Trying to describe a feeling is a hard thing to do, let alone when it comes accompanied by a bombardment of trumpets and a logo leading you into the great unknown. It’s like a tingling sensation that starts in your hands as they shake in excitement and slowly makes its way towards your heart, thudding like a racehorse on an endless track. A rare sensation it is, but if it were a potion being guarded by a witch in a cave so it could be hidden from mankind, then J.J. Abrams has slayed the ancient bitch and unleashed in on the world shouting, “be free and bring joy to all!”
That is how I can best describe the opening seconds of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. The welcome John Williams score only worthy of movie theater speakers, the scrolling prologue all the way to realistic but somehow unreal landscapes and creatures, screeching TIE fighters, clashing sabers and blasting blasters. It’s like a drug and Abrams keeps the goods flowing throughout the entire 130 minute runtime.
Strangely as it seems, though, that it all seems so new and fresh because from the moment it begins it all seems so familiar—like seeing an old friend after decades apart.
We have a massive, evil force being fought by a band of do-gooders who end up putting all their hope and faith into the most unlikely people…and objects. There’s the orb-droid, BB-8, who carries something important, the desert hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley) yearning for something better and Finn (John Boyega), a young outsider trying to find a refuge from his past life in hopes of a more meaningful one.
All three are great in their roles. And yes, I know one of them is an inhuman object, but BB-8 is this generation’s R2-D2: animatronic, invaluable and cute as a button. Ridley makes for a fantastic, reluctant hero, who wants to be a part of everything that’s going on but is having a hard time letting go from her home. Like a “New Hope” Luke Skywalker with a more consistent sense of longing and depth. Then there’s Boyega, a jittery, fish-out-of-water fleeing his duty as a forced Stormtrooper for the First Order. He’s funny, competent, brave and driven with determination to belong. Together they all make the perfect heroes, and their repartee is a movie all in itself.
Then there are the dastardly villains. At the forefront is the young Sith, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He lacks the stoic prowess of Darth Vader, but that’s because he’s young and entitled, not world-weary and heart-broken like Vader, but also not whiney and boo-wooey like a younger Anakin Skywalker. He has angry, lightsaber-fueled tantrums when something doesn’t go his way, desperate to prove himself. Everything is at stake, including his emotional convictions. This makes him dangerous and impulsive, a total 180 from Vader, but still a very effective villain Driver embraces with malice who’s Force powers would make the Emperor pee his cloak. Oh, and there is a shiny chrome Trooper named Captain Phasma, as well as a few other baddies who don’t get a whole lot to do…for now.
But this movie is just as much about the past as it is the future and that past comes in the form of the series’ first heroes, like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and more. They aren’t thrown under the cameo bus either. These characters have aged not just physically but in the pantheon of cinema history. Without giving too much away, I can say they have been treated like such and get the time they deserve with the depth that’s necessary. Needless to say, they fit these roles like a glove made of the finest silk and their welcome is as warm as you could expect.
Ultimately, this is a character-driven sci-fi opera that, as evidence in the character motivations and interactions is a movie about discovering ones future as well as about re-visiting the past. Within that framework is a litany of secrets, deceptions and heart-break, making it an endless goodie bag of who these people really are, or who they’ve become. In a few years, people will be watching these in their living room calling them “their stories”.
Stylistically and visually this movie embraces this motif in stride, combining realistic practical effects and seamless CGI. Anything that could be built from scratch, like aircrafts and monolithic structures or even odd-looking aliens, was done so with immaculate detail. It really all takes you back to the original trilogy where you feel like you could book a flight to the other end of the world and see Jawas riding Dooback lizards.
But when something was too big or too mind-blowing the CGI environments blend in effortlessly with the characters. Even though it was clearly done on a computer, you really feel like Han, Finn and Chewey are standing in front of a massive Order base. Sign me up for a one way trip, please.
But those are simply effects. The drama and mythos interlocking these characters is the true prize of “The Force Awakens”. Whether the history is newfound like when Rey and Ren have a one-on-one, or rooted in lore as Han holds Leia again after all these years, their interactions are fleshed out and brimming with pathos and excitement. The ultimate culmination of this comes in the form of a final lightsaber duel, built up to with such gravitas it makes for one of the grandest finales on all blockbuster movie history. But that I’ll let you see for yourself.
So though I can’t describe the feeling in all its wonder, I can describe the sensation: Simply put, I left the theater with my fingers tingling and heart-pounding. Not just from the constant energy and action, or the surprising humor or even the fact that if this movie did have flaws I was too busy reaffixing my jaw to notice. J.J. Abrams has done what many filmmakers seemed to stop doing after a while: care. He cares about these movies and wants everyone to remember why they did in the first place with all its majesty, surprise and awe. His hard work and dedication has given me one of the great movie going experiences of my life, reminding me why I love going in the first. And for all its similarities it’s important to remember the point was never to reinvent the wheel; it was to remind us all why the wheel was awesome in the first place. As a result, the entirety of “The Force Awakens” feels like the final act of the series finale of the greatest TV show on the planet. The best part is it’s all just getting started.