After an, at times, almost agonizing wait for the next cinematic installment in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens premiered this weekend to a cultural euphoria that enveloped everyone. From the most casual fan to the most passionate of Star Wars consumers, The Force Awakens anticipation has surrounded us, penetrated us, and bound our collective selves into a frenzy of jubilation. But, does the movie exceed expectations, meet the hype, or leave you feeling conflicted? For me, it's much more complicated than that.
Minor spoilers to follow …
I won't summarize the film here, as that is a simple few keystrokes away. Suffice to say, the movie delivers on director J.J. Abrams promise to deliver fun, nostalgia, thrills, and surprises. We learn much more about the Force, build upon our existing knowledge of the most beloved of characters, and witness some of the most breathtaking visuals film goers have ever seen. The art direction and cinematography will take your breath away. Every scene is a captivating work of art, and looking at the stills after a first viewing confirmed this for me on every level. Simply gorgeous.
J.J. has taken on a nearly insurmountable task; take the baton of the mythology George Lucas created, and transform it into something that adds even more nuance and depth to our overwhelming pre-conceived notions of what the iconography of Star Wars means. I knew I was territorial concerning this mythology, and that really came to fruition upon my first viewing. The ultimate challenge for Star Wars fans is to let the story tell itself, without us inserting our hopes and beliefs into what we think should happen. Blissfully, J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan made that virtually effortless, and this film is a more than worthy addition to the tapestry of Star Wars.
One of the central themes of the journey to The Force Awakens is the nostalgic element of this film. An important piece of Star Wars that was not as prevalent in the prequels was the playful arrogance and snark of Han Solo, and that is certainly back in spades. Ford is delicious in every scene, and I wanted even more of him. He seems to relish his return to his Corellian ways, and has not missed a beat. He and Chewbacca are wonderful, have some engaging banter, and are, frankly, as charming as ever. Nostalgia trip one: check.
As far as the addition of John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and Adam Driver (Finn, Poe Dameron, Rey, and Kylo Ren), they bring the intensity of what it means to be in these films to a different level than what we have seen before. Not everyone gets equal screen time, but that is ok, as we know thatStar Warsmovies feature different characters at different times. J.J. has already said everyone will have their stories told. Practice Jedi patience, we will. Clearly Rey and Finn are standouts, and it's fair to say that Daisy Ridley has become a bonafide superstar with her first starring performance. She's strong, vulnerable, feisty, and effervescent. Boyega is the everyman in this film (although it could be argued Poe is, or rather, what every man wishes they could be like!), and his conflict (while resolved fairly quickly, at first glance) is meaningful, as is his humor and candor. We've not really seen characters like these two, and they are a wonderful addition.
As far as the menace of Kylo Ren, it's the real deal. He's frightening, intense, and flawed. Perhaps I am a victim of marketing here, as I was not sure if my initial observations of him lived up to the reality, but that is also a nice surprise. I want to be surprised, and there are certainly some powerful moments that involve this character. He REALLY wants to be Darth Vader, and I think, deep down inside, I wanted that too. But, he's clearly not even close, and both Kylo Ren, and perhaps some fans, may struggle with that. A lot of vulnerability there, and it's difficult to know at this point what's real and what isn't. The beauty of this is that Kylo Ren doesn't know either, and it will be wonderful to see where this story takes us.
As far as criticisms, there are some. I think the attack, and the entire premise of Starkiller Base was ineffective and forced, and there are a few minor moments that left me uninspired. However, I won't fester over nuance. It's almost impossible for me not to have an absurd amount of bias and expectations when it comes to these films. I was truly pleased and loved the ride! My number one criticism is that I truly can't go back to how I felt when I was a child. My memories of Star Wars, particularly from my youth and adolescence, are among the most vital and precious that I have, and are more treasured than perhaps they should be. I did not feel the sense of wonder I felt when I first saw the original three. Instead, I felt something even better.
That something was a restructuring of what Star Wars means to me. I'm not seven anymore. I'm much older, and so are Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. None of us sees things the way we did in years past. This is a good thing. We change, we adapt, and we grow, and Star Wars has too. It's deeper, more nuanced, and has presented us with even more to discuss.
So too, are our opinions, expectations, and bias. J.J. Abrams has brought Star Wars back more boldly than ever, and I am thrilled I get to take this journey all over again. Like Han Solo does with Rey and Finn, so too do old and new fan alike coalesce into a bold new chapter of storytelling for the greatest mythology of our time. It's worth that wait, and then some.
4 1/2 out of 5
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