Tour de Force
The new Star Wars doesn’t suck! The new Star Wars doesn’t suck!
What a relief, right? In the time since Disney announced its absorption of the Lucasfilm Empire, some fans and cynics have speculated that the Mouse plus George could equate to shite. Then, the Mouse handed the reins of the Star Wars universe to that bespectacled guy who reinvigorated the Star Trek universe. How weird!
Fret not, for director J.J. Abrams and crew have done exactly what they did with Star Trek, and created a fun movie that not only respects the blessed canon of a beloved franchise, but stands on its own as a piece of supreme entertainment. It is 2015’s most entertaining film, for sure, and a movie that stands up proudly in the realm of Star Wars movies.
In many ways, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise. I won’t say it’s my personal, sentimental favorite. (I think The Empire Strikes Back still holds that post, but a little more time will tell.) The Force Awakens has solid storytelling, its special effects are first-rate, and the performances featured are, undoubtedly, the best the franchise has ever seen.
That’s due in part to Daisy Ridley, an incredible talent who becomes an instant star for the foreseeable future as Rey, a scrappy scavenger on a Tatooine-like desert planet. I don’t think I’m overdoing it by saying she delivers the all-time, all-around best dramatic performance in the Star Wars universe in this role. I can say she does some of the year’s best “face acting,” and you’ll have to see the movie to find out what I’m talking about.
With this new star at its center, the revitalized Star Wars universe takes life around her with a bevy of new characters and, of course, returning oldies.
Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who happens to be the guy who wrote Empire, collaborated on a screenplay that follows a lot of the familiar beats from past Star Wars films. They took over writing duties after Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) took a failed stab at the task. (Arndt still gets a credit.)
The universe is being tormented by the First Order, an offshoot of the former Empire. Rey, after rummaging around in a fallen Star Destroyer, discovers a lost droid—BB-8, who is adorable—and eventually finds herself on a space adventure with familiar and new faces.
That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the plot.
Harrison Ford, classically cryptic and snarky about his Star Wars pedigree in the past, returns as Han Solo, and his newfound enthusiasm for the part is infectious. Ford slips back into that laid back, charmingly sarcastic smuggler role with ease, and his old buddy Chewbacca has become some sort of comedian in the last 30 or so years. The old wookiee scores some of the film’s biggest laughs. Seeing the pair together again is an invaluable movie gift to be treasured.
As the movie’s central villain, Adam Driver is multi-layered and appropriately disturbing as Kylo Ren, a masked, obvious riff on Darth Vader who is a bit of a fanboy for the long deceased Sith Lord. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I have a few nice toys in my possession. Kylo Ren has the Holy Grail for Star Wars collectors in his chambers!
John Boyega brings a new, welcomed dimension to the stormtroopers—there are actual people under those helmets!—while Oscar Isaac brings funny charisma to Poe, best pilot in the galaxy.
OK, I think I got through this review with no major spoilers, so no Star Wars geeks will kill me. My life force will not be extinguished, and I will make it to next year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Episode VIII, which is due in summer of 2017.
Gone are the days when we waited decades for new Star Wars chapters. Oh, the spoils of Disney.