Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, and Harrison Ford
Nobody thought we’d see Star Wars as a live action property again. George Lucas had so thoroughly poisoned the well with his truly abysmal prequels that everyone had turned on him. The amount of hatred spewed his way has been the thing of legend. There’s even a damn documentary about how hated he is. And he knew it. So while Star Wars was in his care, the franchise would basically stay in the cartoons and extended universe novels. But one day, Disney pulled off a miraculous rescue mission and bought the entirety of Lucasfilm for $4 Billion. And then they immediately announced Star Wars was gonna essentially last the rest of time, getting more entries in the main series while making spinoff movies in between the main entries. Taking George Lucas out of the Star Wars equation did something we never thought possible. We got excited for Star Wars again.
Cut to 2015 and Star Wars mania kicked off in a big way. Every trailer was released like an event, breaking the internet in its wake. The new footage put together with the John Williams music just set about everyone off, whipping everyone into a frenzy. Seeing the old cast (of the little we actually saw) drove people nuts. It was finally real and JJ Abrams, the shepherd of the new era, seemed to have delivered the goods. And his proclivity of keeping things secret in the marketing so we would go into a movie fresh was paying off here. No one knew what was happening and what direction this series would be taking, all of which was a good thing. Going in the opposite direction of prequels, where nothing surprised except for how incompetent they were. So when the world (based on the box office, that could be taken literally) sat down on opening day, it was with a fresh on somehow untainted excitement for Star Wars again. But the big question remained. Was the movie itself a success or was this just a massive byproduct of Disney marketing? Based off their hilarious mismarketing of The Lone Ranger and John Carter, marketing wasn’t the only thing.
Set 30 years after the events of Return of The Jedi, the galaxy isn’t the bastion of peace and harmony that we all thought it would be after the destruction of the Emperor. The Republic has grown back to power, but didn’t really eradicate the Empire. Just sent them off to the distance, not worrying too much about them and allowing them to regrow into the First Order. Leia is leading a group called the Resistance, whose sole mission is to combat the First Order. So while the galaxy is in a better place than it was in the original trilogy, there is still danger. None of this is in the movie, mainly laid out in the opening crawl. Also in the opening crawl is the MacGuffin set up for the movie, setting all the events into play. Luke Skywalker is the MacGuffin here, having been missing for many years. The First Order wants to eradicate him as he is the last Jedi known in the galaxy, while Leia wants him back for the same reason. So Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), the best fighter pilot in the Resistance, is on a mission that might very well lead him to Luke. But the First Order is on the path too. And with that, the movie begins.
Right off the bat, this movie feels much more like Star Wars than any of those shit ass prequels ever could. It’s obvious this is being made by people who love the franchise and not by a man crippled by the success of it who has no actual interest in it anymore. JJ’s proclivity for aping the filmmakers of his youth has paid off here, making a movie that brings the franchise right on track. Now, this isn’t an entirely perfect movie but that’s really besides the point. He had to right the ship and making something that was at the very least better than the prequels and actually watchable. And he did that in spades.
JJ has always been a master of casting. That’s never been a criticism one of the internet sheeple has ever thrown at him in the myriad ways they try to shit on him. From his work on TV in Alias and Lost to his work in the Star Trek reboot and Super 8, casting has been on point and this is no different. This might be the best casting he’s ever done, because he has brought together a new crew of actors that immediately fit into the iconic nature of the series. They’re already loved and for good reason. The actors are perfect in the roles and the roles they are given are fantastic. They aren’t given simple retreads of old characters, fitting into easy roles that match up to the old series. There’s no new Luke role, no Han or Leia. No Vader even. Just new characters that feel of a piece.
Daisy Ridley, a newcomer, is possibly the MVP of this movie as she just takes the whole thing and fills in the role of our new hero Rey. She is the Luke only in the sense that she is now our focus, the one who is gonna be the potential savior of the universe. We don’t even realize that until halfway through when we find out she is Force sensitive. And for her big screen debut, she owns it. Absolutely sells the toughness and the kindness and the capability of the character. It’s a star making turn that is electric. It’s gonna be a real treat to see her in the future and to see what comes of Rey. John Boyega is great as well, playing a Stormtrooper going against his brainwashing to no longer be apart of the evil empire His journey is great, as he isn’t a simple hero. Honestly, he is a mix of hero and coward. Always wanting to run as far away from trouble to save his own skin, he can’t turn when things are going bad. That mixture is brought to life too perfection and he sells it, nailing the conflict and the humor all in one. Oscar Issac has the simplest character but not the easiest to play. Poe is simply a good man. No conflict, just going into the fray because it’s right. He’s a traditional hero but with all the charm and wit of Han Solo. And Issac just nails it, coming off like a true star. He can do amazing character work in indies and amazing work like this. But of the new class, the real MVP might go to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. It’s close between him and Rey.
