Star Wars: The Force Awakens / **** ½

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterIt’s been frustrating waiting to write my review for The Force Awakens. I saw the film over my Christmas break with my son; however, I also spent much of the break recuperating from arm surgery, which left me unable to type. And in the meantime, the prevailing conversation about The Force Awakens has come to fixate on how much it apes A New Hope, rather than focusing on the film itself. So now that I finally feel like I can write again, I feel somewhat forced into a defensive position, explaining why I really enjoyed the film in the face of all of the grumbling and “plot hole” articles.

Because, yes, I really enjoyed this movie a lot. Sure, you could argue that it’s the nostalgia pop, or the chance to see a new Star Wars movie in theaters with my son, making it feel like a new tradition. Or you can argue that the film works because it’s “safe”; it doesn’t take many chances, instead falling back on the formula of A New Hope to a fault, and simply giving the fans a reboot of the series instead of trying something new. And honestly, I won’t argue with any of that. All of those made a huge impact on me. Yes, it was amazing to see a new Star Wars along with my young son, who was bouncing up and down in his seat in excitement before it even started. Yes, the nostalgia beats worked for me (I may have seen Han Solo step onto the Millennium Falcon in commercials over and over again, and I still got a little choked seeing it in the film, and I don’t want to even get into the goose bumps upon hearing that iconic blast as John Williams’ score kicked off the film). And I can’t argue in the least that the film plays it safe, echoing beats from the first film to the point of occasional distraction. (I agree a lot with Tasha Robinson, formerly of The Dissolve, who said that the film’s echoing of the Death Star is the biggest problem, because this is the third time we’re getting that, instead of the second.)

But for all of that, I feel like the film’s getting short shrift for the things it does right. The new characters are uniformly great, coming to life and resonating in a way that no one from the prequels managed. Some of that is thanks to performances, yes, but the roles are more complex and interesting as well, taking elements of all of the original crew from A New Hope but doing new things with them. John Boyega’s Finn is a great reluctant hero, Daisy Ridley’s Rey is exciting and likable, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron takes a small part and makes it great through swagger, and even BB-8 is impossible not to love a little. And none of that even gets into Kylo Ren, who takes what could have been a simple Darth Vader homage and makes it into something more flawed, tragic, and sympathetic. So, sure, I loved seeing the old crew, but it’s great that the film works every bit as well when it’s the new cast carrying things.

More than that, Abrams does a great job bringing back a sense of fun and wonder to the series. The action sequences are genuinely exciting, bringing a great kinetic style to bear and bringing the series into the modern era without the awkward staging of Lucas’s prequels. More than that, there’s a nice sense of the grit and grime of the original films again, as though we’re in a lived-in galaxy full of stories that exist all around us. And best of all, there’s genuine humor to be found, letting the characters breathe and exist beyond their plot constrictions.

Is The Force Awakens a little safe, a little too reliant on the past? Sure. But for all of that, it made me feel excited and joyous in a way the prequels never did, and made me excited for a new Star Wars trilogy in a way I didn’t think I would manage these days. I hear the complaints, and acknowledge a lot of them (well, not the plothole articles, which I find wearying, to say nothing of how much they often apply to the original trilogy just as much), and can’t even argue them. But in the end? I’m not sure I care enough about any of them, or that any of them are enough to take away the sense of fun, excitement, and joy I got from this film.


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