It's been a little over three years since Disney announced that they were purchasing Lucasfilm and were planning on making new Star Wars films. Not just any Star Wars films but the Sequel Trilogy that many fans have waited a staggering thirty two years for. In a film that takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, builds on what came before while also carving it's own path in the Star Wars mythos for a new generation of characters and fans. It is a truly exhilarating and joyous return to that Galaxy Far Far Away. Let's get right in to it.
As I sat there waiting for the trailers to end (did anyone else see that obnoxiously long Zootopia trailer with the sloths? While funny it would've been hilarious if I wasn't waiting for the most anticipated film of all time!) I was mixed with a well of anticipation and dread. What could possibly make this film not work for me? Thankfully nothing really was too far off the mark. As that familiar logo and main theme came on to the screen my heart began to beat harder than it has in a long time. My eyes began to swell with tears of joy. After a short and quiet scene between Max Von Sydow (Lor San Tekka) and Oscar Issac's (Poe Dameron) the fast and frantic pace of the film begins and rarely does it slow down except for just the right moments. In just a few short minutes Abrams is extremely giving with key information to the film's plot and characters. We know that Luke Skywalker is being sought after, Lor San Tekka has a big clue to his whereabouts and Kylo Ren comes from a family of good people who loved him dearly. Clearly there is a history between Tekka and Ren. Sadly Ren strikes him down after only a few short moments of screen time. The Force Awakens visual dictionary describes Tekka as a "Follower of the Church of the Force". Perhaps he is not Force sensitive but believes enough in the Jedi and the Force to know that they are the only one's who can keep the Galaxy at peace. It is in this scene that we get a glimpse of Kylo's callous and ruthlessness as well as his very unique mastery of the Dark Side of the Force. He stops a laser blast from Poe in mid air and keeps it there through out the scene as an intimidation technique to Poe and the Jakku villagers. The way Abrams executed Kylo's use of the Force technically was much scarier than what we've ever seen before. Poe is brought before Kylo and says "So how does this work? Do I talk first or do you talk first?". It is an instantly charming introduction to Poe's character. A character who's sure wit and cockiness is very similar to Han Solo but never comes across as coping too much. Poe, like Finn, Rey and especially Kylo, are very much their own characters.
As the film continues we are treated to so many wonderful homages to A New Hope. In fact this film's entire skeletal structure is almost verbatim to the original Star Wars but never once does The Force Awakens let it get stale, dull or repetitive. As the first film in a new trilogy it serves itself and future films pretty well with it's story. Setting up it's own spring well of new faces and places with just the right amount of what we loved before coming with it. With the introductions of Finn and Rey, Poe takes a backseat to the younger characters as he's absent for a sizable chunk of the film. The chemistry between Finn and Rey is so adorable and on point that you can't help but want those two to end up together in future films. They definitely had the chemistry Lucas was going for with Anakin and Padme but it never felt as natural as this. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Finn and Rey weren't just standard copies of Luke and Leia or Anakin and Padme either. Finn was no where near as naive or inept as I thought he would be and Rey is much more capable of handling herself than I imagined. She's not at all like Luke who at that age was pretty good at shooting womprats but not much else. Luke wasn't able to handle himself in a fight as well as Rey can. It's quite obvious Rey grew up with a much harsher childhood than Luke ever did. But why did she have to?
After some time with the trio of Rey, Finn and BB-8, who is just a completely adorable little droid who proves his salt more than once. He's definitely keeping the torch of being the fun droid passed from R2-D2 lit. We get to my absolute favorite moment in the film. As our heroes are being attacked in Cratertown, Jakku, Rey says she is a pilot and will make do in that Quad Jumper for an escape. Nope sorry. That got blown to bits. Rey referring to a neighboring ship as garbage but garbage will do and it is THE FALCON!!! Apparently it was stolen from Han and passed around a few times before ending up on Jakku and didn't go anywhere for a few years. But boy does that baby not fail for Rey! Just like an old 67' Impala getting the tarp pulled off her the Falcon gets the same treatment and goes for one hell of a daring ride through the low desert landscape. Weaving around junked and destroyed ships from a battle long passed and through an abandoned, hollowed out Star Destroyer. The Falcon proves she's still got it where it counts, Kid!
This was the first moment in the film that made me feel like I was a kid again. From the first shot of the Falcon parked in the sands to the credits rolling I could not stop smiling. Well except for a tear or two here and there. Seeing the Falcon flying again, albeit with a new pilot, was just pure cinema bliss. I squealed upon seeing her again. The entire Jakku escape sequence won me over. This for me is when JJ really just got it. The man just gets Star Wars and damn does it show. The Falcon was our first old friend to be seen again. Shortly later we get Han and Chewie. Harrison Ford delivered a performance of Han that was as good if not better than in The Empire Strikes Back. Ford is on point as Han Solo and his charm shines through more than ever. When he stands aboard the Falcon cockpit for the first time in years smiling with pride you can't help but smile too. Chewie was awesome too in every scene he was in. Han and Chewie really have this we've been best buds for years feel and they totally sell it. They're more hilarious and endearing together then they have ever been.
