For my generation, there are few cultural tent poles as important as Star Wars. The original Star Wars is the first movie I can remember actually going to a theater and watching; I was just shy of five years old at the time. It was the first movie or story that truly captured my imagination. And for the first decade of my life, much of my imaginary child’s play revolved, in one manner or another, around the series.
It is now commonplace to insult the Star Wars series. George Lucas made that quite easy, after the Prequels largely destroyed the mirage of a series that, previously, could apparently do no wrong. Along with the myriad of other science fiction options that people now have, the Star Wars series had lost its place as the ultimate nerd experience.
With the sale of the franchise to Disney, hope once again reignited among Star Wars fans. J.J. Abrams was hired to lead what was, in my humble opinion, an impossible task: to reignite the fervor that made Star Wars such a cultural phenomenon in the first place.
Has he succeeded?
There is no question that The Force Awakens is a far superior Star Wars movie to the prequels. So, to begin with, let your mind be at ease at least in that respect. This feels like an original Star Wars movie…a movie with action, suspense, and enough humor to keep you entertained throughout.
I think the biggest success of this film is that it found the right stars to carry this movie. Unlike the prequels, which simply didn’t care about character development at all, this movie actually relies on it. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) both are fundamental in the ability of this movie to succeed. Both are characters that are fairly rich in detail, and most importantly…you care about what happens to them. Who can say that about any of the characters in the prequels?
Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is the guy who brings the swagger and charisma that this type of ‘cowboy film’ requires. As a X-wing pilot, is the film’s ‘rebel’ of sorts.
As for the villains, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) is an evil, conflicted terror, who is not always in control of his emotions. His personality itself feeds into the narrative that he is not just a paper tiger…he is a real, formidable threat. I will say the other villains simply seem to be in the background. I certainly would have liked to see more of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, for example.
I don’t want to say too much about the original cast, except to say…every initial moment of seeing them on-screen, for me, was a moment that made my heart flutter. These are characters as near and dear to me as any, and seeing them in any new iteration is a joy to behold.
I am quite pleased with The Force Awakens. Abrams was handed a series that was, in many ways, flailing and dying from years of neglect, and a (surprisingly) lack of understanding of what its fans really want. In that respect, Abrams has delivered. He has reintroduced us to that galaxy that inspired the imagination of so many over so many years. He has, once again, made it fun to see a Star Wars movie.
This movie just has the feel of Star Wars. If you are a life long fan…the best word I can use to describe the movie is comfortable. It is easy to slide into this story…it feels right. You don’t have to force yourself to enjoy it…this simply is how Star Wars feels emotionally.
People have already asked where I would place this movie in the saga. It is far better than any of the prequels…and at the very least, is very close to as good as Return of the Jedi. I may even be willing to consider it better than Jedi, upon further viewings. Time will tell. My second viewing will be on Sunday (yes, I am that much of a nerd). I’ll have to see if that changes my opinion at all.
Is it a perfect movie? Not even close. It is somewhat hamstrung by its forced connection to the original trilogy. In many ways, this trilogy must be able to set its own course, separate from the originals, and this first movie doesn’t exactly do that. I understand that Abrams’ task, of walking the tightrope of balancing the old with the new, was an almost impossible burden to bear. We might have to give him some leeway in that regard, and wait for Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII to see the full potential of this new storyline, and of these new cast members.
But, in an echo to the original, this movie provides a new hope. It opens up the Star Wars universe to infinite possibilities of sagas, epic storytelling, and new adventures in planets not even dreamed up yet. And that likely will be this film’s biggest success of all.