Before I set forth to write down anything, I want to make it perfectly clear that my sentiments concerning Star Wars is too much to be contained in words, much less a single post. I'll probably compose ten more posts on the given, toiling my inner nerd until he is content.
Directed by J.J. Abrams
In the scheme of everything we have seen and known, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is, in many ways, the sequel the people and the franchise deserved after waiting for over three decades. I don't know if it's apt to set this statement at the very start, but it just feels right.
Set 30 years after the events of 'Return of the Jedi (1983)', the film was funny, emotionally touching and surprisingly light-footed. These tendencies, very much J.J. Abrams-ish, for lack of a better word, may appear cutesy or irritating elsewhere, but seems to fit perfectly in a very according-to-Hoyle 'Star Wars movie'. It furnishes a lot of familiar elements which resonates with our very favorite original trilogy, including the Skywalker family legacy, along with self aware lines about how things work in this universe. Like the James Bond films, it was pretty much obligated to revisit certain elements, to the point where they might seem almost too similar to the very first Star Wars film ever, A New Hope (1977); this being one of the very few original critiques of the film. But to this fan, that it feels and works similar to the film that got people hooked into the franchise almost four decades earlier doesn't hurt, and the flashbacks ultimately serve as one of the selling points of the film that was always meant to reignite the torch and pass it on to the next generation. But it's still an exhilarating ride, filled with archetypal characters and plausible psyches, dramatic confrontations fueled by heightened emotions, and performances that can honestly be described as "truly amazing", rather than "truly amazing, for Star Wars".
It's an orgasmic (make that nerdgasmic) ride to watch the film bring back favorite old characters along with the new ones. Throughout the film, Harrison Ford's Han Solo serves as a connection to the old universe we loved growing up, but at the same time, never taking up too much of the stage in a way that compromises the integrity of the new protagonists. Watching the same old Han and Chewie in that classic galaxy-encompassing broship between a human and a Wookie (Chewie is not an Ewok, I repeat, CHEWIE IS A WOOKIE AND NOT an EWOK, get it right damn it!), throughout the film I was made to revisit flashbacks of the now-cranky Ford four decades earlier, when he was piloting the Millennium Falcon and blasting stormtroopers, all the while brandishing the (in)famous side smirk, which is all the same. However, there is too much the vibe of emotional attachment that Han so vehemently tries to reestablish to not suspect a tragic ending, the ending doesn't appear as much of a surprise as it does a shocking moment, mostly when the narrative revealed the fact about his turned-rogue son pretty early on in a moment of truly melodramatic Oedipal drama.
I loved the new characters that the film introduced, them being some of the most interesting characters to come into the Star Wars universe, in a way that respects Lucas' myth-making but correct his flaws as a storyteller, including the default whiteness of his casts. By bringing back co-writer Lawrence Kasdan from the original trilogy, assisted by Michael Arndt, not only has Abrams managed to center an entire story on a young woman and a man of color, they've made them so compelling and quirky that the film never seems to be putting an up-to-date wrapping on moldy clichés. The re-branded First Order look and sound even more Nazi-like than the villains from the first trilogy, brandishing a Starkiller Base, an even bigger Death Star which obliterates entire star systems in an explicit demonstration of power, and which obviously gets destroyed by the end of the movie. However, one of the many scenes I loved throughout the movie is during the rally prior to the super weapon's inaugural blast: where the Supreme General Hux of the First Order (Domnhall Gleeson) powerfully addresses tens of thousands of stormtroopers arranged in Leni Riefenstahl patterns, jamming his pasty face into the camera and practically spitting into the lens, in an astounding adrenaline-charged performance.
One of the most interesting characters to come out of the film is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the film's chief antagonist. He is not your typical movie villain, being powered by very complex motivations, if not more evident by the ending of the film. Ren is a young Sith fanatic, and one can feel the inexperience oozing out of him after the initial Vader-like manners. Iron-masked, black-clad, and a homicidally depressed warrior, when Kylo Ren flies into room-destroying rages and speaks to the recovered helmet of Darth Vader like Hamlet addressing Yorick's skull, you know what being 'seduced-by-the-Dark Side' looks like. And when Ren removes his helmet to reveal Driver's long face and watery eyes, we may feel as though we're seeing the second coming of young Anakin Skywalker, who had good in him but gave in to adolescent power fantasies and let the Emperor corrupt him. In many ways, I felt that Kylo Ren is the character that Anakin Skywalker was meant to be during the prequels.
