“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
2 hours, 16 minutes
A new “Star Wars” movie opened this weekend. As a film critic, I’m understandably wary of hyperbole, especially from myself. I think I’m usually pretty restrained, but in looking back over the reviews I wrote for the previous “Star Wars” films, the prequels, over a decade ago, I’m embarrassed at how much I liked them. I tried to re-watch them recently and what I discovered was that it wasn’t the actual movies that I enjoyed, it was the spectacle, the excitement, the non-stop “Star Wars” party that drew me in. The movies themselves are almost unwatchable today. Which is why I’m so hesitant to commit my initial reaction to “The Force Awakens” to paper without the benefit of distance. Ok. Here goes. I saw “The Force Awakens” this weekend. It was not an unpleasant experience. … Oh, who am kidding? “The Force Awakens” was awesome!
This new “Star Wars” tale, very much an echo of the original 1977 film, introduces us to our feature players right of the bat. Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, is a hotshot X-Wing pilot and owner of BB-8, the amazing rolling droid who steals nearly every scene he’s in. Kylo Ren is the big bad, and the two run afoul of each other on the planet of Jakku, where Poe is attempting to locate a map that will reveal the whereabouts of a near mythical Jedi warrior, one who’s gone into exile. The search for Luke Skywalker is at the forefront of everybody’s minds, both the “First Order” – the fascistic remains of the Empire, trying to reestablish itself in the outer rim, and the Resistance, a splinter faction of the New Republic determined to stamp out the evil before it can really get going. Ren, though he shares characteristics with Darth Vader, is a very different animal indeed. He’s more like a Vader-fan, one who believes that if he just works hard enough and wants it bad enough, he too can be a Sith lord. Also in the mix are Finn, a low-level stormtrooper assigned to sanitation who suffers a crisis of conscience when he realizes what kind of people the First Order really are, and Rey, a scrap salvage trader who mines the wrecked carcasses of Star Destroyers for gadgets that can be traded for meager food rations. Oh, and did I mention Han Solo is in this thing? Han and Chewie are back doing what they do best, smuggling, when they run across Finn and Rey on the run from the forces of evil, and decide to help. What follows is a beautiful, exciting, heartbreaking and ultimately exuberant adventure that works on almost every level. It’s not the story that works so well, though I liked it. And it’s not the writing, though it’s sharper and funnier than it’s been in years. What works is the chemistry between the characters, which is electric and immediate, and the tone, which is pure “Star Wars.” Gone are the trade disputes and Senatorial procedures. Gone are the ponderous declarations of love. You could complain that parts of this film move to fast, even at the expense of emotional beats, but it’s never a slog.
As Finn, John Boyega is excellent. I’d seen him before in the sci-fi monster movie “Attack the Block,” and, while I liked the movie, I was unsure how this guy was going to lead an entire “Star Wars” movie. I was wrong, he was great. Similarly, Daisy Ridley as Rey is a perfect heroine. She’s tough and take charge without having to sacrifice vulnerability. Nearly every scene the two share is excellent. As Kylo Ren, Adam Driver is great, though a bit strange. I loved, though, how the character is so in love with Vader and yet so unlike him. Oscar Isaac, as Poe Dameron, just seems to be having a great time and is fine addition to the “Star Wars” universe. Best of all, however, are Harrison Ford, obviously, and Peter Mayhew, who gets very little notoriety despite playing one of the best loved creatures in all of science fiction, Chewbacca. The characters feel as though they never left. It is their addition, moreso even than the appearance of Leia, that anchors this film to the past even while confidently blasting it into the future. And what a future. Disney, who I have to say has performed admirably in their new stewardship of this property, despite the glut of ridiculous marketing, has promised a “Star Wars” film every year for the foreseeable future. Next up is the amazing looking heist adventure, “Rogue One,” a throwback tale where we get to witness what it took to steal the plans of the original Death Star from the original 1977 film. From there it’s the next in this saga, episode 8, I think, and then more anthology films.
So what did I think? I loved it. I loved almost every minute of it. I loved the parts where I cheered and I loved the parts where I wanted to yell “Nooooo!” at the screen. Is it perfect? No. But why does it need to be perfect? Why are we putting that weight on it – expectations that no movie can match and therefore dooming the film before it even arrives. I’ve been reading some complaints from the crankier critics’ circles and the biggest one is that it’s too much like the old “Star Wars.” “Give us something new!” they shout. “Bizarre new planets and crazy new characters, not just retreads of the old stuff that we loved so much.” New planets like the water world of “Attack of the Clones?” Bizarre new creatures? I have two words for you. Jar and Jar. Some people refuse to be happy. Not me. I loved this movie. Now, when I’m revisiting this review in a year in preparation for my critique of “Rogue One” will I feel the same way? I sincerely hope so. Grade: A
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.