Awake at last12/23/2015
Let’s get it out of the way up front: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a fantastic Star Wars film. Whether or not this makes it a great film in general depends largely on how you view the franchise. But within the context of its peers, there is no doubt that “The Force Awakens” is one of the greatest embodiments of that galaxy far, far away that we have ever seen.
Going into its opening weekend, the J.J. Abrams-helmed seventh episode of the franchise really only had two jobs. The first was simple: don’t be the prequels. The George Lucas-controlled episodes I, II and III were bloated, boring, self-indulgent works that may have raked in box office cash but left critics and fans feeling flat, while bearing almost no resemblance to the Star Wars world seen in episodes IV, V and VI. On this matter, “The Force Awakens” succeeds admirably. “The Force Awakens” passes the eye test with flying colors, as the ships, tech and set pieces all carry over the aesthetic of the original three films beautifully.
This was done in no small part thanks to Abrams’ insistence on doing as many practical effects as possible. The air battle scenes are Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI), of course, but most of the costumes, sets and ships were crafted in the real world, as opposed to simply standing actors in front of a blue screen. The actors also help retain the feel of the original films, as “The Force Awakens” gives us the return of Han Solo, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2.
The film’s second job was much more difficult. Since buying the rights to the Star Wars universe from Lucas, Disney has announced its plans to release a new Star Wars film every year, for as long as they can. And so, the job of world-building fell to “The Force Awakens.” Abrams had to tie his film into the story as it was left in “Return of the Jedi” while showing us the current state of the galaxy and introducing us to the people who we’ll be following for the next several years, hopefully getting us emotionally invested in a few of them along the way.
Once again, Abrams crushed it. There are a wealth of new characters to build off, including Adam Driver’s baddie Kylo Ren, John Boyega’s reformed Stormtrooper Finn and Oscar Isaac’s hotshot X-Wing pilot, Poe Dameron. But the true emotional and spiritual centerpiece of the new story is Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. In “The Force Awakens,” familiar characters like Han, Chewie and Leia all have ample screen time, but they are clearly secondary characters meant to drive the plot along instead of distracting from it or fight for the spotlight. This is not Leia’s story, or Han’s or even Luke’s. This story clearly belongs to Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren.
Moving forward, there will be one potential worry: Abrams is, at his core, a lazy writer. Without getting into specific plot points or character arcs, the story in “The Force Awakens” is, more or less, the same story from the original Star Wars. It was something Abrams did with his second Star Trek film as well, giving the world a bald-faced remake of “The Wrath of Khan.” In that case, it was sheer laziness and indifference to his audience. With “Star Wars,” it can be argued that it was an artistic decision to illustrate parallels between the original story and this new one. We will have to wait and see if Episode VIII ends with someone frozen in carbonite to know for sure. CV