I experienced something odd at the movie theater lately. I believe the phenomenon is called childlike wonder and joy. Stow away any fears you may have of a Phantom Menace redux, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings much needed reinvigoration to a beloved series.
Director J.J. Abrams approaches the film like a Star Wars savant, stitching together elements found in the original movies while bringing in fresh faces to prevent The Force Awakens from spilling over into nostalgia overload. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all return to reprise their roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, respectively. While Harrison is delightful as Han (his roguish wit hasn’t waned), it’s the new generation of stars who bring energy to the film. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, is effectively the new-school, female Luke. That might have been irritating if she wasn’t so downright cool; Rey proves herself to be a quick-thinking heroine slightly more reminiscent of Han than of Luke in some regards, and Ridley delivers the character with so much warmth. Other newcomers include Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a conscience, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a swaggering resistance pilot. Adam Driver makes an impact as Kylo Ren, a sullen and tempestuous antagonist hiding behind a mask reminiscent of Darth Vader’s.
The settings of The Force Awakens are a marked improvement from the predecessor films. While the backdrops of the prequel trilogy always seemed so placid and artificial (I swear you could see the green screen radiating off the actors), the worlds in the newest film have depth, from desert bazaars to pirate-filled cantinas. Lightsaber combat is better than ever; the blades crackle, and stray swings slice down unfortunate trees.
And yet it isn’t perfect. The movie is a skosh too similar to A New Hope, with Rey’s background and character arc paralleling Luke’s a bit too much, down to their shared upbringings on desert planets (and similar fashion choices). And destroying entire planets! You have to hand it to Star Wars villains; they don’t think small. Moreover, the film occasionally feels too ambitious, as if there simply wasn’t enough time to jam in everything Abrams wanted to incorporate. One example is a scene in which Finn declares his affection for Rey. Although the two characters do have chemistry, the confession seems bizarre, considering they have probably only known each other for about an hour.
Despite occasionally struggling under the tremendous weight of expectations and time constraints, The Force Awakens is ultimately a triumph. I got shivers during the opening crawl with John Williams’ fantastically bombastic score. Han Solo, boarding the Millennium Falcon, echoes a sentiment all Star Wars fans felt for the new installment—“We’re home.”
~lana heltzel, editor-in-chief