Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh instalment in the Star Wars saga. It brings back original cast members Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) to help transition us into the new generation of Star Wars characters led by Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). There’s also an awakening in the Force and some warring in the stars.
Instead of what the typical “what Star Wars means to me” introduction, here’s what I see Star Wars as in the history of blockbuster cinema. Star Wars (Episode IV/“A New Hope”) revolutionized blockbuster cinema in 1977, and is still one of the best sci-fi/fantasy films. It was followed by Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite Star Wars film) and Return of the Jedi, which cemented the Skywalker story in the hearts of fans. To have Star Wars return to cinemas with follow-up stories is definitely a magical thing that has already proven to unite generations.
Just like his work on Star Trek ’09, director J.J. Abrams revitalizes this series through characters and character relationships. He proves that he understands Star Wars characters and their legacy while also showing the willingness to move forward with it. There’s a mix of the old and the new generation, but the film is quick to emphasize these are very Star Wars characters, but for the new generation.
These are characters from very different walks of life that come together and grow a bond in the heat of the moment. The actors sell the strong bond on their chemistry and facial expressions alone, which is why the emotional connection to the characters is already strong after one TIE fighter fight or one chase scene. It’s also such a Star Wars way to handle characters, but although it may follow the same beats as, say, A New Hope, it’s vastly different, contextually.
Instead of having a Luke Skywalker, The Force Awakens has (arguably) two main protagonists that would run away from the scope of their bigger destiny. Instead of creating a villain reminiscent of Original Trilogy Vader, J.J. executes everything George Lucas wanted Anakin Skywalker to be in the character of Kylo Ren. In just a few scenes, too. Instead of the film emphasizing the bold spirit of adventure, it actually explores broken families and the severed bond between generations. J.J. and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt goes to Star Wars for structure and recurring themes, but the film is a different story altogether.
One major difference between The Force Awakens and A New Hope is how that film works as a standalone feature while this film is clearly structured as a starting point. Some characters are side-lined in favor of the bigger characters, but their fates are left open for sequel possibilities. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film for me is how a big chunk of Rey’s arc seems edited out, to be saved for a sequel. I feel like the bulk of her arc was intertwined with her (possible) lineage in the overall saga but was removed so that it could be further explored in the sequels. That problem never existed with Luke, because his arc in the first film never depended on future story material. Leaving it open to mystery is definitely J.J. Abrams’ mode of operation. It’s not favorable, but it doesn’t deflate the film.
A Star Wars character that does get his arc serviced is Han Solo. The sequence that introduces (or re-introduces) his character comes naturally and totally fits with the character. His character arc is completely consistent with the character we met in A New Hope and the one he evolved to in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His development may have been different from the one Harrison Ford envisioned back in 1983, but nonetheless, it totally works the same and has the added benefit of fitting in with the larger theme of the film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is J.J. Abrams’ labor of love. Everything from the set design to the writing of the characters feels like it’s coming from a place of genuine admiration and devotion. Even if there are a few shortcomings, it’s hard to visualize a more satisfying love letter to a galaxy far, far away.