“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” As the opening notes of legendary composer, John Williams’ score begins to play, I sit in a packed theater, transfixed by the familiar opening credits of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I am surrounded by my children and nameless strangers who have gathered in a kind of pilgrimage to witness the latest episode in the epic Star Wars saga. Slowly my present melts away as I am transported back to my pig-tailed, eight-year-old self watching the first movie in the series, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, in a similarly packed theater. As my mobile phone buzzes in my pocket, 1977 quickly vanishes and I am whisked back to the present.
Before we go any further, I must admit that I almost didn’t see this film. Being completely disappointed and disillusioned from the substandard prequels of Episodes I-III (think Jar-Jar Binks from Episode I), I had no desire to sit through a similarly-unsatisfying movie. But my film-loving, college-age son, Ryan, kept harassing me to go see it, promising me that I wouldn’t be disappointed because “this film is the real deal.” And guess what, this film is the real deal. Not only that, the movie continues the great and most-excellent traditions of the original films because it is an epic filled with memorable characters and fantastic cinematography, effects, and story lines.
Like the films that started the series, The Force Awakens (the seventh film in the series) immerses us in incredible and surprisingly realistic worlds with an eclectic cast of characters and never-before-seen creatures. Most of the old gang is back – intergalactic smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), feisty Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and that loveable Wookie fuzz ball, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). In addition to these much-loved and heartily-welcomed characters, we are also introduced to some new characters who are not quite ready to carry their heavy mantels of destiny. There’s Rey (Daisy Ridley), a self-sufficient and resourceful teen from Jakku, a planet that could be a stand in for Luke Skywalker’s sand and wind-whipped home of Tatooine. There’s reluctant hero, Finn (John Boyega), who is hiding a secret from the woman he loves. And since this is a Star Wars film, there’s BB-8, a spherical droid with as much personality and spunk as R2-D2. The Star Wars franchise is primarily about that elemental struggle of good versus evil and the film delivers a complicated antagonist in the character of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who bears a striking resemblance to the original lord of the dark side, Darth Vader.
The movie takes us on a familiar and comfortable journey as Rey and Finn find themselves in a game of life and death. They are joined in their struggle by legends, people whose acts and
deeds have attained mythic proportions. Time has left its mark on our old friends, Han and Leia, and the camera doesn’t shy away from their deeply lined, tired faces. But underneath their worn exteriors lie their true natures as rebellious risk-takers who are willing to lay their lives down in pursuit of freedom. Because I have a deep respect for the fans who have somehow managed to avoid the abundant internet spoilers and have yet to see the film, the only thing I will say is…nah, I won’t go there.
Writer/Director J.J. Abrams, who is perhaps best known for the television series “Lost” and “Alias,” does a superb job at the helm of this film. Series creator, George Lucas, entrusted the almost-sacred story to Abrams who is able to both pay homage to the previous films and put his own mark on the film by delivering a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This film has more humor than is found in any of the previous films and the pacing is perfect as Abrams uses well-timed comedic lines to balance the exhilarating action sequences. The Force Awakens is also unusual in that it eschews computer generated effects (CG) in favor of practical effects. The explosions are authentic and the colorful interstellar inhabitants are played by real people. I spotted perhaps only three CG-created characters in the entire movie. Similar to the previous films, animatronics and puppetry is utilized, but this time they are more advanced and polished. The practical effects and puppetry both serve to evoke a “realness” to the film but they also act as a nod to the original films which used many of the same techniques.
People love to see films at the cinema because they enjoy a shared, communal experience. We take pleasure in the temporary fellowship that results when we get caught up in a film that elicits strong emotions. Because the Star Wars series is such a huge cultural phenomenon, the camaraderie is palpable while viewing The Force Awakens as the audience bursts into spontaneous applause and cheers at various points in the film. I honestly can’t remember having more fun at the cinema in years.
Bring your kids, even the ones who insist that “Star Wars is silly and stupid,” or the adults and children who insist that they can’t see this film because they never saw the first one. Why? Because this film is more than just a cultural experience. Unlike all the movies that promise the audience something but never fail to fall short, this movie actually delivers.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Composer: John Williams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher.
Run time: 2 hours 15 minutes
See upcoming showtimes for Star Wars here.