In a very real way, it honestly doesn’t matter what I write below this headline. Star Wars isn’t some unknown quantity, something that I can persuade you to check out or to stay away from. More than any other franchise, more than any other film, the person reading this has already made up their mind about how they feel.
They may already know they want to see it. This is the person who has endlessly discussed their personal connections to anyone who will listen. They’ve bought their tickets, made their plans. They’ve poured over theories, speculated and loudly declared that they’re sticking their fingers in their ears when it comes time for the spoilers to rain (except for when they yelled at some critic for calling the film “just OK”).
So, I don’t want to talk to those people. The big spoiler review where we all can nerd out and discuss and argue the minor details of the film comes later. For now, I want to pitch this review to those of you on the fence. To those of you who are maybe feeling a bit too burned out by the prequels, exhausted by the marketing or perhaps just don’t feel like Star Wars is your thing. And to those of you who are feeling a little too pressured and a little too unexcited about going to see it with your family and friends, I want to say one thing.
It’s going to be OK. Go see it. Go enjoy Star Wars: The Force Awakens because, dammit, it’s really easy to love.
First off, everyone involved in the creation of this film loves it so much. You feel in every frame and inch of the film that it truly is a labor of love. The original Star Wars launched a thousand dreamers into the world of film, and one of those dreamers is finally getting to make one. Long-time fan J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Lost) was foolish enough to take over from series creator George Lucas and expose himself to the wrath of the fanbase in creating a new take on the film’s universe.
And he sure does pull it off. Not perfectly, but I’ll get to that later. Abrams has always been an adept director and Star Wars is perhaps his greatest directorial work. It’s tight and effortlessly propulsive, every beat of the film moving forward with a sense of absolute purpose and excitement, like an enthusiast breathlessly describing the ins and outs of his hobby. You get the understanding that this is the film that he’s been building up to his whole career.
There are so many ideas that have clearly come with that build-up. There are plenty of little clever and cool details that rest in each frame that make the world feel lived-in, with a history that extends well before this film and certainly will extend well after it.
Second, everyone acting in the film is clearly enjoying themselves. Why wouldn’t they be? A good chunk of these actors probably grew up on the franchise, whether on-screen or off, and they’ve been given great, meaty roles to put their own signature on. Obviously the returning characters are a highlight, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) being the most fun and the easiest to get attached to, but the film feels very much like it doesn’t want to rest on the laurels of those legacies.
The Force Awakens adds a host of new characters whose names will be passing on the lips of nerds, film journalists and nerdy film journalists for at least the next five years, so thank god so many of them are worth a damn. In fact, they’re better than that. The Force Awakens is gifted with some of my favorite characters and young actors in the film industry this year.
Daisy Ridley as Rey is a magnanimously charming lead with a wonderful grace and charm that marks her a star. And Rey is the next classic film character, feeling for all the world as important and as compelling as Luke Skywalker before her. It’s hard to believe that Ridley only had a single film and a handful of television episodes under her belt before this because she pulls this role off with the power of a veteran actress.
John Boyega as Finn is the kind of performance that makes you wonder where this guy has been all our lives. It’s the kind of confident, yet reluctant, action hero performance that we haven’t seen since the prime days of Kurt Russell; it’s so hard not to want to go and see him in 10 more films.
And Oscar Isaac has been killing pretty much every performance recently, and he continues his streak as the cocksure rogue pilot Poe Dameron, who only disappoints by not being in the film enough. Poe is also the proud owner of the coolest moment of spaceship combat in the whole film, one that had me pumping my fist and on the verge of cheering in the theater.
But my absolute favorite in this film is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. Driver has been one of my favorite young actors for a while now, always managing to elevate any role to being a memorable moment at the least and more often than not, the best part of the film or show at most. He has an ability to convey endless complexities with a bizarrely fascinating physicality that few actors his age are able to match.
