2015, and here I am opening night wondering where I left my sanity as a bunch of middle-aged nerds in Jedi robes trample over each other trying to find the “acoustic sweet spot” they must have heard about on The Big Bang Theory. And yet I’m thrilled to be here. Why? First and foremost: I’m about to watch a sequel to a trilogy that ended the year I was born. Kinda cool. Second, this is a bona-fide non-George Lucas-tampered Star Wars movie, which makes it something of a priceless artifact in this day and age. And finally, I’m about to find out what my old friends Han, Chewie, Luke and Leia are up to these days. And by “these days” I of course mean: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
For legal reasons, I am totally allowed to give away every spoiler in this movie right here right now, starting with… R2-D2 is BB-8’s father! No. That’s a joke, to prepare you for this spoiler: the battle-scarred Supreme Leader Snoke is really the aging gungan Jar Jar Binks! No. That’s a Snoke joke. Basically what I’m trying to say is, I’m not cruel enough to give away spoilers on opening night. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely seen at least one of the trailers and you’re probably going to see the movie sooner or later, so why ruin it?
If you’re a fan of the Original Trilogy (who isn’t?) then The Force Awakens is for you. In fact, nothing about the Prequel Trilogy is even referenced. Were the Original Trilogy the only Star Wars movies out there, this would be a fitting fourth entry. The story primarily focuses on the newcomers, Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Han Solo (Harrison Ford) plays a more prominent role than ever before this time around, but the story still belongs to the youngsters, and that’s a good thing. They’re good actors with great chemistry, and their characters are seriously interesting and feel at home in this universe. Some of the returning characters get pushed to the side, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. I mean, how much more character growth could they possibly squeeze out of C-3PO? How’d he even last seven movies anyway? Not important.
What’s most noticeable is the complete and total lack of George Lucas’ signature style. While he was rightfully vilified for his soulless approach to the Prequel Trilogy, there was a stylistic connection of sorts to the Original Trilogy. Here, that connection is gone. It’s still a vast improvement over the prequels, but this newest entry has a very “regular movie” feel to it that fans just aren’t used to. It’s funny, isn’t it? How something like atrocious dialogue and overly-clean battle sequences can be missed in the face of something more gritty and profound? But rest assured, if I had to choose, it’d be The Force Awakens in a heartbeat. This feels like the first new real Star Wars movie in 32 years, and as a 32-year-old, I can safely safe that was a long-ass wait!
It’s hard to grade a movie when it’s so clearly the first of a new trilogy. The core conflict is firmly established and we still have a ways to go. While a lot of the story structure is borrowed from the older movies, it creates a sort of pleasant predictability that fans can relate to. The visual effects favor practical over digital (YES!), further lowering the quality of George Lucas’ CGI-slathered prequels. It’s still not on par with the Original Trilogy, but it follows tightly in its footsteps. It’s made by fans, for fans. And while it is a planned trilogy, its ultimate conclusion isn’t known to the audience like it was with the Prequel Trilogy. We’re in uncharted territory now. Anything can to happen to anyone, as this movie certainly proves. The Force has definitely awakened!
4 out of 5