Sunday, January 3, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A Triumphant Beginning

I am not a major Star Wars fan. I saw the original trilogy many years ago and apart from really liking the first movie, I don't remember much about the other two. Obviously I know the basics because that's just something you pick up from pop culture - even before I saw Empire Strike Back I knew Darth Vader was Luke's father (sorry, spoiler alert?). I haven't seen the prequel trilogy except for randomly watching Attack of the Clones on HBO, even before I had seen the original movies and understanding literally 0.1% of what happened. All this preamble is to say that if you're looking for a review that delves into the fandom and assesses The Force Awakens with a great deal of in-depth, archival knowledge, you will be disappointed. But if you only care to know what this movie is like on its own merits, keep reading.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a marvel. This is emphatically a movie from 2015, one that has taken the most important pieces of the original franchise and improved upon them with all the technology and common sense of the modern era, to deliver a polished, vastly entertaining, and phenomenal film. Even though I can't claim to be a Star Wars fanatic, I found myself drawn into this movie from the very first second. As that opening crawl came on screen, I realized this was the first time I was watching a Star Wars movie in a theater, and I felt like I was finally part of this pop cultural phenomenon that I had only ever hovered on the periphery of. As the iconic John Williams score swelled, this movie promised that it would honor the original franchise and introduce us to even more characters and stories to love. And then it proceeded to deliver on that promise.

I'm not going into any analysis of the movie's plot. Suffice to say, there are good guys versus bad guys, a map that everyone wants to get their hands on, and plenty of space fights and intrigue that set up future events and wrap up past ones. The true revelations are the new cast members - Daisy Ridley is a superb heroine as Rey, a scavenger on the planet of Jakku who is strong with the Force and has some mysterious past. John Boyega is amazing as Finn, a stormtrooper who turns to the light and ultimately teams up with Rey. There's Oscar Isaac as the dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, Adam Driver as the Darth Vader protege Kylo Ren, and the ineffably cute BB-8 droid that steals the entire movie. But then there's also the return of all our old favorites - Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess General Leia are back, so let the fireworks begin.

Director J.J. Abrams has a knack for rebooting old franchises by retaining everything that made them great and adding in elements that make them so much better. He did this with Star Trek, and now with Star Wars, he has taken what was already a phenomenon and made it even more accessible and entertaining. Finally we have an installment in this franchise that gamely passes the Bechdel Test - there are more women, not just on the light side but on the dark side too, and the passing of the hero torch to Rey feels ridiculously audacious even though it is 2015 and we should stop considering it such a big deal to let a woman lead a film. We have more diversity in the casting and more of a balance between fan service and good storytelling. Even as a casual Star Wars viewer, there were plenty of homages I could recognize to the original movies and I'm sure there were many more references I didn't get. But that didn't matter because this movie is catered to satisfy even a complete newbie.

Star Force: The Force Awakens is a tour-de-force film that is worthy of the hype and sets the new trilogy off on a promising beginning. I can only hope they keep up this momentum and continue to give us movies that feature incredible, diverse characters, engaging storylines, and the iconic music, set pieces, and thrills that bind Star Wars fans through the generations.

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