J.J. Abrams is like the chameleon auteur, and with Star Wars: The Force Awakens he does what he does best: channels his own personal adoration and fanaticism into a well crafted love letter to the series. In other words, he gave us fans what we wanted. It might be far from the most imaginative entry in the series, (George Lucas’ oft-maligned prequel trilogy had imagination in spades, for better or worse) but Abrams more than compensates with the heart that he injects into every second of The Force Awakens.
Without spoiling too much, the plot can be summarized as a spiritual near-remake of Lucas’ original Star Wars: A New Hope. While many have criticized the latest installment for its ostensible lack of originality, I interpreted Episode VII‘s narrative, stylistic, and thematic similarities a bit more optimistically. This is a film that solidifies and reaffirms these 38-year-old thematic threads, suggesting that, at least in this galaxy far, far away, everything is cyclical and passed down from generation to generation. This notion fits in nicely with the clear influence and emphasis here on nostalgia – every snap-hiss and hum of a lightsaber, or serene shot of an introduction to an old character will pull, successfully I’d wager, on the heart strings of every fan who grew up watching the original trilogy.
These ideas of good and evil living inside us all, the space operatic notions of destiny (heightened emotionally by John Williams’ legendary motifs), and the way these literal wars among the galaxy’s stars keep repeating themselves resonated strongly with me. Where Jurassic World, another film drawing on the nostalgic power of its predecessors, failed The Force Awakens succeeds: rather than simply throwing elements of fan service at us with a wink, Episode VII‘s callbacks, homages, and nostalgic aspects are thoroughly and inextricably interwoven with its narrative and themes. In other words, I bought into what Abrams was selling.
And what he is selling is a space opera, epic and grand and befitting of the title of Star Wars. It is visually rich and lush, (this is one of the best looking movies of the year) and exhibits some truly bombastic action sequences. The newcomers are all fantastic, with some (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver) developed more thoroughly than others (Oscar Isaac). If the film has a weakness, it is in its antagonist, whose status as a villain-in-training came as a surprise. As such, The Force Awakens ultimately lacks a larger than life, menacing villainous presence, deflating the film ever so slightly. However, Driver’s Kylo Ren’s development will likely enrich future installments in this new trilogy, and is ultimately emblematic of the film’s strengths as a whole – The Force Awakens, as evidenced by a late film lightsaber duel that screams “destiny” in every frame, calls back to the adventures and characters of a time past, but thrums with the promise of this “next generation.” Abrams did it again, and better than ever. But now, help us Rian Johnson, you’re our only hope.
★★★★½ out of 5