Wow. Star Wars is back. Now that it’s here the long wait seems to have gone by at light speed, doesn’t it? After all the hype and anticipation, the Force Awakens finally descended upon my local IMAX theater with all the pomp and circumstance of the coming of a new king. And a new king has been crowned, indeed.
Stars Wars: The Force Awakens is both an homage to the old guard, and a fresh, exciting new installment for the next generation of fans. As advertised (and as expected), the movie was rife with references to the original trilogy. But make no mistake, this isn’t The Empire Strikes Back or The Return of the Jedi; this is a shiny new machine, with its roots firmly planted in the soil of what came before. The energy, charisma, and sense of adventure that many felt were sorely missing from the last trio of cinematic installments are back in a big, brash, and bold way. It’s apparent a lot of effort went into injecting The Force Awakens with nostalgic energy. And for the vast majority of the film, it pays off. This is this universe we grew up loving, seen through the eyes of a new age.
My biggest trepidation going in was how engaging the new cast would be. Despite all the trailers (which really showed us many different views and instances from the same sequences) I didn’t really know what to make of John Boyega as Finn, and Daisy Ridley as Rey. Though I’m aware of Boyega’s reputation of being a fine actor (I’ve never seen his other performances); and Daisy I really knew nothing at all about, I had feared that their performances would garner the damning criticism that has plagued many a Star Wars iteration to some degree. I feared if they would be labelled as “wooden.” Oh, no, not that word!
Alas, my fears were quickly laid to rest. Both Ridley and Boyega delivered in spades.
Daisy Ridley was energetic, lively, and took complete command of her role. She was a joy to watch and my early impression is that she may be my favorite of the new cast. She had a lot to carry on her shoulders and she bore the weight with seeming ease. Her character grew and evolved right before my very eyes, and by the end of the movie I was ecstatic with her performance. She was the main lead, and I cannot wait to see where her journey takes her. As so many young women were inspired by Princess Leia, I believe it will be the same with Rey. We know she’s signed on for the entire new trilogy, and her possibilities are endless.
John Boyega was witty, engaging, and competently stood toe to toe with his contemporaries and the old guard. While the character of Finn often finds himself somewhat at odds with himself and with those around him, his heart, determination and intensity elicited within me a desire to see him persevere. His character wasn’t the typical hero, though he strongly yearns to be as such.
And then we have Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. Isaac seemed to me as the most “cast to type,” which was just fine. He has a brashness, a confidence that borders on arrogance but never sways there. He’s a likable hotshot, exuding the sort of charisma that garnered a chortle and a grin from the audience. If I had any qualms with Poe at all, it simply would be that I would have liked to have seen a little more of him. He slips off the radar for a bit, but this is in service to the story. Had Wedge Antilles been given a bit more attitude and a larger role in the original trilogy, we’d have something akin to Poe Dameron.
I’d be remiss not to mention B-88. I loved him. It seemed as though everyone in the theater did. This little droid “out R2-d R2” if you can believe that. He was the loyal puppy dog of the movie, the faithful hound, and its an achievement that the crew got so much emotion and character out of him. Worry not, detractors of the prequels, though BB-8 definitely delivered the largest helping of lighter comic relief, it wasn’t forced or contrived. The little guy will simply roll into your heart the way he did upon that Star Wars Celebration stage this past summer.
Kylo Ren was everything I hoped for and then some. I’m hesitant to say too much here, as the discovery of his character throughout the movie is one of its greatest joys. I will say he’s very powerful and multilayered. As writer Lawrence Kasdan promised, he brings something new to the pantheon of Star Wars villains. He’s totally engaging and commands the screen whenever present.
As far as the old familiar faces, we see them sprinkled throughout the movie. We get some time with Leia, who of all the cast was perhaps the most distant from her original self, both in portrayal and in character. That might be my only real nitpick about the cast. It’s not a biggie, though, but Carrie is a tad sluggish, here. She was a sight for sore eyes, and some of her moments are amongst the most poignant in the movie. We get our old droids back, too, Threepio and Artoo, who are comfortably settled into this “new” old universe….
