New Star Wars, New Heroes, Old Journey
There’s a moment in Star Wars: The Force Awakens that is so triumphant you will fist pump and want to cheer. There’s a moment where you will gasp, and one where you will get a lump in your throat, and one where you’ll grip your armrests, trying to will the hero(ine) to get up and keep fighting. You will LOVE BB-8. You’ll loathe one villain and pity another. You’ll be glad to see old friends and intrigued by new ones.
But you will also roll your eyes at a line of clunker dialogue so bad you’ll wonder how it made the final cut. You’ll be plagued by déjà vu and the creeping realization that you’ve seen this all before. You’ll realize that C3PO is the Jar Jar Binks of the original trilogy. You’ll notice the plot hole so big you could drive Starkiller Base through it. You’ll wish that “nostalgia” wasn’t the main theme of the movie. You’ll leave satisfied, maybe even thrilled, but with the quiet thought in the back of your mind that you probably shouldn’t think about this one too much, lest it fall apart.
But what it does right, it does RIGHT. The new cast of characters is outstanding, and you will love each and every one of them from the first moment they appear on screen. Poe Dameron is wildly charming and doesn’t have nearly enough screen time for how dashing Oscar Isaac is in the role. Finn is surprisingly accessible, the “regular guy” in the group, who is funny but brave when it matters, and John Boyega will be iconic for this role. And Rey is tremendous—smart, resourceful, capable, never in need of rescuing and the heart of the movie, and Daisy Ridley is a REVELATION. She leaps off the screen, compelling and commanding even when going toe to toe with a legit old school Movie Star like Harrison Ford. This new cast is every inch a worthy successor to the one that came before.
And the villains are very good, too. Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma is a major let down—she simply doesn’t have anything to do—but Domhnall Gleeson is so sneering as General Hux, who is basically a space Nazi, that he’s an instant love-to-hate. It’s going to be delicious to see him finally get his someday. And just as Ridley/Rey anchors the hero cast, Adam Driver delivers HUGE as Kylo Ren. He is everything Anakin Skywalker should have been in the prequels—ambitious but tortured, fighting his own nature and committing atrocities to try and prove himself. He’s a tragic figure, pitiable even, and as physically intimidating as Driver is, when the helmet comes off, Ren is just a wounded boy lashing out, throwing tantrums and giving into petulance and jealousy. Kylo Ren may be the most complex, fascinating character ever to come out of Star Wars.
But these great characters are stuck in a narrative retread as Rey, Finn, and Han Solo team up to get a message to Leia which is inside a droid, and the big climactic battle is another X-Wing run on a planet-destroying space Nazi base. In trying to course-correct from the disastrous prequels, JJ Abrams hews too close to the original trilogy and basically just remakes Episode IV. He pushes the nostalgia button too many times, undercutting what is working so well with constant callbacks that become distracting they’re so obvious. At one point, the entire movie grinds to a halt just so C3PO can stick his shiny asshole face into frame and remind us he exists. Why? He doesn’t do anything!
The Force Awakens doesn’t even need the nostalgia, which is what makes it such a drag. Han Solo and now-General Leia are actually integrated into the story in a way that feels organic and satisfying, so we don’t need all the winks and nods to the original trilogy. The best stuff in The Force Awakens is when the new characters are doing new things for new(ish) reasons. We don’t get to spend enough time with Poe Dameron to really care about his X-Wing aerial battle, but the other part of the climax is a KILLER lightsaber duel that is as emotionally wrought as anything in any Star Wars episode. It’s a familiar setup from the original trilogy—everyone fighting some big battle while the Jedis duke it out one-on-one—which is enough connective tissue to satisfy without needing direct references to previous movies.
JJ Abrams had a near-impossible task, to jumpstart the Star Wars franchise and not only reengage those fans turned off by the prequels but introduce a new generation to the franchise, and make them fall in love with new characters just as we did with Luke, Han, and Leia before them. He is wildly successful at the latter, but overplays his hand with the former. The final product is that The Force Awakens is emotionally satisfying, but you kind of have to play dumb to get along with it. It’s a good movie—a really good one, on the surface level—but it falls just short of great.
Attached: Daisy Ridley at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens London premiere and John Boyega at a "meet the actor" event at an Apple Store in Soho in NYC last week.
Mike Marsland /Jeff Spicer /Brent N Clarke /Karwai Tang /Mark Sagliocc /Getty Images