So I saw the new Star Wars on Friday. I loved it. I somehow managed to avoid spoilers beforehand, which was nice. I was unable, however, to avoid reactions completely. So, while the majority were positive, I did notice a couple of critical tweets.
While watching the movie, I noticed things I didn’t like. Some of them mirrored the critical tweets I had read. But I still loved the movie. It’s possible to be aware of a movie’s messiness and to still think it’s one of the best movies of the year. That basically describes my feelings about every David O. Russell movie.
A normal review of mine would include thoughts on the movie’s flaws. But Star Wars is different. It’s tied to feelings of child-like excitement that I’d rather embrace than suppress right now. So here are the five things I absolutely loved about The Force Awakens:
The special effects: A lot was made before the movie was released about how Abrams made the return to the kinds of practical effects used in the first trilogy that made that universe seem full of real places. But, of course, George Lucas didn’t make a conscious decision to use practical effects in the first trilogy; he just used what he had available, and he did the same thing when he did the prequels, unaware (as most of Hollywood was at the time) how much jumping into the deep end of digital effects contributes to the lack of life in a movie. Abrams has the benefit of hindsight, and he uses it in Force Awakens to craft new planets and action setpieces that feel like they’re taking place in a three-dimensional world. One of the joys of the original was that the universe that Lucas created felt like a place that if you closed your eyes and concentrated hard enough, you might just sink into it. The lightsabers leave behind marks, the ships have wear and tear, and the alien creatures don’t look like they were programmed on a computer. Speaking of which…
The creatures: One thing that the prequels got right was the creativity they brought to all the different kinds of aliens in the Star Wars universe. But Lucas went overboard, expanding the roster of unique creatures but forgetting the specificity of the aliens from the original trilogy. In real life, you don’t encounter many different cultures everywhere you go; likewise, in the original trilogy, there are only a few scenes in which the breadth of the universe’s life forms is hinted at: the cantina, the bounty hunters on the Imperial cruiser, Jabba’s palace. Force Awakens mirrors the original trilogy in this way. The creatures are creative, but Abrams remembers that less is more.
The old cast: Abrams has gotten a lot of flack for doubling down on nostalgia and not much else in films like Super 8 and Star Trek into Darkness. Personally, I think he evokes those feelings so well that it strengthens the weaker aspects of his movies. And, in Force Awakens, simply bringing back Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill (not to mention Chewie, R2-D2, and C-3PO) is enough to bring about those feelings. But the arc that the screenwriters have given Han and (now General) Leia deepens those characters in ways the prequels failed to do with any of its holdover characters. The decisions they make are central to the movie’s themes and move the plot along past the point of pure nostalgia.
The new cast: And yet what makes The Force Awakens such a fun experience are the new players. Daisy Ridley’s Rey makes an exciting everywoman to root for with an appealing independence that differentiates her from the whiny Luke in the original trilogy. She’s a joy to watch, especially when paired with John Boyega’s bumbling stormtrooper Finn. And Oscar Isaac’s Poe has the potential to become the roguish, one-lining Han Solo an action-adventure movie needs. The Force Awakens was a well-made movie all around, but these three actors made it enormously thrilling.
The potential: So the movie was an amazing experience, but what made it transcend the 135-minute runtime was the potential for the future. Abrams not only made a standalone classic sci-fi action epic, he set the stage for endless possibilities for the future. We know what the next movie will involve- Abrams’s breathtaking final shot, pulling taut the tension between the past and the future, saw to that. But it seems as though Abrams got most of his dependence on the past trilogies out of the way in this one, including a throwback plot involving a Death-Star-like weapon. So that means the next two movies in the trilogy could lead anywhere. After such a strong first entry, what we’re left with is a new hope all over again.