Main cast: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn/FN-2187), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), and Carrie Fisher (General Leia Organa)
Director: JJ Abrams
A number of Star Trek fans may not be happy with what JJ Abrams did to the reboot of the franchise, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens demonstrates without a doubt that Mr Abrams’s heart and soul actually belong to Star Wars. This movie, the first in the latest trilogy, stays very faithful to the style and tone of the original trilogy, to the point that this movie could easily be seen a reverential homage to that trilogy. And as a fan, I find the whole thing unexpectedly touching, even moving.
First, the back story. It has been about 30 years since Luke Skywalker, his sister Leia, and her beau Han Solo helped the Resistance to take down Darth Vader and the rest of the Sith. In those years, a new dark faction has arisen – the First Order. I know, they sound just like some Boy Scouts thing, but make no mistake, under the leadership of Voldemort’s little brother Supreme Leader Snoke, these folks have Stormtroopers, giant lasers that take forever to charge up only to obliterate several planets at one go… in other words, just like these old days.
The Resistance continued its fight to take down the Dark Side, but Leia and Han Solo managed to find some happiness together… until their son Ben started talking and muttering to Darth Vader’s half-melted skull thing (how did he get that, again?) before getting the idea that being the new Dark Vader was the way to go. Leia thought it’d be a good thing to send Ben to Luke’s Jedi Academy, hoping that her brother would make the kid more zen and goody-goody. Alas, Ben went “LET IT FLOW! LET IT FLOW! I’M ONE WITH THE DARK SIDE!”, decimated his classmates, and sent a distraught and embittered Luke into going MIA. Ben joins the First Order and becomes Kylo Ren. He also gets a black mask and suit and stuff. Yes, just like the old days!
Now, the present day. Leia and Han are estranged, both unable to deal with their son going all dark and emo on them. She throws herself into being the boss of the Resistance, while he and Chewbacca go back to being mercenaries-for-hire. When the movie opens, Leia receives words that an old ally, Lor San Tekka, has a map that would show them the location of Luke. Now, I have no idea how one can map a person when one doesn’t even know where that person is, but maybe these people have some kind of GPS device that can detect all that Force in Luke’s stumpy stature. At any rate, because of budget cuts, Leia sends only one fellow – her most daring and bravest pilot Poe Dameron (also the only guy in this movie that clearly frequents a hair salon) – to get that map.
As you can probably guess, Kylo Ren and the Stormtroopers show up and go pew-pew-pew at everyone. Poe gives the map to his personal R2D2, BB-8, for safekeeping before going pew-pew-pew himself. Alas, he soon gets captured. Meanwhile, BB-8 manages to find its way to Rey, a young lady who scavenges the dunes while waiting for her family to come back to her. And yes, she soon learns that the Force is in her, et cetera – she’s basically the female version of Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, the Stormtrooper FN-2187 takes up arms for the first time in the pew-pew party just now, and he realizes that he doesn’t want to be a Stormtrooper. He wants out. So he helps Poe escape, and earns the man’s friendship along the way. Poe even calls FN-2187 “Finn”. Alas, the bromance ends when their spacecraft crashes back to Jekka and Finn seems to be the only survivor. He staggers along the desert, until he stumbles upon… yes, you guess right, Rey and BB-8. Those two have to flee the First Order troops, and they then stumble upon Han Solo and Chewbacca. There is a lot of stumbling upon things here, as you can see.
Basically, the plot is all about who can get their hands on that map and track down Luke Skywalker first. This is why Mark Hamill isn’t in the main billing, although I think it’s okay to tell you that he does show up for a while, sporting some glorious facial hair. Sigh. Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca – it is so good to see you guys again.
Nostalgia, I suspect, is about 50% of why I enjoy this movie. Under other circumstances, this one is a pretty derivative movie. Then again, Star Wars is never about sophisticated story telling. Barring the hilariously inept second trilogy that I’m sure most of us would like to pretend never existed, the whole thing has been pretty free from cynical overtones. Good will always win, there is no question about that, and personal losses will make one stronger and more determined to take down the bad guy. Such “old school” style may seem quaintly out of place in the movie scene today, but it makes Star Wars what it is, and Mr Abrams – who also co-wrote the script along with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt – stays faithful to this style. Therefore, the whole thing may feel simplistic and even childish at times. I have no issues with this – I have rose-tinted glasses on, after all – but someone unfamiliar with Star Wars may not agree with me.
Also, 30 years may have passed, but the bad guys still can’t shoot for crap. Seriously, they only get a hit when the plot needs one of the good guys to be injured for dramatic effect. Under other circumstances, they can’t even hit a big bloody spaceship in front of them. The First Order seems to be a budget version of the Empire, because the Stormtrooper armor could be pierced by a single laser beam. What is the point of wearing such armor, then? I mean, it’s not like the Stormtrooper armor is sexy or bad-ass or anything like that. I also laugh when Poe and Finn are trying to steal a spacecraft on their great escape, and instead of shutting the exit to prevent the escape, these idiots just stand there and shoot puny beams at the ship, missing most of the time. How horrible must the eyesight of these folks be! Even Rey, using a gun for the first time, can aim far better than these twits who are supposed to be well-trained troopers. I always said that the success of the good guys in the original trilogy was 50% due to the horrendous aim of the bad guys, and it is no different here. But, again, I suppose I can delude myself into thinking that Mr Abrams just wants to keep to the “spirit” or the original trilogy and let the bad guys continue to be awful shooters.
However, the movie really picks up steam when Rey and Finn meet Han Solo and Chewbacca, and the momentum never falters all the way to the end. There are some beautiful, almost poetic parallels to A New Hope, especially when Han Solo confronts his son in a scene that is a 180 from when Luke confronts his father. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford still have that chemistry that made Han Solo and Leia so adorable to watch back in those days, only this time, they are more world-weary people who carry a world of hurt in their hearts. Rey and Finn are not the most well-drawn characters here (although Finn’s puppy-like devotion to Rey is too cute for words), but that’s okay, as this movie is basically a “passing of the torch” thing too. They and the rest of the younger cast, like Poe, will take over from the old coots, and I feel a little crack or two in my heart as a result. The final scene, especially, both warms my heart and cuts it a bit at the same time.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, for better or worse, a modern day update of the Star Wars franchise that stays very true to the elements that defined the original trilogy. Even the new generation types – especially Rey – can be seen as younger replicates of the old school cast. But, as a fan, I enjoy these elements and the movie really delivers the thrills and drama all the way to the very end. I won’t call it a great movie, but it’s a good one, and it’s definitely far better than all three movies in that trilogy that shall not be named.
PS: Can’t they find a hotter guy to play Kylo Ren? I’m sure Adam Driver will have his share of fans – especially among folks who think horses are adorable – but come on, a hot villain would be nice. Folks who like to look at guys don’t have many options here. The easiest on the eyes among the younger cast is Oscar Isaac, who is not on screen that much, and even then, most of his hotness comes from the hair. Sigh.