“I can have anything I want,” he petulantly tells a captive Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac) who resists his mental probing.
Daisy Ridley's Rey, my favorite character from the film, is the new Luke Skywalker, with her scavenger attire and lifestyle in a very Tatooine-like Jakku, but also the new Han Solo, while Finn (John Boyega) is a combination of Luke, Han and a C-3PO worrywart. ("Stay calm," Finn says during a tense walk alongside Poe. "I am calm," Poe snarls. "I'm talking to myself," Finn explains.) The hale comic reliefs come from a variety of characters, and sets a somewhat Marvel-ish tone for the film, accentuated by BB-8 droid, who, with his puppy-like manners, serve as the adorable new R2-D2 for the sequel trilogy. A hilarious moment can ensue in the face of the gravest of situations, as was evident right from the opening encounter, Poe's "Who talks first? You talk first? I talk first?" in the face of a grim Kylo Ren, or Han's "Escape now, hug later" or even a very serious Ren's masked ridicule "The droid... stole a freighter?" appear as a marked difference in dialogues from earlier films, as it almost attempts to bawl out the fact that Disney has acquired Star Wars.
But even though Finn is the film's funniest character, the script never goes so far as to turn him into mere comic relief. Nor does it permit Rey to become a glorified ingenue. Finn and Rey and Ren are tormented by believable personal demons and wield their blasters and lightsabers with fervor. You can still believe that Rey can hold her own against Ren, who can stop blaster bolts in mid-air and spelunk inside prisoners’ minds. And you believe in the reality of CGI'd supporting characters as well, including Andy Serkis' (the King of Motion Capture) Supreme Leader Snoke, a dictator with a hideous puckered mouth whose hologram image is the size of the Lincoln Memorial, and Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata, a diminutive, ancient pirate whose goggled eyes can see into people's souls.
Elsewhere, Abrams pays homage to the thousands of other species that populate the far, far, away galaxy, in a varied assortment of life at Kanata's watering hole that seem very much resonating with the assortment of species present in the many similar cantinas and space-pubs of the many different planets throughout the universe.
As I was exiting the theater after my very first viewing, and engaged in a "very nerdy" conversation with a similar-minded friend, he was enthusiastic enough to point out, much to my agreeing, that the film leaves us with more questions than one. There are indeed some flaws, most of which can also be categorized as questions that were left unanswered and to be done so in due course, but also a few leaps in logic that the film asks you to make, which is primarily because a lot of scenes were cut in the final edit. Not unlike most of Abrams' other works, The Force Awakens boasts a thrust of kinetic energy, which works in exchange of a few connective tissues sacrificed, hence the leaps in logic. A few of the minor complaints that rose after a little discussion are also some of the very pointy ones, but all of which can be sufficiently overlooked in a first viewing.
One of the most overhyped and sequentially underused character from the film was Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma, but was left out inherently underused, and it seems that she wouldn't be coming back too, as the whole Starkiller Base got blown up with her trapped in the trash compactor.
How Poe gets from Jakku to the Resistance base is also sort of left under the bush, with him casually saying "Aww I was thrown clear of the crash" and that's about as far as the film explains a potentially important plot point.
One of the more personal complaints that we had was the feeling of Chewbacca being overlooked near the end of the film. Leia (now a General in the Resistance, with a very Maple Lane Carrie Fisher reprising her role) literally walked right past him (when he had been with them every time in the past) and hugged Rey, who had only known Han for about a couple of days or so. Chewie's best pal in the whole universe just gets killed and nobody saying anything to him is almost impossible to accept.
All we can do is hope more is revealed in episode VIII. Things like who Snoke is, or how he plays a role in Kylo's character development, how dangerous can Hux be, or even the story behind how Maz Kanata got Luke's 30 year old lightsaber, which she tells Han as 'a story for another day'.
After watching the film a couple of times and spending countless hours contemplating on it and the franchise as whole, these films appear to be a part of the cinema history, and our personal history, both at once. The new faces up there on the screen are as compelling as the familiar ones because they remind us that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away, not unlike in our world, life goes on no matter what.
Thank you, J.J. Abrams.
May the Force be with you!