by Patrick Bromley
This review of The Force Awakens will be completely Spoiler Free. For a more in-depth and spoilery discussion of the film, tune in to our podcast next week.
What do we talk about when we talk about Star Wars? How do we discuss the merits of The Force Awakens (which, contrary to all of the marketing, does appear in the opening crawl as Episode VII)? Is it enough for it to just be a fun, thrilling space adventure with great characters and exciting action? Or does it need to achieve some sort of constant perfection, wrapping up everything that Star Wars fans love about not just the series but their entire fandom -- nay, their entire childhoods -- inside of two hours? Judged against the second criteria, The Force Awakens no doubt falls short. Any movie would. Judged against the first, however, the movie is a resounding success. It's all a matter of perspective.
A New Hope. As a story, there's not much 'there' there. Instead, the movie leaps from set piece to set piece, strung together by a very specific McGuffin and depending a lot on timing and coincidence to fill in the gaps. Anyone who has seen Abrams' Star Trek reboot will be familiar with this phenomenon. That means some aspects might not hold up on reflection, but it doesn't matter in the moment. The movie just keeps propelling forward, bringing the space opera back to Space Opera.
About the characters. They are across-the-board great. I don't want to use this space to throw shade at the prequel trilogy -- that's well-worn territory for which George Lucas has been punished enough, and it's not as if the movies don't have a huge number of fans and defenders -- but one of the areas in which those films always fell short for me was in their characterization. They were movies much more interested in being about the world these people inhabited and the machinations of the things that happen to them than the people themselves. The Force Awakens brings back the idea that it's the characters who matter -- they are what we fall in love with and the reason we keep coming back to this series. We aren't there for the Star Wars brand. We are there to spend time with the characters.
As for the returning cast? They're put to good use, some more than others. Everyone effortlessly falls back into step, and I like that the movie doesn't ignore the years they've put on -- in fact, the screenplay hints at a whole lot of stuff that has happened since we saw them around the campfire at the end of Return of the Jedi. Great care has been put into the return of every franchise character, and Abrams is sure each gets a worthy entrance. Actually, "care" is an important word in discussing The Force Awakens. Everyone has taken great care, from the filmmakers to the studio to the marketing team, to deliver the best movie possible. Even if you don't love the movie, you can't really ask for more than that.
Maybe it's too soon to talk much about The Force Awakens because I'm caught up in the excitement of Star Wars completely dominating pop culture right now and in the joy of experiencing what Abrams and his team have accomplished. Maybe once this dizzy high wears off I'll have more objectivity; after all, plenty of people loved The Phantom Menace the week it came out. Maybe I'll find greater fault in all the parallels between this movie and the original. The thing is, even if that does happen I'm still not going to care. I don't need a Star Wars movie to be perfect. They never have been. Some might accuse Abrams of playing it too safe, but there is a difference between "safe" and "solid." He has made a very solid movie, one which will stand the test of time as a worthy -- even excellent -- film in the Star Wars franchise and which will undoubtedly create a new generation of Star Wars fans. I have a three year old daughter. I can't tell you how much it means to me that she's going to grow up pretending to be Rey.
This is the start of a new era (era) of Star Wars, one in which Disney has promised at least one new movie a year with no end in sight. It's hugely important that The Force Awakens gets things started right, and it does. Abrams has made a movie that reminds us why we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. If The Force Awakens is a lot like Lucas' 1977 original, that's ok. There are worse movies for the new Star Wars movie to be compared to than Star Wars. As someone who hoped for the best but tried to temper my own expectations going in, it is exactly the movie I hoped it would be. The Force is strong with this one.