Well, it’s finally here. The moment Star Wars fans have waited three years for (or ten, if you truly believed there would be another movie someday). Like many of my fellow fans, I saw The Force Awakens (TFA) on Friday evening, and I thought I’d give my initial thoughts on the movie now that I’ve had a few days to digest it.
There was a reviewer that I caught on an airport TV that summed up the experience by saying, “This movie was exactly what it needed to be,” and I think that’s an apt description. TFA does a great job of passing the Star Wars torch to the next generation while retaining many of the classic elements that made the franchise into the 10,000-pound gorilla that it is. Case in point: none of the “old guard” characters (Han Solo, Leia Organa, etc.) show up until about 30-45 minutes into the movie, which gives the audience time to bond with and get used to new characters Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley).
In that time, it’s also clear that JJ Abrams has put his stamp on this movie, and it’s not George Lucas’s world anymore. There’s a sort of modernistic sheen on this film that wasn’t really present even in the prequels. Also, TFA moves at blinding speed as compared with any of the previous movies. Despite the different feel, I do think that this movie mostly feels true to Lucas’s vision of the Star Wars universe, with a few exceptions that I’ll get into later.
Both the new and old actors turned in solid acting performances, with Finn & Rey the highlights of the new characters. Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo was interesting, but I don’t feel like his character was fleshed out enough for me to strongly judge his performance one way or the other. Same with Oscar Isaac’s performance as Poe Dameron, although his character seemed a little more compelling than Driver’s. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are on point as Han and Leia, respectively. Chewbacca, C-3P0, and R2-D2 largely reside in the background and don’t have especially active roles. I wonder if the introduction of BB-8 as a sort of “new R2-D2” character means that R2 will make fewer appearances in subsequent movies.
Plot-wise, the film introduced a lot of compelling conflicts that fill in the 30-year gap since Return of the Jedi. Luke has disappeared following a failed attempt to train a new generation of Jedi, Han & Leia were married, but estranged following their son Ben’s fall to the dark side. Han even loses his beloved Falcon! This gives the Lucasfilm Story Group plenty of interesting plotlines to work with in future movies, and gives the new Expanded Universe the potential to be even better than the old. My main gripe regarding the plot of TFA was that it felt derivative of the plots of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, right down to the planet-sized superweapon that the Resistance/Rebel Alliance has to destroy the shield generator for in order for their fighters to attack and destroy it, with the help of a poor person from a desert planet. Kylo Ren’s relationship to the main characters also smacks of the “I am your father!” plotline of Empire Strikes Back. However, the movie did stake some new ground, such as Rey’s abandonment on Jakku and her emerging connection with Luke Skywalker. I can forgive the derivative elements in this movie since they are done well, and serve to ease the fans into the new timeline. As long as Episodes VII and IX look to go in a different direction, it shouldn’t be a big deal in the end.
There were other minor things in the film that bugged me, such as the new lightsaber activation and deactivation sounds that Abrams put in, as the original sounds were an iconic part of the Star Wars universe that I didn’t think should change. There’s also a scene where Han jumps the Falcon into hyperspace straight out of a larger ship’s hangar, and given what we know about the physics of hyperspace established in earlier movies, that felt weird. But these are cosmetic things that don’t make a huge difference in my enjoyment of the movie. In short, The Force Awakens was exactly the shot in the arm that the Star Wars franchise needed, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Luckily, we won’t have terribly long to wait, as Episode VIII is scheduled for a 2017 release, and we’ll have the first standalone movie, Rogue One, to tide us over in 2016. That movie will cover the Rebel Alliance’s effort to steal the Death Star plans (RIP Kyle Katarn…), which become very important to their ultimately destroying the battle station in A New Hope.