Or, to butcher Yoda, “It is the past
I will get this out of the way up at
the very front. I loved this movie. Following the sentiments of my fellow Star
Wars nerds, it met my expectations of a Star Wars movie in ways the prequel
trilogy often did not. It was fleet where the prequels were ponderous,
recklessly glossing over the politics of a galaxy far, far away instead of
becoming mired in trade embargos and senate debates.
Like the original movies from the
‘70s and ‘80s, this newest movie relies heavily on the energy of the young cast
to carry it along, with the virtually unknown Daisy Ridley’s gamely shouldering
a big share of the load as the lead, injecting her scavenger-turned-adventurer
with both wonder and reluctance, with both threads feeling genuine. I do feel
there is a lot that kept from the audience on this particular character,
sometimes being too good too quickly at numerous things, that it’s hard to make
a judgement before more has been revealed. However, Ridley did a fine job making
her a likeable and empathetic hero for what she was allowed to work
Of course, the heart of the movie
belongs to John Boyega’s Finn, a man raised from birth to be an Imperial
Stormtrooper, but decides he wants to be anything else. He just has no idea what
that “anything else” will be, and that defines his arc throughout the film. Finn
provides a lion’s share of the levity in the movie, but Boyega imbues the role
with enough charisma and weight that he doesn’t feel like a comedy character,
but rather someone who is completely out of their depth and trying their best to
do the right thing.
It’s Adam Driver as Kylo Ren,
though, that provides the most fascinating performance. Kylo is the next
generation Darth Vader that is plastered all over the materials for the Force
Awakens. Driver succeeds in making a villain who up front looks like a
paint-by-numbers mysterious bad guy, but slowly peels back his layers to reveal
the tangle of doubt, anger, and insecurity that left him prey to the dark side.
However, he is able to maintain just enough malevolence under the surface that
he remains pitiable rather than sympathetic, and that I feel was the correct
choice for his role.
These performances are joined by
Oscar Isaacs’ Poe Dameron, a swashbuckling space pilot whose dashing personality
kicks off the plot and owns the scenes he’s in, but those scenes tend to be few
and far between. There is also Harrison Ford returning as Han Solo, accompanied
by the ever-faithful Chewbacca, and Ford acts with energy hasn’t displayed in a
role since the ‘90s.
As for the movie itself, it feels
like its cut from the same cloth of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and that
lends it a lot of strength. Its high adventure with the right amount of action,
drama, and comedy that gives it a pace and immersion that made the original
trilogy so beloved. It doesn’t take itself so seriously that it becomes as dour
and distant as the prequels, but is not so light as to ruin the illusion that
this is another galaxy all together.
It does stray a little too closely
to the originals at times, and there might be the films one weakness. While
“what is old is new again” is mostly a statement about the series’ return to
form, it is also a criticism that it sometimes aped too much from the first
movie. A great secret stored away in a cute little droid felt a bit too obvious
a nod, and another Death Star (except bigger! And better! And not called a Death
Star!) felt like an unneeded and tacked on threat in what was simply a chase
movie about misfits searching for something vitally important with the whole
galaxy at their heels.
Ultimately, though, I felt the movie
succeeded wildly in handing the baton of to this next generation of space
heroes, leaving me wanting to watch more of the adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe,
And that next adventure is coming a
lot sooner than I expected, in a scant (for the Star Wars series) 18 months,
rather than two full years like I originally expected. But more Star Wars is a
good thing, at least at the moment, if it is as well made as this movie. Here is
to the hope that the franchise finds its own path in the future, rather than
carefully retreading familiar ground.