One man's grateful take on the newest episode of a cultural touchstone
Thank you, Lord. Given everything else going on in the world today, I really don’t think anyone could have handled the crushing disappointment of a bad Star Wars movie right at this moment. Fortunately, J. J. Abrams and his crew have done their job well and delivered a crowd-pleaser of a film that both caters to the nostalgia of older fans and deftly sets things up nicely for the new generation of fans just joining in the fun.
As to the specifics of the plot, there will be no spoilers here beyond what has already been revealed. The Empire suffered a serious setback after the events of Return of the Jedi but has slowly reemerged to power as The New Order; the leaders of the old rebellion are lending their support to the young fighters of The Resistance and nobody, but nobody, knows where the heck Luke Skywalker is.
And that’s about all you’re getting out of me until enough people have seen the film that discussing the specifics won’t interfere with the enjoyment of discovering them. The marketing campaign for The Force Awakens has gone out of its way to instill a sense of anticipation and mystery, and that’s something that should be encouraged for all future releases, not just those with Star Wars in their titles. The whole experience of the build-up has been a lesson in the benefits of waiting, which, as Deacon Greg Kandra notes, is a lesson entirely appropriate to this Advent season.
Still, there are some non-spoilery things that be revealed about The Force Awakens. Despite initial concerns, Disney has delivered a film that absolutely captures the look and texture of a Star Wars movie. Especially fun is the wide use of clunky practical effects and puppetry in scenes where CGI would normally be utilized. It’s a choice that immediately makes the audience feel at home. Of course, nothing accomplishes that better than the return of most of the original heroes from Episodes IV–I. Harrison Ford, in particular, shines as the aged but ever-cocky Han Solo, delivering some of his finest moments in the series.
It is the younger cast who carries the brunt of the film, however, and they are uniformly up to the task. The new triumvirate of heroes consisting of Oscar Isaac’s confident x-wing pilot Poe Dameron, John Boyega’s fidgety AWOL Storm Trooper Fen, and Daisy Ridley’s strangely competent scavenger Rey are all excellently brought to life. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that the relatively unknown Ridley has immediately achieved superstar status for herself.
Likely more divisive will be Adam Driver’s portrayal of the tantrum-prone Darth Vader wannabe, Kylo Ren. He does not immediately carry the imposing threat of his predecessor, and that could prove disappointing to some. It’s an appropriate choice for the arc of the story, though, as The Force Awakens is an obvious transitional chapter in an ongoing series. The older characters are already legendary, and they are recognized and treated as such within the movie’s universe. Rey and Fen react much as we would upon meeting Han Solo for the first time. The youngsters, on the other hand, aren’t quite there yet. Even their musical cues as provided by returning maestro John Williams aren’t as immediately iconic.
And that’s entirely fitting. After a long period where it seemed The Force had receded, a great spiritual awakening is occurring in that galaxy far, far away. And as The Force awakens, Rey, Fen, Poe and yes, even Kylo Ren, all still have their choices before them as to which path they will follow, the light or the dark. We do get an inkling by the end of the film just what those choices will be (oh, that final shot), but just enough to whet our appetites for what comes next. Yes, friends, the long and torturous wait for the next episode has begun.