So, it especially thrills me that Kylo Ren is such a great role for him. The active villain of this film, he’s not only visually incredible with his dark armor and unstable crossguard lightsaber, but he conveys intimidation and pain in equal measures with every moment he has on-screen. Ren is a fascinating character, a psychologically complex and brilliant piece of writing and acting that stands to differentiate this trilogy from what we’ve seen before, one that I’ve thought about since I’ve seen the film and one I can’t imagine I’ll stop thinking about soon.
For one final note on characters, if you’re excited for Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), I severely recommend tempering your expectations for her character.
it’s about trusting again in something bigger than yourself, in overcoming the limits that you’ve believed something had and realizing that no matter how big it seems, we can fight evil, we can beat it.
Third, and maybe most importantly, The Force Awakens is perhaps the culmination of this year’s return of the optimistic blockbuster. For far too long, the action spectacle has been big, dark and cynical — destruction leading to hollow and pyrrhic victories. It can be absolutely exhausting. But something happened. Films became about triumph again. You didn’t win by fighting the enemy down to the last man. You won because it was the right thing to do. Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, The Martian — these are films about the way in which we are able to triumph over evil, or, just as often, over adversity by the sheer power of the human spirit.
That’s what The Force Awakens is about. It’s about trusting again in something bigger than yourself, in overcoming the limits that you’ve believed something had and realizing that no matter how big it seems, we can fight evil, we can beat it. It’s a message that looking day in and day out, you really do want to see. It’s big, effusive and, you know what, it’s going to make you feel better about things. And sometimes, that’s what we want out of a film. We want a film that tells us that we can do it, that darkness does not always win. And The Force Awakens does it in a way that’s just so much damned fun.
It’s a film that hits emotions on every level and in all the best ways. You’ll laugh, you’ll cheer and you’ll cry. The Force Awakens is not an escapist film, there’s a very real-world set of fears and emotions imbued in its DNA. But it is those emotions that make the victories sweeter and make the tears flow stronger.
Now, let me pull back. Is this film perfect? Hell no. It’s incredibly reliant on the plot beats of the original Star Wars, in a way that comes across like the film is simply playing it safe. In a year of films that felt so formally exciting and innovative , The Force Awakens does nothing but what it has to do, and it doesn’t feel like it takes a single risk.
Plus, the story could be better. Remember earlier how I said Abrams almost totally pulled it off? Well, his general story issues crop up here. His famously over-secretive “Mystery Box” approach to storytelling leaves the film scrambling for a lot of details that should be filled out, leaving more questions than answers at the end. Explanations that could easily be met are hand waved in the interest of creating mystery. And there’s a hell of a lot of coincidence. It’s hard to notice in the film itself, but thinking back, there’s so much that happens solely through plot contrivance, or because “now it’s time for that to happen.”
It leaves the film feeling incredibly fun and well-crafted, but in the mode of creating a sandbox for the franchise from here to play in. It’s a film crafted by a clockmaker, winding up a machinery for someone else to do something with later. Perhaps that someone else will be Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, but Abrams must be admired for what he’s set up here, though also admonished for what he’s left out. It feels as though the definitive story with these characters and this new part of the universe is yet to be told.
It’s not that The Force Awakens is incredibly complex. My reaction to it is. This franchise has meant so much to me, and the film itself has been such a huge part of the film world that I’ve slowly become a part of in in the past two years. It seems weird that The Force Awakens is finally here.
Honestly, for right now I feel this firmly: it’s not everything I expected.
That’s because nothing could be. Nothing short of the Second Coming of the Lord could match up to the expectations and hype that surrounded this film, nothing that didn’t feel like a direct two and a half hour stimulation directly to the pleasure center of the brain would feel like what people wanted The Force Awakens to feel like.
But it’s a wonderfully fun, endlessly enjoyable, rewatchable, simply great piece of pop mythmaking. The Force Awakens also proves one other thing: Star Wars is back. Whether we like it or not, Star Wars is here to take over, and it picked one hell of a way to announce itself. I’ve never felt more excited to see what’s to come.