A SPOILER FREE TAKE ON STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Spoiler Alert: I was a huge fan of Star Wars when I was a kid. I know, I ruined it for you. You were going to read this and try to figure out if I was, but I just told you. Oh well, here is the spoiler free take on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
I wasn’t someone that had seen the original trilogy just “a bunch of times.” I, along with friends, watched them obsessively for years and years. I remember where I was when I found out that George Lucas was going to make a prequel trilogy. I knew everything about Star Wars, and that new trilogy was going to just be the best – right up until it wasn’t, and a switch went off inside me that made me entirely give up on the franchise. Overnight, I went from over-obsessed super fan to under-enthused and ambivalent. In retrospect, I think (for me, at least) the greatest crime of the prequel trilogy was that it did nothing to advance or revere the sense of wonder and magic – the fun – created by the world-building of the original trilogy, and instead insisted upon pre-existing allegiance to it in an extremely brow beating way.
The original movie introduces us to this fun, incredible galaxy with more things than it’s possible to look at happening all around, and allows us to wonder in awe as to what it all might mean and how it all works together. The prequels say “Oh, you already like this world, so stop wondering how it works, we’ll just tell you – Government taxation, trade embargoes and congressional discord.” These are antithetical to the fun of the original films and are the exact things I don’t want to hear anything about when I go see an escapist fantasy film – and all that was just from the opening crawl of Episode I of the prequel trilogy! With the announcement of a new trilogy, taking place after the original films, the question was, would Disney and the film makers recapture the fun and wonder of the Star Wars universe we loved, or would it get bogged down in the minutiae of expositional politics like the other trilogy we were all disappointed by?
Well, the answer is finally here, and thankfully it seems the right people were doing this. This movie – more importantly, I would argue, than it being good – is FUN. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun watching a movie in the theater, and I wore a goofy grin throughout. It is also a good movie. Maybe not best-picture-at-the-Oscars good (in my humble opinion, it’s not even the best film released in 2015 that stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson – a list comprised entirely of this and Ex Machina), but once again it doesn’t need to be, nor should it have tried to be. The film makers knew fun was key here, and they went for it as big as they could, supplying it in full.
What better way to have fun than with your old friends? The movie has those old friends in the form of 30-years-later Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, Luke and other favorites from the original trilogy, but they are there to help pass the lightsaber to the next generation of heroes and villains. Newcomers Poe (played by Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are all tremendous in the film, slotting nicely into familiar seeming tropes yet still bringing new energy and life to them in their performances. The immediate chemistry between Finn and Rey is not only palpable and genuine – it’s fun. Poe’s daring heroics as a resistance fighter pilot are topped only by the humanity of his camaraderie with his cohorts, most noticeably with his droid BB-8 – a relationship that is endearing, and truly fun to see. And then there’s Kylo Ren – I could go on and on about Driver’s performance of Kylo Ren. In an effort to exclude anything that might be a “spoiler” I won’t, except to say that it might have been my favorite in the film. Ren (Kylo is a title, like Vader’s was “Darth”) is menacing, yet vulnerable – cocky and self-sure, yet explosive and unpredictable. He is tortured and thusly torturous. He is decidedly not fun, but instead absolutely real and believable not just as a villain, but as a person. He grounds the film and keep it from being just a piece of fluff.
It can certainly be said that the movie relies too heavily on the old familiar tropes – I certainly felt a bit of that when I was leaving the theater. But the more I’ve thought about it since that first viewing – including a second viewing in 3D, oh wow those dogfighting scenes in 3D, Poe for President in 2016! – the more I’m ok with it. If the movie relied a bit too much on rehashing old threads, the more it was able to ensure my immersion and guarantee the fun I’d been searching for.
To sum up, this movie is an absolute blast, with great characters and performances that will be totally deserving of all the praise heaped upon them. And it’s going to be the biggest movie of all time. Whether you are or are not a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to check out the incredible fun of this spectacle.