Kylo Ren is the most fascinating character at the very least, since his journey is maybe the one that broadens the universe out a lot more. There’s a scene where he is essentially praying to the melted mask of Darth Vader, asking for guidance because the light side is tugging at him. He wants to be dark but there’s such a struggle in him that he doesn’t know what to do. Right there, that is the most fascinating thing in the movie. The dark side has never been portrayed as anything but complete. Even Vader’s turn at the end of Jedi wasn’t anything like this. Vader did that for his son, his son getting through to him. There wasn’t any conflict in Vader till then. Considering what Ren does in this, he isn’t Vader. Family isn’t gonna get through to him so easily. Vader was always dark and had that pulling at him. Kylo, on the other hand, is naturally good but forces himself to do bad. A lot of the why is not explained yet, setting the table for work in the future movies. But the only things we know is that he was corrupted by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) after being shipped away from his family to train under Luke. Kylo took that very hardly, being separated from his family. His family? Han Solo and Leia Organa.
The way this movie uses the old cast is perfect. They have to make this new series about the young guns so they have to aim it at them. So by using Luke as a MacGuffin and a cameo at the very end is ingenious. He was the center of the OT, so by making a movie that works without him shows us all that the series is in good hands. And knowing that he’s gonna play into the future makes us all very excited to see what’s gonna come, setting onto an especially uncharted territory. Leia is used just fine, getting some emotional work as Kylo’s mother. But she’s used as military for the most part and the orchestrator of the search for Luke. The real centerpiece from the original trilogy is Han. Han becomes the transitory point for the new crew, building them up to send them off into the new movies. And Ford is fantastic, easily bringing Han back to life and looking alive once again. The OT was all about how the past generation screwed it all up for the new group, forcing them to fix their mistakes. This trilogy is gonna do that again, and Han is the perfect man to use to hammer that point home. He failed his son and holds that guilt strongly. So of course the movie is gonna have to feature a scene of Han trying to fix his mistake, in one of the most heartwrenching scenes in the whole series. Han, Leia and Luke all failed and now it’s up to the new crew to fix it.
One of the main complaints of the movie is that it is too faithful for A New Hope and the whole structure of it is just A New Hope with a new coat of paint. But for me, that isn’t a problem at all. This series has always been about the mirroring of the past to the present and how things change. And to get as far away from the prequels as possible, they went to the beginning and started from there. So yes, the movie features the barebones plotting of A New Hope but with enough changes to make it feel fresh and exciting. And it ends on such a note that isn’t gonna be a simple retread of Empire. Because this one doesn’t end on such a perfect note like A New Hope. People are hurt, the First Order has taken a big hit but so has the Republic. Everything is up in the air and it’s exciting. This feels very much like what Creed did a month ago. Using the past to inform the future. Is there sometimes too much of a faithfulness going on? Sure. Some references might be a little too cute and force fed. But overall, it really invigorates the notion that the galaxy is up for grabs again.
JJ has done amazing work here. This is by far the best movie he’s done. It’s got problems, sure. The plotting is a little too convenient at points. The Han arrival being the worst part of the movie and the most blatant example of convenience. But honestly, A New Hope is filled to the brim with convenience too. As it is filled with a little rushing in the plotting department too. Where Luke just becomes a crack ace pilot with little training in A New Hope, Rey uses her powers a little too easily here. Maybe there’ll be a reason for that in the future, but for now it seems a little too easy. I’ll chalk up her besting of Kylo in the climactic lightsaber duel down to Kylo being a chaotic mess who wasn’t thinking clear, but the Jedi Mind Trick is a little too much. But JJ has crafted a beautiful, propulsive movie that evokes Star Wars of old while moving it into the future. The visuals are rich and the action is fantastic. Knocked it right out of the park, leaving the franchise in a good place for future directors.
It’s unbelievable that we are all excited again. After the stench of the prequels, everyone rightfully just put Star Wars hope away. But this series is back on track like no ones business. It ignores the prequels and builds on the original trilogy. Thrills us while setting up mysteries to be dealt with later. Mysteries that I’m gonna be chewing on for the next two years. Who is Supreme Leader Snoke and how did he corrupt Kylo? What exactly happened to Luke? What’s Rey’s deal/is she Luke’s daughter? So much to chew on for the future while reminiscing on the fantastic package we were given here. I loved the movie. I’m gonna be chewing on it for a while. So this review might seem a little haphazard. But I needed to write a bit on it. Is the movie perfect? No. Some slow parts and a little too much reliance on convenience/nostalgia. But for the most part, this is a high quality pic that reaches dizzying highs that make you remember what blockbuster cinema can be. The Force has truly awoken and it’s gonna be a hell of a time.