It’s happened. Not only do we have a new Star Wars movie, but it’s good. Really good. Like, so good it makes you forget the prequels. I’ve seen it two times so far and I plan to see it many more, and I’m still processing everything in it. My short review is that it’s as if Episode 4 and Episode 5 had a baby. It’s literally the best parts of “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back” with some modern sensibilities thrown in. It’s what we needed.
We now have a Star Wars movie where Oscar Isaac wisecracks. It’s a movie where John Boyega says, “Droid, please!” And Daisy Ridley becomes a female hero who is part Han, part Leia, and part Luke. You love these new characters so much that the original cast is just a nice bonus. Yes, I was sad to see Han Solo die. But by the time it happened, I knew it had to be so. I had this horrible feeling as Harrison Ford stepped on to that long catwalk, but it was right and inevitable for the story. The more I think about this one, the more I’m actually considering dethroning one of the other episodes as my favorite. Is it better than “Empire?” It’s at least as good, and it’s more of a stand-alone movie than “Empire” was. Is it better than the original? While “A New Hope” is perfect and elegant in its archetypes and clarity, this movie takes all the basic ingredients from that one and turns all the dials up. Yes, 4 and 5 had a baby. A SUPER BABY.
The box office speaks for itself, everyone went. And most everyone I talk to is smiling from ear to ear about it. But there have been some nitpickers. Some naysayers. There have been some “super fans” who have found a few things to get grumpy about. These are the people who used to like some indie band but can’t like them anymore because they got too popular. But GOOD IS GOOD, people. Who could possibly have some ill thing to say about “The Force Awakens?” What Ebenezer Scrooges are these monsters to poop on such a Christmas present to us all? I’ll tell you this, if I meet anyone who says this isn’t one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, I will fight them with boxing gloves. Because there is so much energy and humor and passion in this thing that it overwhelms me.
The little bit of poo-poo I’ve heard on Twitter is, “This is not very creative or very different. It’s relying on the nostalgia of the fans, rehashing some of the same art design and plot points of the old films.” It’s hard to deny that many of the elements seen in “Force Awakens” are very, very familiar. A droid is chased for the information he carries. A battle station must be destroyed. A guy in a black mask fights the light side. An old guy dies. Many echoes of the other episodes. But echoed events and a new generation repeating the sins of the old is part of the saga. If this is a reason for you to say, “Nahhh, not good enough,” then this is where I say, “You can’t have nice things!!”
If J.J. and company felt the pressure just to be different or “new,” they might have left behind the essential DNA we’ve been missing. Remember, totally leaping away from what was already working is probably what gave us the chrome “hood ornament” ships and cartoonish CGI critters of Episodes 1-3. I would argue that the prequels are the ones that took our fan love for granted. The prequels rode on the momentum of our nostalgia, instead of succeeding on their own merits. “The Phantom Menace” is still one of the top grossing movies of all time. They got our money. But they got it because we were starved for more “Star Wars” and would accept any version we could get.
But this time around, the filmmakers made a distinct philosophical choice. They decided to give us “more of the best of the same.” Follow me? What worked? Give them more. Give them the best version of that same feeling. There is a ton of fresh stuff in “The Force Awakens,” but it rarely deviates from some strict rules and look of the original films. That takes incredible restraint. I think we’re going to see future movies embrace more of the possibilities of where we can go and what things look like, but this was the movie to get us all back onboard.
You want the Falcon? We got the Falcon. We don’t just get to see the Falcon again — we see Finn sit down in that EXACT gunner seat and turn on that EXACT 1977 targeting screen. That crummy orange-and-yellow graphic! That’s when I saw the restraint and the lengths J.J. Abrams was willing to go to to take us back to the best place in this universe. Back to 1977. And it was all justified. It was the same old ship, left dusty and unused until now. Then a brand new character flies that 1977 time capsule in a whole new way, over new landscapes, with new, modern camera shots. I start to purr like a kitten just thinking about it. Then on top of that, we have new friends who we BELIEVE are friends. We have humor, we have hugs, we have tears. These are things we haven’t had for 30 years.
So once you have gotten over the shock of, well, actually SEEING a new Star Wars that doesn’t suck, go see it again. Now that you know what you’re getting, absorb it with a cleaner palette, so to speak. Even as you see repeated motifs from the earlier greats, I predict this one will rise to be one of them if you give it the chance. I think it will appreciate with each viewing, and be seen years from now as the one that brought Star Wars to a new level.
And before I sign off, can I just geek out for a moment with you about Luke’s Lightsaber? The impact of that object appearing in this film is lost on a lot of people. That is not just Luke’s saber, it is Anakin’s saber. It is the one Anakin became a Jedi with, the one he fought Ben with, the one Ben passed to Luke. It has appeared in four films and was last seen falling into oblivion in Cloud City when Luke got his hand cut off. Luke lost it. It’s not even in “Return of the Jedi.” He crafted a new green saber by then, his father’s original saber lost seemingly forever. And now Rey is holding that saber out to Luke in the final moment of Episode 7. Drink in the fact that Luke has not seen this blue-bladed saber since the day his father revealed himself. And here it is, in this girl’s hand, 30 years later. How?? What is Maz Kanata not telling us? Nerd senses tingling!
Thank you, J.J.. You did it. RIP, Han Solo. Take care of her, Chewie. And let’s get more C-3PO and R2 in the next one, okay Rian Johnson?