***Note: I have written many words about Star Wars in the last week, and so this review of The Force Awakens is intentionally pithy in nature.***
I stated in my overview of the Star Wars series that I was cautiously optimistic about The Force Awakens. I hoped that it would be good; but I didn’t know how certain aspects of the story would turn out, and while I was intrigued by J.J. Abrams as the director–he essentially turned Star Trek into Star Wars and has now been given the keys to the kingdom– I wasn’t quite confident enough in his work to sign off on him automatically.
After seeing the movie, though, I can now bury my skepticism and say that The Force Awakens is everything I wanted it to be. A genuine love letter to fans of the original three films; this movie is exciting throughout, visually beautiful, wonderfully character driven, and respectful of the core Star Wars mythology while also adding to it in meaningful ways. Most importantly, in true episodic fashion, it leaves the door open for exciting stories to come.
This movie feels like a Star Wars film should; the DNA of the classics runs all throughout this one; and there are many settings and moments that call back to the best aspects of those films, not to mention the return of many of the characters that we have grown to love over the years. But this isn’t simply a retread of past glories. This movie takes bold steps to tell a dynamic, original story and give us fresh new characters, and it’s through them that the narrative truly comes alive.
Our new leads, Rey and Finn, are simply excellent. They start out somewhat in the margins, living in the aftermath of the events of the prior films; but–through a wonderful execution of story– they do, in time, come to know the ways of the Force and meet the older heroes. In some sense, they seem to represent the younger audience that is being introduced to Star Wars for the first time, but at no point does that devolve into forced, hokey meta-awareness. Rather, Abrams and company took the time to give our heroes real drama in their arcs; their emotions and choices are quite meaningful; and we grow to love these characters as much as we have ever loved any in the Star Wars saga.
Then there is Kylo Ren as the new villain. I admit I was most worried about how he would be portrayed (I don’t think the trailers did him justice). Without spoiling anything, though, he turns out to be a very three-dimensional, impactful figure who emerges quite organically from the story; and we are given very powerful motivation to hate him the way good villains should be hated. Simply put, he’s wonderful, and I can’t wait to see more of him in the coming movies.
Beyond that, the film did a terrific job of exciting me in the same way as when I saw the originals for the first time. Not since Return of the Jedi has a Star Wars movie been this entertaining; rest assured, you’ll get all of the blaster fights, spaceship battles, and lightsaber duels that you want from this picture; with some fun and creative creatures thrown in for good measure (as a bonus, many of them are done practically!). More over, J.J. Abrams’s distinct visual flair and cinematography seems to have finally found a true home in this universe; every new sequence is an enthralling visual wonder to behold on the big screen. The world building is top notch; and this entire universe feels real again.
Most importantly, the ending of this film is absolutely perfect. Again, I won’t give anything away; but the sheer weight it holds and the impact it leaves is truly masterful; and you can’t help but want to immediately go see Episode VIII–whenever that comes out–to find out what happens next.
If I have to criticize anything in this picture, it’s that some of the classic character reveals are a little awkward; and also that Kylo Ren’s master seems a little derivative. But those are such minor criticisms to levy against a film as relatively flawless as this that I feel bad to mention them at all.
The Force Awakens could have easily been another prequel-style disappointment; not only does it avoid that pitfall, it soars rather consummately above it. I admit that it’s not quite at the level of the original trilogy, if only because those films are on a mythic plane all their own, but this is undoubtedly a modern masterpiece and one of the best pictures of the year. Go see it.