I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was essentially old enough to walk. I watched the original movies avidly, taking time to devour them every time they came on TV. I even managed to snag early release tickets to Episode One, which was admittedly much better as a ten-year-old than as a grown woman. I couldn’t argue with another kid my age having thrilling adventures and racing through Tatooine to get Qui-Gon and his crew off the planet. Those same stories don’t quite resonate with me now, but the conflict in the Star Wars universe, while not always nuanced, is something I still value to this day.
How far can you push someone before they lose their sense of morality? How fine is the line between good and evil? Are we products of our environment or our choice? And what choices are made with such finality that you cannot turn back from the path you’ve chosen?
These are all questions that can’t be answered in a single sitting, and they are questions that the Star Wars series attempts to address as the story continues. As much of a fan as I am, I couldn’t resist the promise of a new Star Wars film, by one of my favorite directors. I knew that Abrams would produce a story faithful to the original series, but I was skeptical as to if it could live up to the hype. The following is my attempt to be as unbiased as possible (although I am a shameless fangirl of the series), and should be as spoiler-free as possible. Still, if you are absolutely dead-set on knowing nothing about the movie before you go see it, read on at your own risk.
If you know Star Wars, you will know this movie. As a fan of the original trilogy, it’s hard to miss the constant references to plot points, characters, and worlds of the source material. The movie is also rife with what one of my friends calls ‘sequel jokes’, designed to pay homage to the original films.
If you’re already a fan, the film was made specifically to please you. J.J. Abrams took painstaking care to make sure that The Force Awakens would be the Star Wars film everyone had been dreaming of since the last disappointing prequel aired in theaters. He paid such attention to this that I felt a strange sense of deja vu sitting in the theater, akin to how an older generation might have felt when A New Hope first aired.
The plot is mostly predictable to fans familiar with the series, but not stale. Part of the fun of the Star Wars universe is simply watching the characters get in and out of trouble in a world already made familiar to us by Lucas, even if we already know what particular trouble the characters are getting into.
Still, there is enough new material in this film to create enough questions to keep the audience interested enough to see the next film. In some ways it seems like The Force Awakens suffers from being merely a way to set up plot points for future movies (which many modern-day movies suffer from, but I digress). A New Hope was able to stand on its own, storytelling wise, and I can’t say that The Force Awakens is able to do this. It’s very clearly a setup for future movies, which is fine, but don’t expect the movie to deliver an independent experience.
I’m always slightly worried about new faces when Star Wars films air. I’ll steer clear of judging the original trilogy, because that was far before my time, but suffice it to say, the actors charged with bringing the prequels to life fell short. Hayden Christiansen’s lines were wooden, lifeless, and sometimes laughable, which makes for great re-watching potential, but not much else. Natalie Portman became a great actress, and you can watch her growth in the three Star Wars movies she did, but I’m not sure that viewers want to see growth, so much as solid performances from the get go.
The Force Awakens has no such problem. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is wide-eyed, physical, and full of spunk, a perfect foil to John Boyega’s Finn, who seems to spend most of the film running or panicking. Both actors, though young, approach the film with the air of professionals, leaving only a few awkward lines in their wake.
The old cast, of course, is stellar as usual, making an appearance in true Abrams fashion. Like Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, the veteran cast is a great tie-in to the previous series, and really helps mesh the old with the new. It’s hard to picture a new Star Wars movie without Leia, Han Solo, or Chewbacca inhabiting the world. Thankfully, we don’t have to.
Visually, the film manages to strike a good balance between the shiny, sanitized visuals of the prequels, and the gritty, realistic feeling of the original trilogy. The cinematography kept every scene very grounded in reality (in spite of the fact that this is clearly fantasy), to the extent that it is easy to forget that none of it is real at all.
It is the Star Wars universe we are so fond of, simply made newer. Abrams still loves lens flares, but he toned it down for this film, possibly because he was afraid of the backlash that they might produce. I’m a closet fan of lens flares though, so I wouldn’t complain either way. It’s my one guilty pleasure in film visuals.
And another thing? The lightsabers still look really really cool.
I was pleasantly surprised with this one. John Williams has always been at his best with Star Wars, but I was slightly afraid that he might stagnate with the release of a new Star Wars film. Admittedly, it’s a hard line to straddle. How much needs to be new? When should he pay homage to the old themes, and how much should he do it?
Thankfully, Williams managed to deliver, tastefully integrating the classics of old with the themes of new characters and events. The music was seamless and fit well with the scenes. I still love Michael Giacchino (of Star Trek reboot fame) more, but that’s my own issue I’ll have to work through. Sorry, John.
While The Force Awakens sometimes struggles to develop its own identity in the wake of so many stars, and so much history, it was designed to please fans, and it manages to do that while creating a pretty decent movie in its own right. It isn’t perfect, but it is Star Wars— something fans are sure to appreciate.