Star Wars: The Force Awakens will have all of your money, whether you want to give it or not. The franchise has its Jedi Mind-Trick over seemingly all of humanity, with countless people saying they’re going to see the latest installment in theatres, even if they haven’t watched any of the previous six. Hell, even if they aren’t interested.
Finances are one thing. Quality is another.
Thankfully, The Force Awakens is brimming with charm, intensity, wit and engaging characters new and old. We begin some thirty or so years after Return of the Jedi. What stands is familiar and different. The Emperor and Darth Vader’s rule are no more, but wickedness and tyranny do not merely disappear. Though the scale of good versus evil is a more balanced one, it remains in flux.
The Force Awakens kicks into gear superbly, ushering in a new generation of faces doing familiar things. Heroes, like the confident and talented pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), are fleeing from a brigade of Stormtroopers. Amongst the villains chasing Poe and his faithful robot sidekick BB-8 is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a masked baddie capable of wielding the Dark Side of the Force to tear down his foes. Kylo Ren is after Poe for a specific piece of information that he is confident will once more strongly shift the tides in his team’s favor.
If this sounds familiar, then that would be accurate. The easy, and perhaps accurate, criticism of this new Star Wars picture will be that it tightly mirrors plots of the past. One can’t deny that. Still, director J. J. Abrams and a collection of writers that includes Lawrence Kasdan of the Holy Trilogy, concoct a narrative that delightfully strums old notes for precise effect. The team basically turns the entire first act over to the new kids, like instant-star Daisy Ridley. The lesser known British actress plays Rey, a scavenger living on a desert planet who refuses to abandon her home, despite abundant talent and an opportunity for something better. Ridley is all wide-eyes of excitement and delight of youth, just without the naivety or innocence that usually brings. She is the glue that holds the film together, on both a plot and emotional level as she wrestles with how to do what’s right.
Of course, Abrams is playing in a big box of toys. And play he does. The legendary Millennium Falcon snaps through sharp turns. Memorable fighter jets on each side of the battle duel over sand, snow and space in one enthralling scene after another, all while John Williams perfectly conjures melodies of yesteryear and giving us new charms to embrace. All throughout, Abrams does a fine job of tickling the nostalgia cues without over-relying on them. Gone are his relentless lens-flares or need to throw an extra joke into the moment, even if his tendency to keep the camera a little close to happenings remains.
But what about those other haunts of the past? How is Han Solo? What is Chewbacca doing? Is this new nemesis on the level of Vader? Accepting that this first round of reviews and conversations are hesitant to reveal too much, I will say this. Harrison Ford is having fun as Solo, with a string of killer one-liners. Chewbacca roars as well as ever. And Kylo Ren? He is a complicated presence that intimidates and has an aura of mystery that never bores.
The Force Awakens isn’t a complete homerun. The middle sags in a way the opening and closing doesn’t. What proceeds isn’t a mess or terrible, rather a general gear-change that feels a bit too much like taking a deep breath before diving back into the meat of things.
Star Wars fans ought to rejoice into a rightful heir to the legacy/series/franchise/maker-of-products-to-purchase. In a few years we may have too many of these. There might be BB-8 tampons on the horizon. Right now though, what we have is a damn fine film.