Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumph of science-fiction in this new age. In a decade where movies like Man Of Steel (2013) and San Andreas (2015) exploit character and computer graphics to practically destroy lives and erase hope from the world, The Force Awakens is a cheerful reminder that not every adventure has to witness buildings crumbling over uninteresting people.
Usually when I write about a movie, I approach from an angle of agnosticism. But to do that with Star Wars, I feel, is to cheat myself of my own convictions. Star Wars is an empire built on the loyalty of geeks. I am one of those geeks, and I am obliged to view this movie as it pertains to me, a fan of Star Wars.
The Force Awakens is a marvellous movie that returns respectfully to the pure space opera of George Lucas’ first three pictures. There will be spoilers from here on out, so if this movie still eludes you, elude the rest of this review, but leave with my heartfelt recommendation that you will enjoy it very much.
At their best, the Star Wars movies are simple, clearly defined adventures in which the forces of good desperately try to one-up the Dark Side. At their worst, they embroil themselves in petty, directionless trade negotiations and border disputes. Luckily, The Force Awakens has awoken within itself the wits to avoid banality. The plot, in its broadest streams, echoes very loudly the plot of Star Wars (1977), where a plucky band of rebels must gather their cunning to destroy a giant orbiting globe that contains enough destructive power to obliterate planets. Some have complained about this similarity. But think about it – when you’re an evil intergalactic organisation in the far reaches of space (this time called the First Order), what else is there to do to pass the time other than clear up some real estate?
We follow the plights of young Rey (Daisy Ridley), a bold scavenger meant for greater things; Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper down with a bout of identity crisis; and Poe (Oscar Isaac), the best resistance pilot in the galaxy. They represent the trinity of heroes, as did Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han (Harrison Ford) before them. What surprised me more, though, was the introduction of perhaps the most compelling Star Wars villain since Darth Vader. Adorned with the unusual moniker, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), this fallen Jedi, robed in sheer black, concealed behind a mask of menace, arrives at the movie already buried under pounds of personal crisis. He is petulant, impatient, but strong in the Force, and Driver is wonderful at capturing both his sordid cruelty as well as his inexperience. His surprising link to the senior cast of characters is a touch of genius, as is his misguided adulation of Vader. Never has a such a splendidly complex bad guy started a Star Wars story.
This is precisely what tips The Force Awakens over the edge into greatness. Its mammoth plot is secondary; its likeable characters come to the fore. They are immensely interesting individuals who share screen chemistry and have set up personal stories that are more than capable of going the distance of a trilogy. We get the sense that director J.J. Abrams has established his movie in the same grand universe that made the earlier pictures so spellbinding. There is action here; comedy; the chance for romance; startling revelations; intriguing secrets; awesome battles; and deep, resounding emotional cues.
For years, fans have been left disappointed by Lucas’ lesser efforts. The Force Awakens is a Star Wars movie for the fans, by fans. It unites the old and new so seamlessly as to inspire ecstasy. Indeed, my heart raced as I sat there, so taken by Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo that the very idea of having to wait another year or so to see where their stories have taken them has already worn down my patience. This is one of the year’s most gorgeously satisfying movies.