There are very few movies that becomes a part of pop culture and transcending generations like Star Wars. From the original trilogy to the prequel trilogy, television shows, video games, merchandise; Star Wars is a phenomenon that everyone has heard about, whether they have seen the movies or not. If someone is interested in the films and start to watch them, they jump on a hyperspace ride of the epic space battle between good and evil. After Return of the Jedi in 1983, fans, new and old, wondered what came of the heroes of the Rebellion. This weekend, the answer was given.
The wait is over. I, along with other Star Wars fans around the world, stopped panting and were able to breathe as we took our seats in theaters for J.J. Abrams The Force Awakens. Abrams’ Episode VII installment delivers exactly what you want it to: a rollicking adventure encased in epic mythology, a perfect amount of fan service that fires your geekiest impulses, and a perfect cliffhanger ending that paves the way for future installments. In a way, Abrams accomplished the same he did with 2009’s Star Trek reboot prequel. He took a worshiped pop-culture franchise with a rabid legion of disciples, treated it with respect to what came before, and made it matter again. Abrams had huge shoes to fill and, in a way, The Force Awakens is about exactly that – being worthy of the legacy that came before you.
I didn’t plan on keeping a distance away from theaters for the first Star Wars movie in a decade (I bought Thursday night tickets for a 10:30 showing the day tickets went on sale). As I took my seats and everyone who brought their FX lightsabers powered them down, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and salute as the familiar opening of John Williams’ score struck up in the IMAX theater and the familiar opening crawl of text rolled up the screen. I was 8 years old again, seeing remastered edition of A New Hope in theaters for the first time. Now, I’m going to refrain from spoiling the film but I feel like the informative text crawl is fair game: Luke Skywalker has vanished. The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Evil Galatic Empire and is hellbent on finding the older Jedi and destroying him. Princess Leia (now going by the title of General Leia Organa) is leading the Resistance and sends her best pilot to the planet of Jakku to find clues about Luke’s whereabouts.
In this new generation’s clash between the forces of good and evil, our heroes are Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron, the hotshot pilot dispatched by General Leia for info about Luke, the stand-out star Daisy Ridley as Rey, a headstrong and fiery Jakku scavenger who possess powers she’s not aware of yet, and John Boyega as Finn, a disillusioned Stormtrooper whose conscience causes him to switch sides. There also wouldn’t be a group of heroes without a droid so BB-8, the rolling gyroscopic weeble that might take over the favorite droid position in the eyes of female fans, a position that R2-D2 has held for decades. On the Dark Side are Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, a more fiery version of Grand Off Tarkin from A New Hope, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, a powerful but arrogant Dark Lord that seems to emulate Darth Vader with a metallic duck-billed muzzle that renders his voice in a digitized growl; and a CGI heavy Supreme Leader Snoke, who looked like a large version of the aliens from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, voiced by Andy Serkis,
It’s not hard to keep these characters straight and whose side they are on but one of the best (and weakest) things to me about the movie is that these characters all feel like familiar archetypes, making me feel like we are watching Star Wars: The Next Generation. But Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have not just one, but several aces up their sleeves. If you have seen any of the previous trailers I’ve posted or the TV spots, you know what I mean: Han Solo, Leia, Chewie, C-3P0, R2-D2, Luke, and even that piece of junk that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, the Millennium Falcon.
It goes to show you that Abrams & Co. put a lot of thought and love into integrating all of these familiar (if slightly more weathered) faces with the new players in a way that feels organic rather than forcing it down audiences’ throats. The filmmakers understood what made George Lucas’ original trilogy magical, and they successfully recaptured that magic.
Having seen the movie twice (going for a third soon), I know how easy it is to get swept up into the adventure, the nostalgia, and John Williams’ superb score that you forget how easy The Force Awakens feels vaguely familiar to A New Hope. I won’t go into details (I promised no spoilers!) but while it feels lazy, it works. Like Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, The Force Awakens blends in humor and has a lighter touch than the previous Star Wars films. Its aerial dogfights are dizzying and thrilling and its CGI does not feel cheap as it did in Lucas’ prequels, which this film surely surpasses in every way. When The Force Awakens ends, it feels bittersweet to leave these characters you have been introduced or reintroduced to because you badly want to get to the next chapter in the saga, especially with the ending. So while the wait is officially over, a new waiting game begins for Episode VIII.
In one weekend, this movie has shattered box office records, raising the financial bar for other films that will come after it. I cannot say enough how much I loved this movie and how it pleased me as a fan to take the journey back to that galaxy far, far away from our own. Take your grandparents, children, and those not yet initiated into the ways of the Force.
I won’t be back until after Christmas so everyone have a wonderful holiday season. May The Force Be With You.