NEW RELEASE – SPOILER FREE ZONE!
Directed by JJ Abrams
“Faster, more intense!”
15 minutes ago, I was sitting in my theater seats. That’s how fresh this review is!
As mentioned in this morning’s post, Star Wars Episode VII is the movie I really wanted to see, ever since 1983. We didn’t care about backstory, we didn’t want to see prequels. All we cared about was “What happens next? What happens to Han, Luke and Leia?” That’s one reason Timothy Zahn’s written sequel, the “Thrawn Trilogy”, was so well received by fans worldwide. But that’s just a book — what really happens after the second Death Star is destroyed?
Now I know, and I am not disappointed.
Director JJ Abrams has re-captured the magic. The lived-in universe is back. The wooden, stiff dialogue and exposition are gone. The new quartet of leads (Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and especially the impressive Daisy Ridley) are everything we wanted out of a new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains. They will now join the pantheon of characters that live on in our hearts. The camaraderie and friendships that were never believable in the prequels have finally come back to life. Without the misguided hands of George Lucas at the tiller, the Star Wars sequel trilogy has begun anew, with life.
Rey is a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku. The parallel here to Tattooine is unmistakable and obviously intentional, but Jakku has its own charm by being strewn with original trilogy space junk. In fact, the whole movie is littered with original trilogy callbacks, from certain objects on a familiar starship, to the overall look and deco of the universe. The galaxy has seen a lot of wear and tear, but a new threat called the First Order has risen, and wants to see the end of the New Republic. The Republic (which we don’t get to see much of), is defended by a secret organization much like the rebels, called the Resistance. They are led by General Leia Organa, continuing on doing what she knows how to do best. How does Rey fit in? When a droid carrying a secret message for the Resistance (sound familiar?) and an ex-stormtrooper fall into her life, it will never be the same again.
Uber-fans will like to know that there are some shots and lines in the trailers that are different in the movie.
The new characters serve the archetypes that worked in classic Star Wars movies. You have an orphan on the desert world, a hotshot pilot (or perhaps two), and the cute but witty little droid who helps out at all the right moments, but mostly needs rescuing. Original? Not hardly. The original trilogy, with its familiar set pieces and dialogue, are omnipresent. Fans have set the bar much lower since the prequels, and a group of re-tread heroes will have the fans satiated. Then we have the villain, Kylo Ren, the enforcer of the First Order, and face of the Disney marketing campaign. Much has been made of Ren’s wimpy voice, but in full theater sound it works much better. Adam Driver, an extremely talented and distinguished looking actor, fit the role like a glove. His epic temper tantrums rival those of his idol, Lord Vader himself.
But don’t worry. There aren’t any dreadful “Noooooooooo’s” or lines about sand being course and getting everywhere. There aren’t wishy-washy speeches about love, although Finn and Rey have a bond that could develop into romance later on. Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the classic trilogy and knew where Lucas wanted to take this thing, helped tremendously. From opening crawl to final scene, this feels right.
In many respects, The Force Awakens is Han Solo’s movie. When he and Chewbacca hook up with our new heroes (in a totally believable way), he takes over the lead and drives the plot forward. Harrison Ford seems to have turned his “Han Solo” knob up to 11. The older, wiser and sadder man has seen it all, now. As another character once said, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage”. Solo and Chewie’s presence make the whole thing really feel like Star Wars.
My biggest concern going into this was that a Star Wars sequel trilogy would not feel like it was part of the whole; it would feel tacked on to the end. That is not the case. While George Lucas had nothing to do with the film, it does carry his wish that a new Star Wars trilogy would focus on a new generation of heroes, while remaining a story about the Skywalker family. JJ Abrams has done that, in an appropriate and lively way. The new Star Wars is the most exciting in many years, and what it lacks in originality it makes up in spirit. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
My only serious beef is about this new superweapon the First Order have. Superweapons are a part of Star Wars, and always require blowing up. This one made no sense at all, especially how it was visually depicted. We need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to do a pop-up video and tell us just how stupid that thing is. If you thought the “red matter” and destruction of Vulcan sucked in Star Trek, wait until you see this stupid thing. Just pretend it makes sense and watch the pretty starship dogfights.
Oh, and Luke Skywalker? Some will be disappointed, but those who love Star Wars will have the same goosebumps that I did. Mark Hamill is the man. Luke is back, looking weary but powerful and wise. There are a lot of loose ends to tie up. Get ready, galaxy.
Don’t forget to tune in tonight at midnight (ET) for Rob Daniels’ Visions In Sound, when he and I will be playing the brand-new Star Wars soundtrack composed by John Williams! Tune in locally on your FM dial to CKWR 98.5, or elsewhere, just click “listen live” via their website! The show runs from midnight to 2 am (ET). Coffee?