[No spoilers, I promise]
I finally made it to Star Wars. It cost us biting the bullet and driving to the busted boom-town of Williston but me and Carjo finally got our nerd on. And we liked it.
For Carjo, who has never been a big Star Wars fan, Rey was the key to her loving this movie. In fact, she pretty much is the key to the movie working. Daisy Ridley has to do a lot of heavy lifting in this movie. In essence she’s Luke rebooted. A majority of the story is hers (though John Boyega’s Finn is important – more on him later) as she stumbles into a galaxy-wide war and becomes the focus of our villian, Kylo Ren. Because you know, the force is strong in her. So Ridley has to have enough gravitas to do the heavy lifting but not overdo it because hey, this is a Star Wars movie. That’s a lot of an unknown actor to pull off but she does it in spades.
Now on to Finn, played by John Boyega. In the original trilogy, it was pretty much a whitewash except for Billy Dee Williams’ Lando. But now we have as the second lead the erstwhile storm trooper Finn. Again it’s a pretty big deal to be have a franchise this big on your back but damn, Boyega is great. His character is in way over his head and yet there’s enough resolve in him to do the right thing and then some. I’m here to say the franchise is in good hands.
One has to hand it to Disney, Kasdan and Arndt, and JJ Abrams for not playing it safe. A major (some one would say THE MAJOR) move franchise that is being brought to a new generation not with a couple of white males in the lead but a young ass-kicking woman and a young ass-kicking person of color. It’s sad to say but that takes balls and vision. Hollywood is conservative. Hollywood is risk averse. Most studios would have played this as safe as possible. Someone said fuck it and we should all be glad they did.
Our chief villain (there’s a few) is a Vader-worshipping black cloaked dark-side Jedi named Kylo Ren. He’s played by Adam Driver. That’s right. The guy from Girls. Driver nails it whenever he takes his mask off. He’s powerful, impulsive, temperamental, unsure, and rebellious. Where the franchise is going with him is going to be interesting but again we’re in good hands.
In regards to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, we get exactly what we expected: two actors returning to their first iconic roles and nailing it. Harrison has more to do and he’s having a great time. Part of this no doubt is because the dialog is far better that what Lucas came up with but Ford is always game for this sort of thing. It makes me wonder what could be done with an Indiana Jones movie that had a decent script. Speaking of scripts, Carrie Fisher probably could have done better if she could have written her own lines; her purpose in the plot is somewhat secondary though that could change with the next installment. Still, Leia could have benefited by some of Fisher’s trademark wit.
And that’s probably my only gripe about this movie. The laughs are somewhat staged though I did snort loudly a few times. I’ve been hard on JJ Abrams for other films (ST:ID will never be forgotten you bastards!) but he nailed this one. For one thing there’s none of those glaring plot holes that marked even Abrams’ best work. I suppose that’s because Disney brought in Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt rather than Abrams’ usual cohorts (you know of the evil of which I speak). This movie just picks up and moves, avoiding every pitfall that befell those wretched prequels and pretty much recaptures the joy and wonder of the first trilogy.
The Force Awakens does borrow liberally from those first three movies, both in tone and tropes. The thing is, it does it right. This is a movie that has a ball being a movie. One could argue that BB-8 is either a crass attempt at a new toy or a pale imitation of R2D2 but you can’t help rooting for the little droid. When it goes rolling across the open desert all you can think of is “this is Star Wars and it’s fun again”, not whether Disney put the thing there to sell toys. There are a couple scenes where BB-8 meets its forebear and the second one actually makes the crowd pump their fists.
That is what this movie is about. Joy. Fun. Sitting back in your seat and your troubles are light years away as the movie rockets along, one close call after another, one fist-pump after another (Ren has a HUGE one), marveling at a world that might not be as deep as say Fury Road’s elaborate creation but is far less grim and edged with some hope. I’m more eager for the next installment than I’ve been for anything since Fellowship of the Ring. Take my money. Take it now.