Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues to take the world by storm, but that shouldn’t be news to anyone. It is Star Wars after all, but with J.J. Abrams at the helm, things looked really good from the get-go. The film isn’t perfect (pacing is sluggish at times, and villains, at this point, are under-cooked), but it is highly enjoyable, and that’s all thanks to solid writing, and the collage of themes and characters both old and new. Abrams, after proving his mettle revitalizing the Star Trek franchise, brings us a story that expands on everything that has come before and, more importantly, hits the right chord with fans.
Episode VII, smartly, does not rely on nostalgia. The Bad Robot team knows this universe well, and they pick up on the previous saga’s material in ways both reverent and forward-thinking. The prequels were, at best, a mess and it’s mostly because Lucas was painted into a corner leading up to Episode IV – that, and abundant CG, and poor writing/casting, and, much more, were his undoing. Worse, they were all flash and forced sentimentality with very little substance or resonance. But here, with a seemingly limitless canvas, Abrams and company offer, more or less, a new origin story and a true passing of the torch, err lightsaber to the likes of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Issac.
The Star Wars films have always been about family, specifically the ties between generations. When it comes to certain characters (who will remain nameless to prevent spoiling anything), you have to give a lot of credit to Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and Abrams for crafting a yarn that fits right into the soap opera aspect of Star Wars canon. What’s better, The Force Awakens feels like a true extension of the films and players we grew up loving, not something tacked on too long after the fact.
More to that point, this post-Jedi world feels real, evolved and lived-in. While it was evident in 2009’s Star Trek, practical effects and environments bring so much to these fascinating universes (it’s possible that Mad Max: Fury Road might have influenced the team a little more than originally planned as well). After all, when people run from something, and there are explosions to react to, that energy offers real tangibility, and helps us get lost in the story along with the protagonists. Needless to say, it is action-packed.
The Force Awakens is thrilling (if a bit predictable) because the inventiveness and ingenuity to the characters, vehicles, settings, etc. aren’t relegated to a digital realm – that may have been pioneering a decade ago, but Star Wars became Star Wars because it seemed real, albeit set in a galaxy far, far away. The film asks questions we hope will be answered in the next two installments. But even if you don’t read the comics or novels to connect all the dots (which kind of makes it hard to be a fan without doing extensive research) the film puts enough out there to grab hold of; the rest is left to speculation.
John Williams (with help from co-conductor/orchestrator William Ross) revisits the themes of old, but while there’s criticism and longing for the original Star Wars cues (to fair extent, those are touched upon), remember, this is a new saga. Take it or leave it, Williams knows what he’s doing, and as too much nostalgia would ring false for these succeeding chapters, it’s best to recognize this for what it is – an extension of the series and advancement on the narrative that has been ingrained in our culture for almost 40 years. It’s great to see the likes of Han Solo and Leia Organa, but, smartly, the series focuses on those who will now carry the saga. So Rey, Finn, and Poe, even BB-8 are the central characters with the returning cast serving as shepherds to those inheriting the legacy.
Successful stories need to have a kind of transparency between chapters (on a grand scale mind you), but not give anything away. Because this film is planned as part of three overarching installments, this has less finality than Lucas’ 1977 classic, and as such, The Force Awakens already has a Lord of the Rings feel to it – giving us hints of what’s to come – and making us crave more story (and answers!) as the credits roll. Hopefully, we will see Jackson-esqe results with what Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow do from here on in, but the force is strong with Abrams, and we have a good feeling about this.