Star Wars solidified itself as a major part of my life when I was very young. My dad introduced my siblings and I to it when we were kids, selling us on that first viewing by telling us there were “puppets” in the movie (he meant Yoda, by the way). After those formative viewings, my thirst for space adventure only grew from there. I’d wish I could go to that galaxy far, far away and imagine adventures I’d have with Luke, Leia and Han.
The original Star Wars trilogy were the first movies I saw where I remember thinking there were big ideas at play that I didn’t fully understand: politics (in space!), excellent character growth over the course of three movies, human duality, legacy, redemption, the deconstruction and humanization of “evil” and an all-encompassing Force that could be tapped into for good or for bad. Star Wars is about finding your place in the universe and your family, blood or otherwise.
When I heard that Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and was making more movies, I remained healthily skeptical. I really wanted them to be good, but the last return to the world of Star Wars with the prequels left me and countless other fans less than ecstatic. Could The Force Awakens recapture that magical feeling I once had watching the first Star Wars as a young girl?
What’s the Same
The Force Awakens passes the torch from the characters we knew and loved as kids along to the next generation. The time jump forward 30 years since Return of the Jedi (1983) not only allows the characters to age as they naturally would within the story’s narrative, it provides more interesting storytelling than getting an exact play-by-play of what Luke, Han and Leia have been up to the last three decades.
Luke was our triumphant hero at the end of Jedi. Now, he’s vanished for unknown reasons. Our favorite power couple, Han and Leia, are separated by galaxies. He’s back to his old smuggling ways and she’s back to leading a group of rebels, called The Resistance this time around.
The highlight of the old cast is Harrison Ford, who slips right back into his role as Han Solo with ease, bringing more gravitas to his character this time around. Instead of just being a reluctant smuggler with a chip on his shoulder, this Han is wiser, more willing to stick his neck out for others, and becomes a mentor and father-figure to our new main characters. This Han also has to come to terms with his past, but in drastically different and unexpected ways.
The Force Awakens follows similar beats and patterns from the original trilogy. A droid with important info on a sandy planet stumbles across the path of a young desert dweller. There’s a large planet with the power to destroy numerous star systems. A young hero feels the call of the Force, the all-powerful energy that binds and balances the galaxy.
There’s a lot of callbacks to the first three movies, but there’s a lot of new elements to love, too.
What’s New (Warning: Some Spoilers Throughout)
Our two leads, Rey and Finn, are wonderful additions to the Star Wars universe in their own right. The two both crave a family and immediately find that sense of belonging in each other, becoming thick as thieves right off the bat.
Rey’s initial characterization is done in a three-minute wordless montage of her life on the desert planet Jakku.
She’s a loner. She’s tough. She’s kind. But unlike the Star Wars heroes of the past, she is tied to her location of her own volition, clinging to the hope that her family will return for her.
Daisy Ridley is truly the breakout star of this movie and the character of Rey is a game-changer. When the first clips of the movie were released, I was pretty cynical about who the next Jedi in these movies would be. I was certain that it would be a white guy who wasn’t in the trailers, or Finn (which would have also been awesome!), but I thought there was no way that the main character of the biggest action/adventure franchise in the world would be a young girl. I’m happy to be proven wrong. Rey’s background is unknown at this point, but we definitely know she has some connection to Luke Skywalker. Whether that connection is blood or Force-related, that’s up to the next movies to show us.
Finn starts out the film as a Stormtrooper who realizes that genocide is simply not for him. He craves belonging with a family that doesn’t require him to kill. This is the first time in the movies that the nameless henchmen of the Empire (now the First Order) have been shown as actual people with real emotions. Having Stormtroopers with feelings is a bold move, and will hopefully be explored more in upcoming movies and humanize the villainous First Order a little more. Not only is Finn’s backstory pulling strings in the Star Wars universe that haven’t been pulled before, Finn is actually one of the best parts of the movie. This kid might be one of the funniest people in the galaxy.
Rey and Finn. Poe and Finn. Han and Finn. Chewie and Finn. Kylo and Finn. Phasma and Finn. Instant chemistry and all winning combinations. Can the next movie just be Finn interacting with every character?
We don’t get to see a lot of Poe in this movie, but it’s easy to love what we do see. Poe is handsome and dashing. As the “best pilot in the Resistance,” he harbors a healthy dose of bravado and humor, but is also a very emotionally open character. He is also the only human I’ve seen who has a strong, visible emotional connection to a droid, a BB-8 unit he talks to and treats like a person. Finn and Poe have powerful, instant onscreen chemistry, so much so that it’s hard to forget that these two only just met. I can’t wait to see more of Poe in the upcoming movies.
The Skywalker family lineage is still a major focus of this new story, although in an unexpected way. Since we last saw them, Han and Leia had a son, the villain of this story, Kylo Ren/aka Ben/aka Kylo Ben. The young boy betrayed his Jedi Master Luke and killed everyone at the Jedi school that Luke had worked so hard to build, then joined the First Order. The Light Side/Dark Side script is flipped from all the other movies. Whereas Luke struggled with succumbing to the Dark Side, this time around we get a villain who wants to be bad, but just can’t help feeling that “call to the Light.” A pivotal moment in the The Force Awakens suggests that Kylo will keep going down the dark path that Luke was able to resist. In addition, the division between Kylo’s path and Rey’s path is set up masterfully in this movie. I can’t wait to see them go head-to-head again.
There’s been mixed reactions to Kylo Ren as a villain, but I happened to love this new bad guy. He can be cruel, angsty and utterly unpredictable. He’s hardly a calm and collected villain like his predecessors, but there’s a bigger range of emotion on display, anger mixed with tinges of vulnerability and fear that really show off actor Adam Driver’s acting chops.
In a word, The Force Awakens was invigorating. I haven’t felt this “in the moment” during a movie in a long time. I wasn’t one of the people who absolutely hated the Star Wars prequels from the early 2000s, but they just didn’t have that special “spark” the first three had.
As a kid, I loved the Star Wars universe, with its adventure, friendship, Luke’s unending optimism and loyalty, Leia’s leadership abilities and take-charge attitude, and Han’s nonchalance and snappy comebacks. For me, the heart of what made the original Star Wars movies entertaining was the engaging characters with undeniable onscreen chemistry. This movie captures that magic.
Humor, action, friendship, legacy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is wonderful first chapter in the next story of the Star Wars universe, offering up a cavalcade of great new characters and familiar old faces.
Simply put, this movie feels like home.