Two signs of a really great movie are that you can’t find many flaws and that you want to see it again right after it ends. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that good. I’ll go one step further and say that I also want to immediately see the next film in the series. I’m sad because I’ll have to wait a long time. People were concerned about the Star Wars franchise passing from George Lucas to director J.J. Abrams and Disney. Abrams carefully shepherded the reboot of the Star Trek movies, and he’s doing exactly the same thing with the next trilogy of Star Wars films. Part old school, part new school and fully embedded in new settings that feel quite familiar to fans of the series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Star Wars that you’re looking for.
Cowriter/director Abrams is joined by cowriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. Kasdan notably wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and cowrote two of the films in the original trilogy. He knows his way around this universe. Arndt wrote Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine, two releases full of laughs and emotion that are so evident here. After listening carefully to all of the tracks in the score by John Williams for the original Star Wars, I began to notice the themes of his music even more. With Williams on board for this project, he mixes in some of the themes from the past films with new music for a score that mirrors the overall mixture of old and new. Cinematographer Daniel Mindel captures some amazing shots of TIE Fighters against bright suns and the vast internal voids of the heir to the Death Star, so this film looks as good as and actually quite better than any of the others. With such top-notch filmmakers and artists on board, all that you need is a strong story to show off their work.
The crux of the plot is that a variety of forces, including the First Order (akin to the Empire of old) and the Resistance, are looking for a special map. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides the map on a sort of flash drive in his trusted droid BB-8 on the planet Jakku, and soon after, BB-8 is the droid that everyone’s looking for. New bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the face of the First Order, and he drives his stormtroopers to find this map. One of those nameless, numbered stormtroopers breaks rank to avoid killing innocents and is dubbed Finn (John Boyega) by Poe. Finn and BB-8 run into a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley), and the two unlikely heroes and fast friends escape Jakku to make their way to the Resistance with BB-8 and the map that he carries. Along the way, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) find the threesome and help them on their mission. Rey and Finn experience growth in unexpected ways as they are tested in their first taste of adventure.
Driver, Boyega and Ridley are all excellent here. These are dream roles for these young actors, and there’s nothing hokey in their work. They are all quite believable, and Ridley is especially impressive as a powerful woman with great inner strength and many abilities. You will now immediately see girls and women of all ages gravitate from dressing up as Katniss Everdeen to portraying Rey. Finn is never a villain despite literally wearing their clothes, and he progresses the most over the course of the film from deserter to hero. Boyega similarly gets stronger during the proceedings to the point where I could see him easily slide into other roles. Driver has the dream job of the movie’s bad guy who gets to use both The Force and a new kind of lightsaber with smaller beams sticking out of the handle. Lucas made a huge mistake by not focusing more on one of the best characters in the prequels — Darth Maul and his double-ended lightsaber. Driver plays Kylo Ren with a consistent menace, and there’s something very Darth Vader about him given his full head covering that features a mask with what looks like a breather. BB-8 is as fun, rambunctious and resourceful as R2-D2, and his expressions and reactions are clear despite never producing more than beeps and buzzes. As lovable as a puppy dog, every kid is going to want a BB-8 toy.
The film sits so firmly in the Star Wars universe that many scenes will bring back memories of the other movies. Star Wars fans will have no complaints. Do you want a lightsaber duel? It’s here. Space battles? Ditto. Creatures and droids of all shapes, sizes and purposes? You’d better not blink because even the background characters are interesting. A huge element of the film series is humor. There are lots of inside jokes, but there are also genuinely funny scenes that stand out and lighten the mood where it sometimes needs it most. Han Solo has so many great lines that it’s clear that the writers treated his character with great care and nostalgia. Indeed, this film is a fun ride despite some serious stuff that goes down.
Star Wars set the bar high for special effects, so it’s no surprise that the variety and quantity of special effects here are mind-boggling. Sometimes, the best effects are practical ones as opposed to digital creations, and the outdoor scenes on Jakku and in a snowy forest are made to feel more real with sand and trees responding to explosions and weapons. Sure, there are digital characters, too. It doesn’t bother me at all that they are sprinkled throughout the movie. The combination of digital imagery and characters with makeup or other attached hardware expands the palette and look of the movie. BB-8 is probably the best single creation. He sometimes rolls along the floor or sand right by characters, and in other cases, it’s obvious that they’ve reproduced him digitally. Similarly, the storied Millennium Falcon is a strong presence and survives a lot of abuse as it always does. There are versions of the ship for characters to walk inside, and the other instances are probably all digital models. At this point, it’s hard to tell what is real on set and added later, and I really didn’t think about it as the scenes flew by.
There are people who just don’t get the Star Wars films or any science fiction. Even for them, this new entry in the series is sure to entertain. It’s full of action, great characters, drama and elements that both delight and amaze you. Star Wars is in good hands with Abrams. Nuances throughout the film like a bloody mark on Finn’s helmet to make him stand out from other stormtroopers show Abrams’s skill with visual storytelling and attention to detail. There are so many things to see here that one or two more viewings are almost mandatory. Star Wars: The Force Awakens also reawakens the interest in Star Wars in all generations as it makes you feel like a kid all over again.