This is probably the hardest movie I’ve ever had to write about. Yeah, Spectre had a lot of baggage with me, since I have a deep love for that series, but Star Wars is a completely different animal. James Bond has taken up a lot of my life, but only since about high school. But Star Wars? That franchise had dominated my life. When my brother and I were growing up we would essentially watch Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and the first half of Return of the Jedi (Never were big fans of the Endor stuff, and it’s not really the Ewok’s fault, it just gets pretty dull around there) over and over, with the only break being the time it took to rewind the VHS. We had copies of the original films that ran ad naseum, and then they announced the Special Editions, and the fact that we could actually see them in theaters. Yeah, there’s problems with the Special Editions, but that really took years for me to figure out, at the time I couldn’t care less about all the stupid crap they put in, all I cared about was that I was getting to sit in a theater, and see one of my favorite things in the world on the big screen. It’s definitely fun to see the explosive Star Wars logo explode out with a swell of music on your TV, but it’s transcendent in a theater. And then the prequels happened. I haven’t watched them in a long time, and I know it’s typical to hate them, and I generally do, but at the time? I had fun seeing Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones in theaters on opening nights. By and large, they’re garbage, but at the time there was a combination of me being a little too young to realize that, and just a desperation for more Star Wars that kept me interested in the franchise. But as I got older Star Wars just kind of fell apart for me. I got old enough to realize that there were issues with the Special Editions, and just how terrible the prequels were, and things just started to not click with me. This certainly isn’t a revelatory thought, but I just got jaded about the franchise. And then news started happening. Disney bought the franchise, Lucas was out, they were jettisoning the bloated and impenetrable Extended Universe, they were bringing a series of comics to Marvel, and they were making a new series of movies. Of course, I was hesitantly intrigued. We’ve been burned a lot by this franchise, so what could stop this one from being lousy too? But everything I started hearing about the movie kept getting me excited, so with a lot of hope in my heart I went to check out the Force Awakens last night, and I have to tell you, it was a whole lot of fun.
It’s such a dangerous concept, to make a new chapter of the story that follows after one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. How do you continue a story that pretty much everyone know, with characters that are so ingrained in the world’s consciousness? Well, the way this movie went about it was to honor the past of the franchise, while setting up the future, by basically remaking Star Wars (or a New Hope if you’re pedantic). That kind of sounds crazy, but it actually worked for me. It wasn’t a direct remake or anything, the way I’ve been describing it is like a cover of Star Wars. It hit all the same beats, but it different new ways. We have a rebel operative getting some secret piece of information the evil Empire wants, them depositing that information in a droid before getting captured by the Empire and it’s Sith enforcer, the droid ends up finding a lonely person on a desert planet who dreams of something more and gets them involved in a sprawling adventure, there’s a wise old mentor who was involved with the past that teaches them and tells them what to do, there’s a giant super-weapon that has one small weakness that needs to be exploited, and that wise old mentor is sacrificed in a battle with the Sith lord. Those plot points could describe both Star Wars and Force Awakens, but it was in the details that things changed. It ended up feeling kind of like the idea that history is doomed to repeat itself.
The Empire has been defeated by the Rebellion, and in between the original trilogy and Force Awakens, things didn’t change as much as the Ewok party at the end of Jedi seems to hint at. The galaxy didn’t become a utopia over night, returning to a peaceful and democratic Republic. It appears that a Republic did take over some planets, but not all of them. The Empire was shattered, but not destroyed, and in the midst of the chaos created by the death of the Emperor a new Empire called the First Order spring up from the ashes. It’s an equally fascist government that’s in conflict with the Republic, but it seems like a bit of a Cold War. They aren’t actually fighting, and instead the Republic is apparently funding a new Resistance that’s fighting the autocracy of the First Order. The basic plot revolves around the four new characters, who are all similar to the four primary characters of the original trilogy, without being direct analogues. We have Poe Dameron (played by the always amazing Oscar Isaac) whose the best pilot in the Resistance, and the secret agent that General Leia sent to get a map containing the location of Luke Skywalker with the help of his trusty robot BB-8, Finn (John Boyega) a former First Order Stormtrooper who has been raised since birth to be a fighter and after his first battle flees the Order to be his own man with the help of Poe, Rey (Daisy Ridley, an actress who hasn’t really made much else besides this, and I feel like is going to be a big star) a girl who was stranded on a desert planet as a girl and ends up finding Finn and BB-8, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) a new Sith who works for the First Order and is obsessed with finding the missing Luke Skywalker.
