For all the anticipation surrounding the release of Disney’s first foray into a galaxy, far, far away since purchasing the franchise from George Lucas in 2012, there seemed to be no way The Force Awakens could justify the hype. We fans slobbered, gnashed our teeth, and socked away money to make sure we would be first in line to see the promised revival of what made our 5-year-old selves come alive. I’m here to tell you; Disney and J.J. Abrams have delivered on the hype.
One of my biggest fears going into this movie was how a new filmmaker would handle the Star Wars universe. Every director brings something different, and from the get-go you knew J.J. was going to do something familiar, but very different. The turquoise tinged lights of the stormtroopers landing ship, the occasional–but not as bad as some people think–lens flare and a much darker world bask soldiers, lightsabers, and droids alike in different shades and nuances than what we have been used to under the directorial eye of Lucas. It took two viewings on Thursday evening for this fanboy to adjust the expectations of what I was expecting from the technical and formal elements of an Abrams-helmed Star Wars movie.
However, beyond these lighting and formal issues, Abrams has largely succeeded in reproducing what he, president of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy, and writer Lawrence Kasdan set out to do; make this feel like an original trilogy Star Wars film. While the territory and settings may be unfamiliar, but not all that unfamiliar, the audience is left echoing the triumphant statement of Han Solo made famous by the second teaser trailer, “Chewie, we’re home.” John Williams’ score is new and fantastic, the old blaster sounds have returned, and the Millennium Falcon is breaking down all over again. As he has done previously with Star Trek and Mission Impossible, Abrams has made the familiar new and changed everything while changing almost nothing.
The most surprising part of The Force Awakens is how obvious it is the movie is retreading the same familiar story and, at times, is an almost beat-for-beat recreation of Lucas’ original film. Each new character corresponds to an original trilogy character. The first one we see is Adam Driver filling the Vader role as the masked Kylo Ren. Menacing, powerful, and mysterious, Driver plays the heir apparent villain with a confident, deadly swagger but with surprising pangs of vulnerability and petulance that would make pre-murdering Sand People Anakin blush. In my Monday spoiler review, I will get into why Driver’s Ren may be my favorite of the new batch of characters.
Opposing the black-clad villain is a triumvirate of new heroes consisting of ace X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), fallen Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Joining the new batch of heroes is the droid BB-8; sure to be the favorite of every young child and an amazing practical effect. After an initial run-in with the new menacing First Order, the new baddies born out of the ashes of the Empire, Finn and Rey meet two familiar faces; the still rugged, yet much more grizzled Han Solo and his Wookie co-pilot, Chewbacca.
Harrison Ford’s Solo has been billed in this movie as the most utilized central original trilogy character and his reprise of the roguish smuggler is every bit what it was in 1977. He’s got the confidence, he’s got the charm, and he’s got skills with a blaster to get him out of any tough spot. Thankfully, there are no who-shot-when confrontations with Rodian bounty hunters to speak of. However, his story is tinged with pain and suffering. Ford agreed to come back to the role because of the script, and by movie’s end, it is readily apparent why the great actor found himself in the smuggler’s vest once again. He’s still a rogue, but a rogue with a story and a troubled life since his days with the Rebel Alliance. Ford’s skill in portraying this version of Solo is one of the great strengths of this cinematic launching pad for the Disney-owned franchise.
The most changes to this new Star Wars seem to be the nature of the Force and the legacy of the Jedi. Billed as less of a struggle for power, the Force has a more destiny-ish quality to it than something religious and/or spiritual. In what could be a troubling shift, there seems to be a move away from the Force as something around us and something that is more inside of us. How that relates to the Jedi, the dark and the light, and spirituality remains conspicuously absent from the movie.
Yet, like the original Star Wars, this movie is all about the adventure, the excitement, and the beginning of a galaxy-sized story. If we look back, we knew little to nothing of the Force or the Jedi after the original film. The filling in of the gaps in the subsequent two original trilogy films would flesh out what was once left considerably bare.
The movie tantalizes us with plot lines and threads of story to satiate the speculating fanboys and also set up the future episodic installments. In fact, my two favorite characters who also hold the most potential for future movies, seem already on a collision course to cross sabers. And that may be the greatest feat the movie is able to achieve. It satiates us by giving us exactly what we want but leaves us thirsting all the more as if we never left the Jakku-like wastes of the days before The Force Awakens came out. Disney and Abrams aimed to honor our nostalgia, but they have also introduced a whole new, yet familiar, story to keep the Force always with us.
Check out Josh’s Spoiler Review of The Force Awakens: A New Hope Awakens