Oh yeah, it’s really fucking great.
Advisory: This review remains spoiler free, avoiding plot points and specific character fates, and sticking only to pre-film promotional information. A hidden section halfway through contains basic plot and character points, for those who wish to highlight and explore this topic further.
Star Wars has been around for decades with barely a dip in relevance, even with the prequels largely souring people on the property as a whole. It’s never truly went away in any tangible sense like Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park, so hearing people say that “it’s back!” in regards to Force Awakens felt a bit off to me, given the existence of Clone Wars cartoon, the various parodies from Family Guy and Robot Chicken, or the expanded universe stuff that’s now been forgotten. But, it wasn’t until I’d actually seen the film that I truly got what folks were saying and indeed, this new movie is back to the glory days of Star Wars before 1999 and what everything related to the brand after Revenge of the Sith was trying to aim for. Or, to quote a certain scruffy looking nerfherder:
From the opening text crawl and John Williams score, it was hard not to feel the memory of watching A New Hope for the first time creep back into the forefront as everything opened in front of me. JJ Abrams and crew have done a remarkable job of giving back that nostalgic feeling of watching the original trilogy to viewers, providing a sense of energy, humor, and scope that a lot of people felt were lacking from the prequels. Unfortunately, that also ends up being the biggest flaw of Force Awakens.
With the film essentially existing to (if we’re being completely honest here) bring back Gen 1 Star Wars fans, it’s more or less a collection of highlights from the original films fused together and bolstered with a more diverse cast and better effects. Certainly not a bad thing, given the quality of the final product; but there are plenty of shots and moments that’ll have anyone who’s watched the originals going, “this seems familiar.” It alternates between saying, “Hey, remember this?” with a wink and, “We’re not doing the prequel stuff, please love us!” with desperation, and your mileage may vary on whether that’s a good thing or not.
Even our new cast of characters, both primary and supporting, appear at first to be just the “new” version of an established character. The plot largely goes the same route as the originals as well, thematic parallels abound. If references and callbacks were an Olympic event, Force Awakens would be getting gold medals across the damn board.
Highlight within the brackets below for basic plot and character spoilers explaining this parallelism. Read responsibly.
[Once again, a droid is carrying vital information about a missing Jedi master around on a desert planet and ends up crossing paths with a young adult living an ordinary, if unfulfilling life while a guy dressed in all black wants to hunt the droid down because he’s got a personal stake in the data the droid contains. In this case, BB-8 ends up stranded on the planet of Jakku after Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is captured by the First Order’s Kylo Ren. BB is found by scavenger Rey, who quickly crosses paths with Finn, a rogue Stormtrooper who isn’t so sure about being a soldier.]
What distracts from the film’s nostalgia heavy plot is in fact that cast of characters. The OG cast show up and are doing fantastic work in their old roles, and the film gives them more than enough screentime and references for their dues to come. Harrison Ford in particular hasn’t missed a step since Return of the Jedi, as his first appearance elicits cheers and applause from everyone. Carrie Fisher does great work as General Leia, and the two of them still have the chemistry that made everyone ship them in Empire Strikes Back.
More vital to the film’s success are the new group of characters introduced and set up to progress this trilogy. They’re all charming, fun folks who ooze personality from the moment they walk on screen. Despite how familiar they seem at the start, there’s more to Finn, Rey, and Poe than simply being the younger version of an old trilogy protagonist.