surprise that by now we know if you give Ford and Fisher time apart or together on screen they will excel. But I loved seeing them deepen these characters to the point that without knowing the full details of those 30 years between these films, we know what’s happened. Their chemistry hasn’t faltered and they continue to be of the best romantic duos in the galaxy.
Now for the story. The biggest success of the film is that they managed to bring original screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) back for this one. His stories are rich, his dialogue not too cheesy, and with assistance from director JJ Abrams and Michael Ardnt, this story feels fresh and a nice honor to the legacy of these films. Gone are the days of ridiculously wooden and unfeeling dialogue (“I don’t like sand, it’s rough and coarse and it gets in everywhere.”); we have real laugh moments, tender moments and great moments of action.
And as for direction? JJ Abrams wins the day for me — not only because we don’t have too many noticeable moments of his trademark “lens flare”, but we also have so much less CGI. The scenes on Rey’s home planet of Jakku? We see a lot of traditional sets, and stunt techniques, because from the beginning, Abrams has wanted to make this focused on a return to “traditional filmmaking.” It pays off in spades, because the finished product looks so much more real, richer and just cleaner than anything CGI could produce. Look at the new droid, and soon to be every kid’s Christmas wish list gift: BB-8. A real droid, not CGI, made by people, and it actually works as a real robot. THAT is something extraordinary we never got amidst clones, and CGI worlds in the prequels.
The best thing George Lucas ever did, for me, was to step away and let Kathleen Kennedy take over Lucasfilm and sell to Disney to create this new trilogy. The Force Awakens is the movie we all have been waiting for: it’s thoroughly entertaining, has tremendous spirit and it’s just a beautifully made film. It’s the springboard; it will hook the new generation in, pay tribute to the old and keep us watching like we have for all these years.
Good on ya Abrams, you didn’t screw it up. You took what we loved, and you made it shiny, new, and maybe even a little better than it was already.