My first published movie review was for Star Wars – long before it became Episode Four: A New Hope. That opening shot of the rebel fighter being pursued by the Empire dreadnought hooked me like new movie before – or since.
After the sheer awfulness of the second trilogy (Episodes I, II, and III), I had given up hope of there being another Star Wars movie to get it right – until this morning.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a successful sequel/reboot/reimaging/whatever. It has the heart, moxie and swashbuckling fun that made the original movies so much fun. So much so that it doesn’t even matter if the story beats pretty much echo Episode 4.
As a quick comparison: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and must be found if the Resistance is to defeat The First Order (‘Help, me Obi-Won Kenobi. You’re our only hope’); the remains of the Empire have become The First Order (replete with Nazi-like iconography); we have an orphan protagonist in Daisy Ridley’s Rey (young Luke); there’s a monstrous new Death Star-like weapon called the Star-Killer – it powers up by draining an entire star and can destroy several planets with one firing – and has one (much better protected) weakness; Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wants to be Darth Vader (and has as big a secret), and so on and so forth…
Writers Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams realized that fans would want something familiar so they did that. But they also knew that fans wouldn’t want a carbon copy, so they tweaked things more than a little.
Where Luke wanted to leave Tattooine, Rey doesn’t want to leave Jakku; Vader mastered the Dark Side of the Force but Ren is undisciplined and given to tantrums (which leave his master, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snope, less than thrilled; where R2D2 had a message for Kenobi, BB8 is carrying the crucial part of a star map that will lead the Resistance to Luke Skywalker, and so on.
Then they added interesting characters that didn’t match up with the original: Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o), the canny owner/operator of a thousand-year old bar lights up the screen; and Finn (John Boyega), formerly FN1827, a Stormtrooper who, faced with potential genocide on his first assignment, decided he didn’t want to be one and fled.
Then, to bring it all together, they brought in Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), now a general in the Resistance. There’s no warmer, more heartfelt scene in cinema than when Solo and Chewy arrive at Resistance HQ and Chewy hugs Leia.
Taking Luke’s place as top pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is not just a wicked flyer, he’s something of an escape artist.
As for plot, as I’ve mentioned above, it’s basically the original with tweaks and adjustments. That doesn’t mean it’s without surprises – some awesome, some that will cause a great disturbance in the Force.
Suffice it to say there are lightsabre duels – plural.
Technically, Abrams has done a masterful job of getting things right – Episode VII moves like a bat out of hell; buckles more swash than any movie in the last decade, and has enough heart to make hardened cynics (and critics) tear up.
As we expect from Abrams, the effects are superb – and by building as many physical sets and props as possible, everything has a palpable weight.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for. Savor it.
Final Grade: A+