It’s important to mention at the outset that this review contains No Spoilers. It’s also cool that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, also referred to as “Episode VII”, has at least two semi-bombshells that are worth keeping secret, letting the viewer gasp or sigh or react in whatever way is natural for as “innocent” a viewer who can possibly exist in these times.
So, what questions can and should be answered? There are two:
1. “If I’ve never seen any of the previous six Star Wars films, will I understand what’s going on?”
2. “If I am a complete geek who’s been camped out for days at the box office, will I be disappointed?”
If you’re only a casual fan who’s familiarity with the franchise is limited to knowing the phrase “May The Force Be With You”, for instance, or if you liked the first three movies, but hated the others and, at any rate, you can’t remember any plot points, there’s good news: you can simply go to Wikipedia and give yourself a ten minute refresher course, and you’ll have enough information to avoid feeling lost.
One reason why this reviewer never became a “Star Wars” (or “Lord of the Rings”) devotee, was the sinking feeling that there would be some sort of written test involved. Do I have to know the names of the planets? What are the fighter ships called again? Am I going to need to know the names and ranks of all the players?
No, no and no. Let’s face it, George Lucas conceived of these stories as a modern day version of Saturday matinee serials; there’s good and evil. White hats and black hats. The rest is minutia that the stone-cold nerds can go crazy over, but if one sets aside the anxiety of having to know the small details, it’s much easier to enjoy the relative simplicity of the narrative.
For the fans, director J.J. Abrams delivers virtually everything they could want, without any of the annoyances that made the three prequels such buzz kills for so many.
Abrams visits all the touchstones: He even uses the old fashioned logo zoom at the beginning (how could he not?) Abrams has a veritable basket of Easter eggs, hiding in plain sight for the fans. And more “call backs” than a German diesel car. At times the film feels like one of those Broadway shows that has stars so beloved, that the story comes to a momentary stop, while a moment of enthusiastic applause thunders from the audience. A memorable example is the entrance of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who almost seems to look at the crowd and nod (he doesn’t) before carrying on. There are many moments just like that, and each one feels like a warm blanket wrapping around the viewer.
Does it sound formulaic? It is. Serials are just that: they go back over previously visited territory, they have the same opening sequence and they always, always end with a cliff-hanger. In this case it’s more of a cliff-climber, but that’s all I’ll say about that.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Episode VII works for the fans and non-fans like no other film in the franchise ever has. It’s accessible, it’s got great action and effects and a good number of smart-aleck quips (no one can deliver those like Ford) and it rounds the bases to wild cheers from the stands before arriving at home plate and stomping up and down on it.
Among the notable newcomers are actress Daisy Ridley as a tough, smart scavenger –selling scraps of old engines for food and ultimately becoming a heroine to root for. John Boyega plays a Storm Trooper who defects and wants to fight against the Evil Empire (yes, nerds, I know they don’t call it that anymore, but whatever…) and who will team up with the aforementioned actress to do so.
The film has a noticeable pro “Girl Power” undercurrent that never feels patronizing or less than authentic.
Is it a perfect film? Nope. None of the episodes is perfect. Revered, yes—but not perfect.
But when so much is good, why quibble? Young and old, girls and boys, fans and non—it’s hard to imagine a demographic that wouldn’t enjoy this film. It may have taken me close to forty years, but consider me a convert.
Stars Wars: The Force Awakens is Rated PG-13.