I’ve written before that I’m not a big Star Wars guy. So why was I so excited to see Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Maybe someone was using the force on me, or maybe it just hit at the right time, after the unpleasant aftertaste of the prequels had gone, and we looked to J.J. Abrams like Paul Simon looked to Joe DiMaggio. I’m here to say that I had more fun at this Star Wars than any other, even though it is almost a copy of the first film, but better.
The film, which could have been called The Search for Skywalker, has these points in common with the The New Hope. Feel free to add more in the comments section:
1. Movie begins on a desert planet. Great actor (Max Von Sydow), wearing monk’s robes, plays wise old man faithful to Jedi.
2. On said planet (which is just like Tatooine, but only one sun) a young person (Daisy Ridley) awaits fulfilling her destiny. She finds a cute robot that speaks in whistle noises that holds a key bit of information helpful to the resistance.
3. The First Order is the revived Empire, led by a guy named Smoke who’s scary and ugly, with an intermediary (Adam Driver) that wears all black and wears a mask that modulates his speaking voice There are a-ha lineage issues with him. The First Order is full of Nazi imagery, and employs stormtroopers, whose armor design has not changed in thirty years but is still highly ineffective.
4. There is a visit to bar that plays live music, with all sorts of interesting creatures that abound.
5. The bad guys are building a huge weapon that can take out planets, but is easily destroyed. The Huffington Post did a whole article about plot holes and rip-offs (or homages) from the other films.
The other similarities, such as dogfights in space, escapes from tight places, and climactic light-saber battles, are in all Star Wars films, and are well done. But it would have been nice if Abrams had come up with something a little different. The only wrinkle he gives us is the character of Finn, a stormtrooper with a guilty conscience. Played by John Boyega, Finn is notable for being black, and also exhibiting brave behavior and cowardice at the same time.
All that aside, The Force Awakens is a lot of fun. Much of this can be traced to the casting of Ridley as Rey, the new Luke Skywalker. She turns out to be the main character and major mystery of the film. I won’t go any further, but suffice it to say her parentage is the big question that is on everyone’s mind who has seen it. Ridley, who looks like Keira Knightley (Star Wars trivia experts will know Knightley played Amadala’s double in The Phantom Menace) is a terrific action heroine, though, predictably, her action figure will be hard to find in stores.
The other highlight is Harrison Ford, grizzled and just as grouchy as ever as Han Solo. Of the three returning actors from the original trilogy, Ford gets the most time and makes the most of it. He and his Wookie companion, Chewbacca, are one of the great teams in action-film history, and it’s a great comfort to see them arrive on screen. There are lot of great Solo lines, such as being asked if something is possible: “I never ask that question until after I’ve done it.” The sight of the Millennium Falcon in a junkyard can’t help but get the blood pumping.
Abrams shows a great hand for action. The climactic light-sabre battle is terrific. The music by John Williams, incorporating his old themes, is rousing. The dialogue is comic-book dumb (which is a good thing). I can’t wait for the next one.