A New Star Wars, and a New Hope (spoiler-free)

As the date for Star Wars: The Force Awakens approached (this last Friday), the hype surrounding the film built up exponentially. Disney’s announcement in October 2012 left millions holding their breath for three straight years, hoping for the same lightning in a bottle that the originals provided and dreading another critical disaster like the prequels. Like Avengers: Age of Ultron which came out earlier this year, it seemed almost impossible for The Force Awakens to measure up to the expectations.

Perhaps putting your worries to rest, I can happily tell you that the movie is great. I dare not use a stronger descriptor, lest I raise your expectations too high (you strange people who still haven’t seen the movie four days later). Cowritten with Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams tactfully achieves a perfect balancing act above all potential pitfalls. The movie builds on its predecessors but also stands on its own in terms of filmmaking, emotion, action, and humor (Kasdan also co-wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, which makes sense of this Star Wars installment’s frequent wise-cracks).

The Galactic Empire, defeated thirty years earlier, has been replaced by the similar—though strikingly more fascist—First Order. They plan to rule the Galaxy and destroy all who oppose them. Their commander is the ruthless dark knight, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Kylo seeks to find and kill the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, who would bring justice to the galaxy before General Leia Organa and the Resistance can find him. The movie begins with the capture of Poe Dameron, a Resistance pilot, and his rolling droid BB-8 who have some critical information on the whereabouts of Skywalker. They are able, however, to escape by the help of Finn (John Boyega), a former First Order Stormtrooper. As they flee Kylo and their pursuers, the team joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger from the desert planet Jakku, and eventually with Han Solo and Chewbacca. The team must race Kylo Ren to find Luke and stop the First Order from expanding their iron control over the galaxy.

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The first and foremost virtue of The Force Awakens is its new characters. BB8 is cute as can be, and Finn represents much needed diversity in a cinematic universe often accused of racism. However, the best addition is Rey, who seems to be pushed forward as the lead in this movie. Rey is one of the best female protagonists in recent action-blockbuster history, something she achieves by not drawing attention to the fact. More than a pretty face, she is smart, rarely needs saving, and even spends a lot of time saving others. Her subversion of classical masculine roles—while maintaining her femininity—is all very subtle.

The next strength worth mentioning is the movie’s villain, Kylo Ren. He is a step away from the dark menace of Darth Vader, but is almost as fun to watch as Darth Maul and demonstrates character complexity. Kylo Ren can be threatening, but admittedly we receive our “big bad” elsewhere. While he may not stand as tall as some of his predecessors, he will make for some interesting movies in the future.

Finally, the movie boasts a healthy relationship with the old series. This, strangely enough, has been the biggest complaint I’ve heard from others who claim the story is too borrowed (pointing to plot pieces like the Starkiller and Deathstar). To that I would contend that while there is a lot of similarities in the overall scope, there is plenty of new on the micro-level: an updated tone for new audiences, a balance between the handmade special effects of the originals and CGI of the prequels, and exciting new characters. That’s the new stuff. But what interests me is how this movie, unlike Episodes 1-3, is able to mimic the voice of the original trilogy (something Abrams has proven adept at) and use references to them but not rely on them for scaffolding the film. Overall, I can promise if your expectations are not for A New Hope, then you will be delighted. The movie is smart, thrilling, and fun. I’m excited for what the future brings.

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  1. This film may as not even be linked to Lucas’ name. They went so far from what the original films (and even the prequels) that it lost its appeal for those who loved the movie for what it originally was… a sci-fi thriller. And I think we can all agree the Disney effect brought it down to the level of over-the-top, impulsive acting, emotion, bucket cases that we see on Disney TV shows. The sound and graphics were appealing, which is expected of Abrams, but the story line is basically, new Star Wars characters meet old ones and they chase a drone around the galaxy. And in case you forgot about how soap operas work or haven’t seen the first set of Star Wars films, there is family drama. So it is, as you say, borrowed. As the title describes, we see the force in its infant form. Similar to a new hope. There are however no teachers to help spur the growth. So it is unfair to expect characters like Obi-Wan and Darth Maul.

    I must completely disagree that The Force Awakens mimics the voice of the original trilogy. My main point would be that this is the first Star Wars that uses profanity, specifically the word “dammit.” One thing that Lucas did so well was to make Star Wars a world separate and apart. There were never any references to God and the universe was self contained. “Dammit” obviously refers to damnation and right there loses the scope that Lucas worked within.

    All in all, I am very disappointed in the childishness of the film, but I am eager to see where it goes. But if you use the Force Awakens as the base for future films, I don’t have much hope.

    Side note: Is it just me, or is Rey’s character a clone of keira knightley, mannerisms and all?

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    • They were originally sci-fi fantasy–very little “thriller.”
      But you’re right; they are completely disconnected from Lucas’s name. When we talked last, I got the feeling that you didn’t know that Fanboys hated the prequels. There was substantial effort in this film to remove itself from Lucas’s work in episodes 1-3 (e.g. the fact that it requires a lifetime of training to be a Jedi rather than just a few sessions with Obi-Wan). I’m not sure what you’re saying about the plot; I can summarize the plot to any of your favorite movies in a sentence. Unless it’s a mystery film or a soap opera, plot doesn’t matter–characters matter. And we get characters in this movie. Exhibit 1: During the final attack on the Starkiller (a plot device lifted straight out of episodes IV and VI), we actually spend most of our time with the drama between Solo, Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren.

      The voice it mimics is action/adventure with a light touch of humor and a grand scope. Regarding the family-friendliness of the original trilogy and their possible theology, I will remind you of Solo’s line in The Empire Strikes Back, “I’ll see you in hell!”

      And yes, she is exactly like Keira Knightley. 

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      • (SPOILERS)

        When the first movie originally came out. None of the characters had stories that you could look back at. They were fresh and as you watched the movies you found out how the story played out. The Return of the Jedi, you knew what would happen, but were in suspense of how they would reach the goal. That is what a thriller is. So I would disagree on there not being much thriller. Ep VII is so predictable to the point that Han Solo is walking towards his son and everyone knows he will die.

        I am well aware that the “big fans” (which I consider myself one in terms of trivia and following) hate the prequels. I am thought II was very good and III was above average. Ep I had an amazing character as far as eye appeal and the mystery about him concluded by sudden death was indeed shocking. I am not one to write off the prequels just because they cast a cliche inquisitive child and Jar Jar Binks.

        Not sure what your point concerning disconnection from Lucas and Jedi training is?

        Its not that I am summarizing the plot, but that the movie opened with a specific goal and that it conveniently happens that everything falls in place for the good guys. There was no creativity in creating a plot to which the end goal is achieved. How can you say plot does not matter? Twists make movies entertaining. And characters provide depth. Unless you have a good story to start with characters have nothing to build on. This is exactly why movies like “The Straight Story” are not worth anyone’s time because they give you a deep look into a person, but whose actions are of no interest. You labeled the movie fun, which suits it well because the childish characters go about the plot in a childish manor. You get characters in this movie, but their actions in connection to the plot. The final attack segment of the movie is exactly my point. The movie did nothing original. At the very least it could have given a cliffhanger or ending the viewer didn’t want. They were right to focus on the battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. Could have taken us to a darker side of a dual (No pun intended). I feel they were limited on how evil they could make Kylo so that they could build it up later.

        The light humor and banter of the new characters did not mesh well with the sarcasm of old characters. (Purely my taste and opinion) I could have gone for a more tastefully done dialogue. (Cue Sorkin)

        I stand corrected regarding the absence of our world’s theology. 

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