There’s no 20th Century Fox fanfare this time, of course, which is weird, because to this day, whenever I hear it, no matter what film it’s allegedly attached to, the excitable eight-year-old inside me pops up to whisper, “Maybe it’ll secretly turn out to be Star Wars.” Thankfully, there is no Disney ident, either. X-wing fighters doing a flyover of Cinderella’s castle would have been an unpleasant reminder of how worried I was about the Mouse’s takeover of this franchise.
All those worries have been laid to rest. J.J. Abrams has done a marvelous job of rebooting Star Wars for a new generation not only of fans but of the people who live in the story as well. The Force Awakens — Episode VII! — gets everything exactly right, though in some instances it’s painful to acknowledge that, in how it charts a path to a future for this story, one that steadfastly refuses to get mired in nostalgia or in rehashing the journeys of the original-trilogy characters. (Episode VIII is currently scheduled for release in May 2017. The future of this is soon!) Those we already know and love — Han Solo (Harrison Ford: The Age of Adaline, The Expendables 3), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher: Maps to the Stars, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Battle for Terra) — are no longer center stage. They are here, some more present than others, and their spirit is strong in the ethos, some moreso than others, but there is no doubt: they are legends, they are almost myths, and they are the past.
The future is in the hands of–
First, let me reassure you that I am going to reveal the absolute minimum I can in order to give you a rough idea of how well The Force Awakens works. Because one of the great joys of this movie, apart from the fact that it is a Star Wars geek party, is how its secrets have been kept. Almost nothing about who the new characters are or what their stories are about has been revealed prior to the film’s release. When trailers tend to tell us the whole movie in two and half minutes, this is astonishing. Star Wars may be a universe we know well, but there is a wonderful sense of discovery to be had while watching this movie for the first time. To not know in advance who everyone is and what they’re doing! Amazing. I’d almost forgotten it used to be like this with all movies all the time.
That’s not to say that these characters aren’t familiar, in the best way. Of course there is an analog for Luke: she is Rey (Daisy Ridley), scavenger loner on the planet Jakku (another desert world, so here’s a Tatooine analog) who scratches out a living selling parts she digs out of crashed Imperial star destroyer rusting in the dunes. The ruins of the war that Luke, Leia, and Han won decades back are everywhere, including in the galaxy’s politics: the power vacuum left by the fall of the Empire has given rise to a new military force for badness called the First Order; its face it that of the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver: While We’re Young, Tracks), the Darth Vader analog; the Dark Side of the Force is strong with him. There’s a Resistance pushing back against the First Order, and its star X-wing pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac: Ex Machina, The Two Faces of January), all swaggering snark, fills the Han Solo niche. Only Finn (John Boyega: Half of a Yellow Sun, Attack the Block), a stormtrooper with the First Order, is a character unlike any we’ve met before. And so I won’t say any more about him.
All the Star Wars notes are here, remixed into a glorious new arrangement. With The Force Awakens, Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness, Super 8) — who also wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan (among his many credits: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Toy Story 3) — gives us more of what we love without it feeling like a rehash. Little droids can be adorable, but they can also be a pain in the ass. It hurts to see starships blasting off into the sky when you can’t get off the ground. There is magic in the universe, and danger, and adventure, and even when things are at their worst, it’s all so much better than being stuck on Tatooine (or Jakku). This is exactly what my tender little geeky heart was hoping for when I burst into tears at that famous Star Wars logo up on the screen once again, and that iconic opening crawl bringing us up to speed on the last 30 years of Galactic History. And The Force Awakens delivered. It made me feel like a kid again, falling in love with movies all over again. I have no idea if this is a perfect movie. I’m too blinded by how perfectly Star Wars it is.
If you want to discuss details in comments, please include a prominent SPOILER WARNING. I will post a separate spoiler-laden discussion of the film soon.