A Spoiler Free Review Of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
You'll be happy, Star Wars fans. And, don't worry, no spoilers here.
Like many, many others apparently, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater this weekend. To be honest, this was one of the first times I’ve seen a movie during opening weekend in quite sometime, mostly because I tend to prefer to wait until the crowds have thinned out somewhat and I’m not sharing space with a theater full of teenagers and such. Nothing against watching a movie with others, mind you, just that I tend to prefer to be able to watch a movie in an environment where I can actually pay attention to what’s going on on-screen without so many distractions. I’ve known for months, though, that this would be the exception to my general rule both because, well, it’s Star Wars and because I knew the nature of the Internet and the fact that I spend a lot of time online would mean that I’d run across spoilers if I waited too long to see a movie that, in many ways, fans like me have been waiting for since the credits started rolling on Return Of The Jedi back in the summer of 1983. So, I settled for a Noon showing on Saturday to allow the first day crowds to thin out a bit and settled in. As it turned out, the fact that it was early in the day, possibly combined with the location of the theater, combined such that the crowd wasn’t so bad (although the lines for tickets and such had grown substantially when I left after the movie was over.)
In any case, what follows is a spoiler-free version of my thoughts about the movie. Perhaps, at some point, I’ll post something more detailed discussing the plot points and such but since I knowpeople are likely to wait until the holiday week to see the movie I seemed only fair to let people discover things for themselves.
Off the top, I’ll simply repeat what I said on Twitter not too long after I left the theater, namely that this movie was everything that Star Wars fans were hoping for, and more. For understandable reasons, the prequels, which were accompanied by much of the same sort of anticipation and hype that we’ve seen over the past eighteen months or since it was announced that there would be a sequel trilogy in the wake of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. For a lot of reasons, the prequels ended up being a disappointment for fans of the Original Trilogy and there are many who simply refuse to acknowledge that they exist. Given the disappointment that the prequels created, many fans approached the first movie of the new trilogy with a sort of nervous anticipation, although that slowly seemed to melt away as Disney and Director J.J. Abrams seemed to strategically release teasers and trailers that hinted at what we could expect in the movie. What we saw looked good, in some cases, very good. Of course, trailers have disappointed in the past so there was reason to be skeptical.
Given all of this, and the fact that he was seeking to add on to a saga that has been a pop culture phenomenon for nearly four decades now, J.J. Abrams was faced with the difficult task of creating a movie that both told a new story and did it in a way that fit into the overall Star Wars mythos in a way that the prequels never did notwithstanding the fact that they were made by the man who created the original trilogy. With some minor qualifications, I can say that he succeeded masterfully and did so in a way that sets the Star Wars story off in a new direction that still manages to maintain the overall themes that George Lucas set out to tell so many decades ago. There is, of course, plenty of “fan service” in the form of dialogue and scenes that hearken back to the original trilogy, there are the space battles and the Obi-Wan Kenobi references to The Force that largely ignore the “midicholrians” of the prequel. There are droids on a mission, and Stormtroopers. And, of course, there’s the battle between the light and the dark that was part of the overall story of all six movies.
Looking ahead to the future, the story seems to me to be well-set in the hands of a new set of heroes, and it was great to see them interact with the our old heroes from the original trilogy. The first glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca on screen, which had already been revealed in a trailer released earlier this year, was as rewarding as fans would have hoped it would be, as was the sight of seeing the Millennium Falcon in action again. Another element from the original films that was back was the humor, which often seemed to be lacking from prequels that often seemed to take themselves way too seriously at times, or present humor in the form of a character who shall not be named that quickly became perhaps one of the most hated characters in movie history. Indeed, one of the things about the original movies was the fact that they were fun in addition to being action-packed. The Force Awakens recaptures all of that, and more, and it’s going to please hard-core fans just as much as it delights new fans.
Speaking of the future, things seem to me to be well in hand with the new cast that has been added to take up the story where Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher left it. Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey was quite good, and her character clearly looks to be one that will be at the center of the rest of the trilogy, especially since her origins remain something of a mystery. John Boyega, who plays Finn, the renegade Stormtrooper already identified in trailers, gives an interesting depth to the formerly faceless soldiers of the Empire/First Order and the question of just how loyal they might be in the end. Oscar Isaac plays Poe Damerson, the hot-shot pilot of the new trilogy, and does so in a way that is reminiscent of certain other characters from previous films, but in a way that makes him a different type of fighter than we saw during the Rebellion era. Finally, there’s Adam Driver as the new “big bad,” or at least the most prominent agent of the bad guys in the movie. Driver has perhaps the most on-screen experience of all the members of the new cast, and he brings much of that to playing a character that clearly has multiple levels of complexity that are sure to be an issue going forward.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect, of course. It could have used perhaps a little more explanation about what has happened in the thirty years since Return Of The Jedi that led to the political/military situation that we see when the movie opens. Some of that, of course, is explained in the trademark opening crawl, but there could have been perhaps a bit more detail there. Additionally, there’s a lot of mirroring of the plot of A New Hope in the film that some will likely criticize, but it’s important to note two points about that. The first, of course, is that Abrams entered this project knowing that he would have to pay some respect to fan nostalgia for the original product, so it was inevitable that there would be some duplication of elements from the original stories. The second point is that, in mirroring elements from the original movies Abrams was following a model that George Lucas had laid out in the prequels, something that was discussed in detail in an article posted all the way back in October 2014. Granted, one could argue that the prequels may not be the best guide for how to make a Star Wars film, but the point is that to the extent it is intended that the new trilogy be, in some sense, a continuation of the story laid out in the first six movies, it does make some sense that there would be some thematic similarities.
I could share much, much more about The Force Awakens but it would require discussing plot elements and, as I said, I intended this to be a spoiler-free review. As a final note, I’ll simply say that Star Wars fans should feel confident that the story is in good hands going forward, and that even if you haven’t seen a single Star Wars movie before — and if you haven’t you really ought to fix that! — you will still find much to enjoy here.
Feel free to discuss away in the comments. I’d ask everyone to be respectful of those who haven’t seen the movie yet when it comes to the big spoilers — you know which ones I mean — at the very least by using a “Spoiler Alert” warning before you reveal anything.