Official Star Wars Movie Poster

Source: www.starwars.com

So it has been nearly two weeks since Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit the theaters and it continues to take the box office by storm.  I think by now, it will be relatively safe to post a review which may contain SPOILERS so if you have yet to see it, feel free to click away.

Ok, assuming you’re still here, lets get on to the review!  I’m going to try and stay as unbiased as possible because I’ve loved Star Wars as long as I can remember, I tolerate the Prequel trilogy (having read the novelizations and some of the old Expanded Universe stuff that supported it) and see the value in them.  I’ve played almost ever Star Wars video game to come out over the last 20 years.  I read all the new Marvel comics in the new rebooted universe.  So, I am rather obsessed with all things Star Wars.  That being said, I think J.J. Abrams took a very challenging task head-on, and created one of the best films in the saga.

The challenge for J.J. Abrams was to bring us back to the universe we all loved, introduce and make us care about new characters, overcome the shame the saga suffered after the Episodes I-III, please as much of a 40 year old fan-base as possible, draw in an entirely new generation, and (it needs to be said) be a vehicle to both expand the lore for new expanded universe content as well as a new generation of Star Wars merchandise.  Despite some of the hate that has arisen from this movie, I feel J.J. Abrams succeeded on all parts.

Bringing Us Back:
SW:TFA succeeds incredibly well at this.  From the roar of a TIE fighter as it blasts its way free of a Star Destroyer, to old characters returning, this is in many ways more of a Star Wars movie than Episodes I-III.  The spirit of the original trilogy is there.  The look and feel of the visual effects embraces the conventional methods of the original trilogy while using CGI as an enhancement, not as a crutch.  The lightsaber duels lack the finesse of Ep. I-III and return to the more raw and visceral duels of the classic trilogy.  The emotion of John Williams’ beautiful scoring touches on motifs of the old while introducing us to new fanfares.  I saw it both times on the IMAX screen (one in 70mm resolution) and the movie pulls you in and screams “Star Wars is back!” at every turn.

The New Characters:
Despite the raging spirit of the classic trilogy, the focus is clearly on the new cast of characters.  SW:TFA does more to make the viewer fall in love with the characters than any other Star Wars movie before it.  The characters are interesting, have their flaws, and the journey of the entire movie is about them.  I’ve heard many complain that the movie was just a re-hashing of the classic trilogy and that is true for the overall external conflicts, but my enjoyment during this was watching the new cast grow and react to the circumstances in which they were placed.  It provided an interesting perspective on the individual characters.  When Rey was captured an taken to the base Princess Leia style, she was used to surviving on her own and works out an escape since she feels nobody is coming for her.  We get to see how these new characters react differently when placed in similar situations and, for me, it allowed both the homages to the classics while developing the new characters.  I even greatly appreciated the purposefully deceiving trailers that led to the assumption that Finn was going to be the Jedi character.  I thought the appearances of the older cast members was done tastefully as well, to help bridge the generational gap and pay tribute to the classics.  I’m sure we all would have loved to see more Leia and Luke and the other characters, but the story demanded they take a step back and allow the new generation to rise.

Overcoming the shame:
There is no doubt that J.J. Abrams and Disney wanted to separate themselves as much as possible from the Prequels.  Rather than focusing on complicated galactic politics, they told the tale of characters and their respective journeys.  There’s no Jar Jar…no Ewoks…or awkward romances to distract form the story.  The overall story does lack some of the structure that even the Prequels had, and elements like the Starkiller Base and Poe Dameron’s survival didn’t get the attention they should have, but to me, this was a minor flaw since the story was about Rey, Finn, Han, and Kylo.  The Starkiller Base plot was more a tool to push the story forward and feel that too much emphasis on the “Destroy the big station” plot would have been boring, seeing as it was done in two other installments.  And because we didn’t explore the inner conflicts of Poe Dameron, his return really only served to conclude the external Starkiller conflict.  Despite its rushing over elements like this, I find it easier to make peace with these flaws.  Much easier than the rushed glossy nature of Ep I-III.

Bridging the Gap:
SW:TFA bridges the gap exceptionally well.  To me, they focused on the right things.  We got enough fan-service to appease our love of the classic trilogy without really losing focus on the new generation.  I think Han embodied this bridge by taking upon himself an Obi-Wan like role.  His monologue about it all being true serves as a great bookend to the skepticism of A New Hope.  For the new generation, the new characters become our bridge.  We have a conflicted and emotional villain, a strong female lead, and a guy trying to find out who he is.  These are character traits embodied by much of the rising generation and are things they easily relate to.  Star Wars, for them, becomes a cathartic experience.  As the characters find their way, it gives hope that the young viewers might do so as well.  As such it has a nearly universal appeal, and as such, high scores among the critics and fans as well.

Expanding the Universe:
There is so much in these new movies that was left unexplored.  How did 3PO get his red arm?  Who the heck is Maz Kenata?  Who are some of the patrons of Maz’s watering hole?  Who was the old son of Alderaan in the beginning?  Who are these death squads and gangs after Han?  What happened to Phasma?  While a lot of these characters exist to sell toys, these are the kinds of injects that lead to some beloved material in the Expanded Universe.  As a kid I read Tales of the Mos Eisley Cantina  and Tales of Jabba’s Palace books as a youth and they filled in these gaps with IG-88, Greedo, and the Ithorian.  Watching SW:TFA made me excited about the new era of expanded universe content as writers take the lead and fill in these gaps.  SW:TFA, as such, not only becomes a tool for creating new action figures, but also new stories, video games, and journeys in the coming years.  It will become a springboard for new stories to fall in love with, and that is probably what excites me most about this movie.

So, in short:
Go see this movie. I’m already trying to work the timing of a third showing.  It is a highly enjoyable 2 hour romp in a universe that has been a part of pop-culture for nearly 40 years.

RATING:  5/5 STOMACHS