So now comes “The Force Awakens” and I didn’t get to review it because the only press screening was held at a time I had to be at work. I decided not to fight the crowds opening weekend and instead saw it late this afternoon on Dec. 24 when my office closed early. So this isn’t a formal review but since a number of people have asked for my take on the film, here it is. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.
I liked it. In fact, it does precisely what I predicted taking the story forward would do: provide an opportunity to show what had happened to our characters while developing new ones within the context of the ongoing battle of good and evil. Darth Vader and the Empire have been succeeded by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, born just months after the release of “Return of the Jedi”) and the First Order. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is now General Leia, the leader of the Resistance which is backed by the remnants of the Republic. The plot – and this is what sets everything in motion – is a search for the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last remaining Jedi.
It’s telling that Lawrence Kasdan contributed to the script. He also contributed to “The Empire Strikes Back,” generally regarded as the best of the original trilogy. While it’s fair to say that the plot mirrors the original “Star Wars” (later renamed “Episode IV: A New Hope”) in a lot of ways, this is a movie that is also character driven. The two characters I was most impressed with here are Finn (John Boyega), a storm trooper who defects, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) whose journey is likely to be the focus of these new films as Luke’s was for the original trilogy (and as the arc of Anakin/Darth Vader mistakenly became the focus of the prequels).
I was very taken by Rey. Not only is Ridley an attractive young woman, she is a talented actress playing a character who is not a passive heroine in need of rescue. Indeed more than once her would be rescuers find she’s more than capable of handling things herself. What’s refreshing about this is that she’s not a cardboard character there to make a “statement.” She’s a fully realized character who knows her strengths, has her doubts about her shortcomings, and is discovering things about herself as she goes along. The female characters were problematic in the original films. We have our affection for Leia but Amidala (in spite of the role being played by the immensely talented Natalie Portman) was just embarrassing.
The other thing the film has going for it – yes, besides the special effects and production values – is the clever way the original characters are used. Rather than bringing them all together early on as if it were a family reunion, they are introduced into the story one by one over the course of the entire film. The return of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is most welcome because it brings back his sardonic humor, which was needed and much lacking in the prequels, replaced by the failed low comedy of Jar Jar Binks, and then not at all.
The filmmakers know that they have several generations of “Star Wars” fans to please, and – as with the J. J. Abrams reboot of “Star Trek,” there are plenty of nods to the original films to keep everyone happy. However the story not only moves forward, it also doesn’t try to answer all our questions in a single film. “Star Wars” is back and the story continues, although perhaps not in the way George Lucas originally intended. He was smart enough to know it was time to let someone else take over. The result is a film that should satisfy fans and, perhaps, make some new ones.
And, for most of us I suspect, leave us eager to see “Episode VIII.”