As far as Luke Skywalker is concerned…well, you’ll just have to see the movie, hehe.
Perhaps the biggest gift to Star Wars fans in the Force Awakens is Han Solo. Ford is back, and in a big way. While many wondered if he’d phone in his performance, you can be assured that he showed up, with faculties firing on all cylinders. His chemistry with the new cast was fantastic, and provided some of the more amusing, entertaining, and emotional points in the movie. This isn’t Ford sleepwalking through another paycheck, oh, no sirree: this is Han Solo, the scoundrel we all fell in love with.
It’s always a tricky proposition to balance attributes that we remember from a character who we first saw decades ago with a much older incarnation. I’d say they got it right here. It’s an older Han, yes, but up to the same tricks. I also found an underlying bittersweetness to his portrayal. One could detect that Han, like the galaxy itself, has been through a lot. He wears it on his sleeve, carries that world-weariness along with his wisdom. And he’s still stubborn. Oh, yeah, he’s back. And let’s face it, we missed Han Solo. We missed his presence in the prequels; or at least we missed a character who served his purpose – to humorously chide the other characters, to question their motives, and to not be so sterile or perfect. We missed his humanness. The Force Awakens gives us back our Han Solo…and not just with his character.
The movie clearly remembers that beyond all the plot, political intrigue, fantastic worlds and spectacular effects, Star Wars had heart – rough around the edges, flawed, but also inspiring, persistent, and relatable. This is the triumph of the movie, that we feel for it, for its characters, and for our galaxy. And boy is it energetic. The back and forth banter between characters is the most entertaining of the seven movies thus far, I’d say.
The emphasis on practical effects has been heavy all along, and the movie definitely benefits from the location shooting. There’s an organic quality to it that hearkens back to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. What CGI was used for character creation was seamless, impressive. I wasn’t pulled out of the movie from it. It wasn’t jarring, nor did it contrast to the practical elements around it. If I had to nitpick, I’d say the only CGI elements that didn’t fully win me over were some of the starship sequences. The x-wing fighters, while looking great, still didn’t look quite as substantive to me as they did in the original trilogy. We see them fully realized on the ground and they look stellar, but in some action shots I wasn’t quite as convinced as I thought I might be. It’s not a deal breaker, and it was great to see them in action against the tie fighters.
The movie juggles a lot of plot, and doesn’t spend too much time on backstory. As with A New Hope, we are thrown right into the mix and sent on our way. This may throw some, as it seems the filmmakers relied on our familiarity with the Star Wars universe as a whole to help us navigate our way through. I’d bet we’ll get some of the missing pieces as the trilogy goes on. I might have liked to know a bit more on the formations of the First Order and the Resistance, but the amount of information we’re given is in line with what we knew about the Empire in A New Hope. The movie, while satisfactorily pulling through a story arc of its own, definitely leaves one wanting for more: more on the characters, the backgrounds of the major factions, and some of its villains. All in all, it was like the tease of the emperor we were given in The Empire Strikes Back. It was so cool, and we want to know and see more.
And if I had to sum up my experience with the Force Awakens in one word, it would be: fun…and exciting…and emotional…and thrilling…and…
All right, all right; can you tell I’m still pumped? Overall, my friends, it’s a smashing success. For whatever perceived faults different people may pick out of all the greatness that poured from the screen, the successes and triumphs of the movie far outweigh any shortcomings. This is a movie to be enjoyed with childlike eyes, crafted by people who obviously love what makes Star Wars so wonderful. It’s nothing like the Prequels, and though it shares many more common core attributes with the original trilogy, it’s not quite like it either. This is a new Star Wars that will entertain both the younglings and seasoned Jedi alike.
It’s back, guys, and this longtime fan couldn’t be more thrilled.