After years of waiting, there couldn’t have been a bigger hype for Star Wars. J. J. Abrams almost turned down the offer to direct “Episode VII,” but he most certainly would have regretted it. Abrams is no stranger to dealing with franchises, as he has directed an installment of the Mission Impossible franchise, rebooted Star Trek, and now has placed a lasting imprint on Star Wars. J. J. restores the magic from the original trilogy along with a fresh feeling that comes with new characters, new romance, and new adventures. It’s not lacking nostalgia however, as the film’s subtle references to “A New Hope” leave us both sweet and sour about our space opera, as we know we must say goodbye to the old and welcome the new. A warm welcome it will be.
In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm, and announced that they were planning to make a new trilogy of Star Wars films. Immediately, the search for a director began, and who better to handle the project than the man who revived Star Trek? Fans were relieved that Lucas would not be involved in the new trilogy. I have always found fans’ hatred towards Lucas a bit jarring, as I might remind them that without Lucas, we wouldn’t have Star Wars.
Like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Abrams takes concepts previously done and provides a fresh take on them. There are parts of the story that feel very similar to “A New Hope.” We start off on a desert planet like Tatooine. We meet our young hero, who discovers that she has a rare ability. The mammoth space station in possession of the New Order is reminiscent of the Death Star. The Resistance is essentially the same as the Rebel Alliance, and the New Order seems to be remnants of the Galactic Empire. A critical piece of information is hidden in a droid. There is a cantina scene. There are other subtler callbacks as well. The originality is not quite as plentiful in “The Force Awakens” as it is in the other Star Wars films. The framework of the story is parallel to its predecessor. Yet the imagination and pure excellence in entertainment remains. The film only uses “A New Hope” as a foundation and then steers off in its own direction. For that reason, its parallels do not detract from its enjoyment.
The new characters are bold and captivating. We are truly invested in their journey from the start of the film. Daisy Ridley leads the cast in her magnificent portrayal of Rey. Her character will no doubt continue to develop and mature into one of the finest of the Star Wars saga. I suspect Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker, though that is left uncertain. Finn is a particularly energetic character. He will certainly become a fan favorite going forward, and with Han Solo leaving the franchise (it seems Harrison Ford finally got his wish), Finn seems like a suitable replacement. Finn is still unsure about his path ahead of him, and I look forward to finding out more about his role as well as his past. We also have the character of Poe, who we only really get a glimpse at. We do know he is a gifted pilot, and will be crucial in the Resistance’s struggles against the New Order. Of course, we have the return of our older, more beloved characters as well.
The weakest link, I’m afraid, is the character of Kylo Ren. Driver’s performance is just not as good as the others. I found him to be rather stiff, and his character’s indecisiveness in choosing to follow the light or the dark side grew tiresome. Whenever he took off the mask, he simply wasn’t convincing as a twisted and evil Sith. I understand that he is meant to be conflicted, but his weak and querulous nature made it difficult for me to take him seriously. I did like his anger outbursts though; and his introduction, where he stops a blaster shot by way of the Force, was incredible. His lightsaber skills and emotional instability are another matter. Ren’s master, the sinister Snoke, feels like more of a Thanos character; that is, someone lingering from the shadows rather than something convoluted like Darth Sidious. I do look forward to learning his true identity.
There are a couple things I must discuss that I was not so fond of. The first is the giant ex machina that is the map to Luke Skywalker. Not only does R2-D2 wake up at the most convenient time, but the piece missing that BB-8 carried is only a tiny portion of the overall map. Could the Resistance not chart that small section themselves to discover where Luke was hiding? Besides, how many Jedi temples could there be in that area? The other is that there is too much of a gap in the time period between “Return of the Jedi” and “Force Awakens.” The film does not provide enough explanation in the title crawl alone to explain the New Order’s foundation, the Resistance’s formation, the new Republic, or who Poe is meeting with on Jakku. There is also no good explanation of what happened to Han, Luke, Chewie, and Leia after the Battle of Endor. Perhaps Disney will choose to explore this time period in one of the standalone films.
The film raises many questions that need answered. One of the things that worked so well in the Original Trilogy was that we were always left wondering where the journey would take us next. Abrams wants us to come back for the next film. He does not want us to feel too satisfied with this one. There is the question of Ren’s reverence towards Vader. What did Vader start that Ren wants to finish? We certainly want to learn more about all the new characters. There is the question of what happened between Luke and Ren. How did Maz come into possession of Luke’s lightsaber? What are the Knights of Ren? Who are Rey’s parents? I am certainly excited to learn the answers to all these questions, and many more.
“The Force Awakens” continues the tradition of Star Wars films in offering us a visual feast, though it may hold back in imagination. The special effects are nothing less than extraordinary, and we are given new characters that we can identify with. That great sense of discovery that makes each episode of Star Wars so exciting remains. And above all, it is a fun experience, great fun in fact. It is a good edition to the long-running space opera. The Force is strong with this one.