Han takes the new kids to visit Maz Kanata. A wise, old yet unknown species of alien at her wonderful lake retreat fortress for riffraffs and smugglers. In probably the most in your face homage to the original. It's this film's Cantina scene. Maz's dive bar is full of all kinds of wonderful Star Wars scum and colorful characters. Probably my biggest complaint through the film was for the first viewing I was so distracted by stuff in the background that I lost my place in what was happening. As a huge Star Wars geek I kept saying stuff in my head like "Who's that? What's his background going to be? What new species is that? What kind of droid is that? is that a Bothan!" and so on. What's wonderful about these films is everyone gets a name and a story. It's what makes the lore so interesting. Upon entering Maz's place we get a reggae Star Wars jam which was contemporary, awesome and completely Star Wars all at the same time. There were so many new faces, species and droids that I was salivating all the imagery. Abrams really nailed this scene as well as making Maz Kanata an extremely fresh breath of air for Star Wars CG characters. Maz is very wise and has seen more than a thing or two in this Galaxy. Especially that which represents evil. She knows of The Sith, The Empire and what The First Order can do as well as the balance of what the light side can bring. She introduces Rey to a destiny that she's never dreamed of. I imagine we will be seeing more of her in future episodes and I hope she pops up in that Han Solo spinoff. She is very much the Yoda of this new trilogy but probably way more chill. She also says one of my favorite lines "Those beasts!". Lupita Nyong'o's voice brought such depth to her as well as the remarkable CG done by ILM that I instantly fell in love with her when she said "I like that Wookiee". I thought the CGI on her looked much better than Snoke.
One of my few minor gripes with this film is Snoke. Not that he's a bad character or even visually uninteresting and his CG is great but just that we learned next to nothing about him or the Knights of Ren. It is still very plausible that the Plagueis is Snoke theories can come true. Snoke does look like he's been through Hell and back. I do love the fact that we don't actually get to see him but rather he does pull a Wizard of Oz on all of his underlings. I'm sure Kylo has seen him in person though. I do love both of their characters too. But it makes you wonder why the Supreme Leader of the fascist First Order is of alien origin while everyone else is human. Kylo Ren's arc in this film is a much better acted and executed version of what should've been Anakin's fall in Ep 2 and 3. I still love the prequels and Anakin's fall but this seemed more natural. There are some deep parallels between Kylo and Anakin. Both wanting to prove themselves, both vying for power and both doing whatever it takes to get it. Kylo seemed much more vulnerable than Anakin though. The pull of the Light Side was felt by him all through out the film. Which is a great contrast to seeing Anakin get pulled to the Dark Side. Here Kylo has to struggle with what he still believes is right but without the love that he's felt from his family that he sorely needs. I sure hope that Kylo doesn't mirror Vader anymore than this. I do not want to see Kylo redeemed. Can he be redeemed? Yes in the stories but by fans? He killed Han Solo. Arguably the most popular of all Star Wars good guys. Han's death scene did get me choked up pretty bad. As a father of a young boy it resonated with me more than anything in the film. The fall to the Dark Side is the perfect allegory to drugs and alcohol abuse or a criminal lifestyle. Something that you don't want your child to end up with. To see Han trying to talk Ben out of it was heartbreaking. You could see the conflict in that boy's eyes but he knew what he had to to do pass Snoke's test. He passed and it killed me inside.
Rey while having a mix of Anakin and Luke in her is definitely a shining beacon for the Force and I do believe she is Luke's daughter. She has to be but why would Luke leave her to that life on Jakku? He is the ultimate hero in the Galaxy! Surely if anyone can protect her he can. Right? It's quite obvious that the Force is speaking to her and even controlling Rey's actions more so than with any other character seen before. She is the awakening that the Force needs. It is why she was able to see into Kylo's mind, Jedi mind trick a Storm Trooper and put up one hell of a fight up against Kylo. The Force itself needs her to be the Jedi that she is destined to be. It's probably also why R2 woke up. To aid Rey in her quest to find Luke Skywalker.
My other gripe with the film was that the music was quite lackluster to other Star Wars soundtracks. While the score fit the scenes that they were in and was good it lacked that extra Star Wars flair. In fact it was only when familiar cues from past Star Wars music played that I even noticed the music. Listening to the soundtrack itself also confirmed this for me. I still want Williams to continue scoring the main saga though. My last minor quibble is after all the hype about Luke to only see him for less than a minute and not even utter a single word was heartbreaking. I desperately needed to find out more about Luke but seeing as how that is the whole driving plot of the film then it is understandable. I suppose that's something to look forward to in Ep 8. But all while Luke was staring at Rey I kept expecting him to say something like "It's good to see you my daughter, Padme Rey." or something to that effect. It was great to see that Luke has Anakin's Ep 3 hairstyle and they say Disney is ignoring the prequels! All in all the film is just pure joy for this Star Wars fan. It's wonderful to see all the old faces and friends and it's quite inspiring to see the saga is put into good hands with an exciting cast of new characters and adventures to come. I've seen it twice so far and will probably see it a few more times in the theater as well as numerous times on blu ray. I don't like to say that I rank the films because I believe Star Wars is one big story to be told. But this is a chapter I will visit quite often in the year and a half to come before Ep 8. May the Force be with you.