Star Wars: The Force Awakens ★★★★★

The fact that I started crying as soon as the iconic yellow Star Wars logo blasted onto the screen and John Williams' classic horn theme filled the theatre should immediately invalidate my review of this movie. I'm unable to be objective on this, because Star Wars is so much more than a movie for me. One might wonder why JJ Abrams decided to so rigidly adhere to the formula established in A New Hope for this movie. It is at once the film's most powerful and its most creatively-limiting feature. I would suggest that it is because Abrams understands the power of myth. We tell the same stories because we must. They are the most fundamental to our humanity. What is more quintessentially human than the struggle between the Dark Side and the Light? And what is more informative of that struggle than our desire to belong and to have purpose?

George Lucas was a visionary, but one that could never experience Star Wars as a viewer, because he was so in the middle of it.
Abrams grew up on Star Wars just like the rest of us, and is able to get at the heart of why these stories, these images, and these characters spoke to us. The Force Awakens works on that fundamental level, and will undoubtedly be that formative experience for a generation, like the original films were and then the prequels after them. (Yes, if you talk to kids born in the 90s, they have that affection for The Phantom Menace.)

But more than that, Abrams has made a movie that works not just as an entry point to the series for a new generation of fans, but as a love letter and an invitation to return to all of those fans who have been there the whole time. When Han Solo first appears on screen and says, "Chewie, we're home," he is speaking for all of us. Decades after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens exists in a world at once familiar and greatly changed. The ruins of Star Destroyers and Imperial walkers mark the landscape with the scars of battle. Yet the heroes of the original films are all but forgotten. In the absence of their presence they have become myths. The archetypes from the original film are all here. The mysterious Supreme Leader has apparently risen to replace Emperor Palpatine, and his captains General Hux and Kylo Ren are very much versions of Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. On the heroic side, Poe Dameron is something of a cross between Wedge Antilles and Han Solo, while Finn and Rey are basically amalgams of Han and Luke.

It's so familiar, yet what this film does right that so many recent nostalgia films — Spectre, Jurassic World, and Abrams' own Star Trek Into Darkness — have failed at is to make the fan service feel organic to the film and the story. Chewie, Han, and Leia are not cameos here, they are essential to the action not just on a plot level but thematically. Star Wars has always been something of a Dickensian world, one in which destiny and choice are intertwined.

Kylo Ren is at once a replacement for and an inversion of Darth Vader. As seen in the trailer, he is something of a disciple, a type of neo-Nazi desperate to do justice to the ideals of Vader's rule. What is interesting, though, is the way Vader's redemption is ignored to make him a martyr for the Dark Side, and the way Kylo Ren's struggle is inverted to be someone who tries to suppress his own innate goodness to fulfill Vader's dark legacy. He wears a mask not because he needs it, but as a symbolic and deranged homage to his hero. He lacks Vader's grace and his intimidation comes not in the form of power but of petulance. Adam Driver is fantastic in the role, capturing the rage and the insecurity.

Indeed, this is the first Star Wars film without a hint of a bad performance or wooden dialogue. Abrams did a hell of a job casting this, as the chemistry between all the actors, new and old, is perfect. The film's biggest achievement is not just doing justice to the Star Wars of so many childhoods, but creating a new wave of indelible and iconic moments, images, and characters so immediately. I have seen this movie exactly once, and already there are moments in it that quintessentially and memorably rank among my favourite Star Wars memories.

Fuck, man. What a movie this is.

Joshua liked this review