We see Finn and Poe escape a First Order Star Destroyer, only to crash land on the desert planet Jakku, which separates the pair. Finn then wanders the desert before coming across Rey and BB-8, who is trying to make his way back to the Resistance planet to drop off his secret map. The two decide to help each other when the First Order shows up to kill Finn and steal BB-8, and they end up stealing a junked Millennium Falcon, which has been stranded on Jakku for years. The head out into space, and are quickly picked up by Han Solo and Chewbacca, who are now…poachers? I guess they’re smugglers again, just smuggling monstrous aliens now. He tells them all about the old days of the Rebellion and the Jedi, and we learn that Luke tried to create a new Jedi order in between the movies, and was betrayed by a disciple, which seems par for the course on Jedis. He doesn’t want to take them to the Resistance, since he clearly has something weird going on with Leia, but agrees to drop them off at some crazy bar where they should find a ride. They land on the planet, spend some time in the bar, and Rey ends up finding Luke’s old lightsaber, which is there for some reason, and starts to have crazy visions, as if the lightsaber was trying to communicate with her. Then the First Order shows up, with the completely insane and wonderful Kylo Ren, to capture them all, and the group ends up getting in a crazy fight with the solider just in time for the Resistance fighter, led by a still alive Poe, to show up and fight them off. Kylo has a weird interaction with Rey, where he seems to see that she has Force abilities, and takes her hostage. The Resistance then learns that the First Order has had enough of the Cold War, and is going to use their new planet sized weapon to destroy the Republic planets. So they head off to destroy the planet-exploding super weapon with Finn, Han, and Chewie landing on the planet to destroy it’s shields while Poe leads a strike force to blow up some McGuffin thermal thing. Things then get crazy as we learn that Rey has some natural Force talent, and starts using her abilities to get away from Kylo Ren, who turns out to be Han and Leia’s son, and the Jedi that ruined Luke’s new Jedi Order. Han ends up confronting Ren, who kills him to complete his training, causing Chewie to lose his shit and blow everything up. We then get a wonderful finale with Finn trying to have a lightsaber fight with Ren to defend Rey, before getting knocked out just in time for Rey to kick some serious ass. They beat Ren up, get off the planet just in time for it to blow up, and the Resistance is saved! The movie then ends with R2-D2 waking up from some crazy coma like he was the Joker in Dark Knight Returns. He and BB-8 then use their maps to finally reveal where Luke is, and Rey heads out to find him and try to bring him back to his family, and the movie ends right before I assumed we were going to learn she was his daughter.
This movie was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed all the new characters, and it used the old ones fairly well. Han was maybe in the movie a little too much, although I liked seeing him take on the Obi-Wan role from Star Wars. It certainly had some nostalgic nods to the classic series, but overall, besides the structure of the movie being the same as Star Wars, it didn’t get too crazy with references. It had a lot of the sense of wonder and myth that the classic movies had, with a surprising amount of humor mixed in. I never really realized it until after seeing this movie, but the classic flicks don’t really have a whole lot of humor in them. Poe, Finn, Han, and shockingly Kylo Ren all ooze charisma and crack jokes at great times, while Rey is incredibly fun and positive while not cracking wise like the guys. And while I really liked our three new protagonists, I really loved Kylo Ren the best. Darth Vader is awesome, there’s no getting around that, but the character did get some damage from the prequels in their weird attempt to humanize him. And Kylo Ren somehow manages to keep the foreboding menace that Darth Vader emanated while still remaining tragic and relatable. He had a lot of pressure to be the first of a new age of Jedi’s thrust upon him, and was seduced into using his massive amount of power for the Dark Side by the not very explored Supreme Leader Snoke. He’s full of doubt, anger, and frankly insanity. He’s obsessed with his supervillain grandfather, and feels destined to fall in his shadow instead of choosing the light like his uncle. He’s quick to anger and constantly trying to prove himself to everyone around him, which would realistically make a villain. The whole First Order is incredibly interesting, and I really am looking forward to see what they’re going to do with the series. I really hope that they don’t make the next movie a cover of Empire Strikes Back, because that would be pushing the idea too far, but as long as they don’t do that I feel like they’re set on a good path. We’ll see Kylo Ren continue to fall, Rey learn the path of the Force from Luke, Poe and Finn become great heroes, and just generally flesh out the mysteries of the world that we missed. And I just want to say here that as soon as we saw that the giant Snoke they kept talking to was a projection, I’ve been convinced that we’re going to find out he’s actually tiny, like an evil Yoda, and I just wanted to stick this prediction in here.
The last thing I want to mention is just what an experience this movie was. I had a pretty crappy day yesterday. There’s a lot of stuff going on in my job that have me stressed out and after the snow storm Denver got last week there’s still a lot of traffic and accidents going on, which causes me to be in my car for an hour getting to the theater. I was in a bad mood going in on this movie, which can usually color my perceptions of a movie. But as soon as I saw that “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by the explosive Star Wars logo and the swell of the theme song…I was in heaven. The movie isn’t without it’s flaws, of course it has flaws, every movie does, but it really worked for me, and I had a hell of time diving back into one of my favorite series of movies of all time.
Star Wars: the Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, directed by J.J. Abrams, distributed by Walt Disney Studios, 2015.
Categories: Reel Talk