First Impressions of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

THE SPOILERS ARE STRONG WITH THIS ONE.  IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS YET, DO NOT READ THIS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

It’s here. The hype train has reached the station and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now in theaters. Because it’s a Star Wars movie, the opening week is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our discussion and we’re going to be living with this film for a long time. We still talk about the prequels, after all.

We would all see The Force Awakens even if it was terrible, but fortunately, it’s good! In fact, it’s really good. Episode VII is, remarkably, the first non-sucky Star Wars movie to be released in 32 years (or longer, depending on who you ask). Considering the series’ place in pop culture, that is not to be taken lightly. One of the few big criticisms that can be leveled at the movie is that it plays it too safe and banks on sure-bet imagery and moments from the original trilogy, but we’ve seen what happens when big creative risks are taken with Star Wars, and I’ll take this thank you very much.

YO! SPOILERS! LAST CHANCE TO EXIT! YOU WILL GET WET!

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So yes, let’s get this out of the way. The plot of The Force Awakens hews pretty closely to A New Hope. This approach to crafting the story places certain limitations on where the plot can go and prevents the film from being truly surprising. It may not be the most creatively daring experience, but it’s a great popcorn romp. The three new lead characters, played ably by Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, reflect many of the traits of the original trilogy’s leading trio but not in the obvious ways you might expect. Each character is an amalgam of things we’ve seen before, for example Rey has shades of Luke and most closely follows his arc but has all the feisty energy that made Leia such a forward-thinking character. Finn has some of Han’s reluctance, A New Hope Luke’s pluckiness, and some droid-like dopiness thrown in for good measure. Poe Dameron has Solo’s acerbic wit and lazy confidence, but also Luke’s wholesome earnestness for the cause of the light side.

It deserves a moments’ notice to say the cast of The Force Awakens is spot-on across the board, both new and old. Harrison Ford falls back into the role of Han Solo more comfortably I allowed myself to hope for. John Boyega is wonderfully dippy. Adam Driver continues his streak of making every scene he’s in, no matter the role, a lot weirder. As Rey, newcomer Daisy Ridley hits it out of the park and with the help of a snappy script helps create an exciting new kind of female action hero for our ever-more-progressive times (and who is sure to be a role model for millions of kids of both genders going forward).

The Force Awakens occupies a unique place in pop culture; there’s never really been a release like this one. As such, the film is just as meta as you would expect. Everything you could reasonably expect to see as a Star Wars fan is in there, from the ships to the characters to the production design. It’s even got a cantina scene! And a Death Star! The overtly referential nature of the whole affair looks a bit tired on paper, but for whatever reason none of the similarities really bothered me in the theater, and became less worrisome on subsequent viewings. The film is simply good enough to make up for it.

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It helps that The Force Awakens is compulsively rewatchable. It’s dense and packed to the gills with fun throwaway details, but ditches a lot of the prequels’ visual clutter. Star Wars has always been more than just a movie franchise, with the films dictating big plot events to be expanded upon in other media like books and games. The Force Awakens is the first look into a big new storytelling universe we’ll be living with, presumably, for the rest of our lives. There will always be new details to mine. Beyond the interests of Star Wars fandom, the film is rewatchable because it’s so damn fun. It’s easily the funniest Star Wars movie, and it’s also the tightest. Cut at the breakneck pace for which J. J. Abrams is known, the film zooms along too fast for any cringeworthy moments (“HEY!!! THAT’S MINE!!!!!!”) to really stick. It just keeps coming, and every scene has something new and crazy to look at.

The Force Awakens is not perfect. Most of the  film’s bigger issues stem from the 30-year sequel gap and a lack of definition about the current state of the story universe.  The Starkiller planet destruction scene is the one big moment that really falls flat, we don’t have enough information to know what the stakes are; at least we knew Alderaan had some political importance and we understood Leia’s personal stake. I know nothing about the Hosnian system. I don’t even know if I spelled that right. Really, once the current political landscape of the Star Wars universe is laid out in the opening crawl it’s not brought up in detail again and that was probably the right decision for the movie. This is the biggest movie event ever, it was only going to be so dorky. Also, in a somewhat disappointing footnote John Williams’ score works effectively in the context of the movie, but lacks the next “Imperial March” or “Duel of the Fates.” Rey’s new theme is as close as the score comes to a memorable new idea, but it took several viewings and listening to the soundtrack to really get it. The new trilogy’s musical motifs are currently a little foggy, and that was unexpected.

After seeing The Force Awakens (several times), I’m more excited than ever for the future of Star Wars. Was Episode VII a little basic in its plotting? Maybe. Does it get a bit too on-the-nose with its references to the lore? You could argue that. Did I openly weep when the Star Wars logo appeared on screen? I tried to keep it together.

Little gripes don’t really matter. The fact is, we’re going to get a Star Wars movie every year until the end of time. The next one can be weird, this one just had to be good. And it is. It’s way better that just good. There truly has been an awakening.

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