Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens happened to me last night.
Still haven’t completely processed. Okay.
Spoiler-free review of sorts below.
Let’s be honest, the real question everyone wants an answer to is whether or not they’re going to be disappointed. And for fans who are really deep into the lore, who know the Legends canon, or who have been postulating about the galaxy following the events of Return of the Jedi, a lot of that is down to you personally. What you find acceptable for this story and these characters and what you don’t is all a matter of perspective. I can’t really answer that for you, so all I can truly say is—
—wow. That felt like a Star Wars film.
It helps that the film does bring us back to characters we know and love, of course; one of the biggest problems that the Star Wars prequels had was selling it’s audience on an entirely different state of the universe with characters who sounded familiar in name, but not much else. The Force Awakens has the luxury of gracing us with the presence of old friends, characters who we love to love, and want to reconnect with. But overstating that ignores the presence of the new characters, who are wonderful. For all that we know nothing about them when the lights dim, by halfway into the film they feel like friends.
I want more of Rey, and Finn, and Poe (and BB-8!). It was perhaps the biggest feat the movie had to pull off, and it managed the task with a sensation of effortlessness that I don’t believe anyone anticipated. So prepare to fall in love with with a few new friends. Be prepared to invest in their stories and be pissed by the end that you have to wait for two more films to know how their stories turn out.
This movie is smart in how it uses its homages. There are plenty of them, set up to mirror A New Hope in a myriad of ways, but they don’t grate the way much of the prequel symmetry did because they feel a little more subtle, a winking nod at what came before. Like Episode IV, the movie excels at painting a new picture of the galaxy with minimal brushstrokes. Just enough information to make us curious, not enough to give it all away. Everyone will come out of it with thoughts and theories and so many questions. John Williams’ score is there, backing this behemoth of an undertaking with the themes that we adore, accompanied by brand new motifs that echo the original soundtracks just right.
The movie is oddly structured, but it helps to make the story unpredictable. There is a lot of thrilling action to go around, lots of new tech, new planets, new aliens, and all of it in the glorious funky technicolor that Star Wars has always done best. I missed this universe. The ease of it, the sensation of fun, the ability to explore endlessly. These films lose the claustrophobia of the prequels; rather than a simple Point A to Point B to Temple C structure, the movements feel less restricted, and offer us the wide range that this galaxy has to offer.
One thing that struck me about the film is how expressive everything and everyone manages to be. It’s a common critique for certain aspects of Star Wars to come off “wooden,” but The Force Awakens goes out of its way to warm things up. BB-8 is staggeringly vocal and mobile, stormtroopers give off actual personality under their armor, even Chewie (a known quantity to Star Wars fans) is suddenly graced with more movement, reactions, and subtlety. It’s fascinating to stumble into this organic quality, and hopefully something that future Star Wars films will continue to excel at.
There is heartbreak here. Heartbreak on par with the most painful moments of the Star Wars saga. It’s strange to realize that The Force Awakens, for all the light-hearted adventure it brings, is a very dark tale. That despite all the enjoyment there is to be had, the oblique dance this film is doing with the events that occurred post-Return o the Jedi informs us of a great deal of tragedy that we have to drink in slowly. It takes time to absorb this new flow of events, more time than the film can allot for–expect to be mulling it over long after the credits have rolled.
Throughout all of this, Episode VII stays true to the fundamentals of what Star Wars is–the interplay of good and evil. Order and rebellion. Family and causes. And, of course, the nature of the Force and the question of its will.
There’s already too much hyperbole surrounding this film, and I don’t feel inclined to add to it. Saying it’s the “greatest” Star Wars film outside Empire Strikes Back is a premature exercise at best when we don’t know the entire shape of this new trilogy. But I’m firmly on board with more of this story, with the journey of these characters, with the chance to explore the universe that the Empire and Rebel Alliance left in their wake. It feels like an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan again. What’s more, it’s an exciting time to watch a new generation become Star Wars fans. I cannot wait to stumble across tiny Resistance pilots, and little girls who walk around with BB-8s at their heels. You can be sure that this film will call more people to the fold, and that’s a welcome state of affairs; it’s no fun being part of a fandom that slowly disappears into the Dune Sea.
The Force Awakens. Suddenly, the name seems somehow more appropriate. We were, all of us, lying in wait for this return. And now we must all wait a little bit longer, as we have in decades past, to the see this story through.
Emily Asher-Perrin is incredibly impressed with herself for getting through that review and not spoiling a damn thing, but please hurry up ad see the movie because she wants to taaaaaaalk about it. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.