In 1999, a great many fans walked out of the first screening of The Phantom Menace with looks of confused bewilderment and betrayal as we realized that, even thought we were peeing ourselves with excitement a few days prior, the movie wasn’t that good.
Now, the wheels of time have turned onward and we are faced with a similar situation. There’s a new Star Wars and the question on everyone’s mind is “Is it good?”
The answer is yes. It is good. And, dear friends, I’m so sorry to say…*chokes up* Jar Jar Binks is not in this film. I know, I know. You’re all heartbroken.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, all I’ll say about the plot is that there’s a new Bad Guy in town, Kylo Ren, and characters both familiar and new are brought together to make a stand. Also, weird stuff is going on. Ok, we’ll move on.
The thing that I liked was that it felt like Star Wars, but it didn’t have the aesthetic of the Prequels or the Original Trilogy. It felt more like Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic combined with Timothy Zahn’s EU novels, with a healthy sprinkling of the Legacy of the Force series. Still instantly recognizable, but not afraid to find its own more mature feel. If the prequels were characterized by their gloss and colorful vistas, and the Original trilogy by its gritty, used technology, I’d say this entry does a good job of combining those two together in a way that feels like a very organic progression from the previous eras. The film looks fantastic with lots of visual throwbacks that made me unnaturally happy (for example, the detailing on the walls on the First Order’s base was clearly Death Star retro all the way. Wall panels and keypads all felt instantly familiar, which hits you at a subconscious level.)
As for the cast, I was very cynical about their ability to garner any love from me since I was violently devoted to my Original Trilogy peeps. But the new cast members are fantastic. Daisy Ridley plays Rey with such wonderful complexity. She’s not any sort of archetype in a mythic structure (more on that later); she’s a real woman with real emotions and issues. She’s absolutely my favorite character in the film. You just grow to completely adore her.
There’s also Jon Boyega as Finn. As we saw in the trailer, he’s a stormtrooper who always seems to be out of breath. It took me a bit to warm up to him until I realized what sort of person he was, and then I completely fell in love. He’s the Star Wars fanboy transmuted into a character in the Star Wars universe. I can’t really explain it beyond that without discussing plot, but you really grow to adore him as well. Boyega has a great energy that blends well with that of his castmates, especially the very-easy-on-the-eyes Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac), a hotshot pilot whom I hope we’ll see more of later on.
Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, is an interesting villain. He’s very different from anyone we’ve seen before…and yet he does have the feel of a certain previous character we’ve already met. I really liked how the audience slowly gets to know what his deal is, with our opinion of him changing as the movie progresses. I was pretty impressed, and surprised on more than one occasion.
And the fan faves are there, as we saw in the trailer. Han, Leia, and Chewie, who have all grown up since we last saw them (well, except Chewie. It seems Wookiees don’t age as fast as humans). I almost cried when Leia first appeared. I’m a massive fan of her and, unlike, Harrison Ford, we haven’t seen Carrie Fisher in tons of hit movies for the past 30 years. So, it was really special to see Leia again. In this film, Leia is a lot like Mon Mothma from Return of the Jedi: a serene, wise leader (though one who hasn’t lost her edge).
All I will say about Luke is…just watch the film.
The thing that struck me about this one is how much more human the characters feel. In the prequels, the characters are pretty much cardboard cutouts. In the original trilogy, the characters are heroic archetypes (such as in Homer, Arthurian legend, etc.). In this one, the veneer is pulled away and everyone feels much more organic. They have skills, weaknesses, shortcomings, and admirable traits. I’m really excited to see how these characters develop.
Another crucial aspect of the Star Wars universe is the music. John Williams once again delivers. I was reading reviews that labeled it the weakest score and I have to disagree. What I did notice was how the score was used, and that may have informed the reviewers’ opinions. The other six films were very operatic and so the music was a character in itself, one that stepped out into center stage and had its own moments (like the “Binary Sunset” moment with Luke or the rousing rendition of the “Imperial March” that accompanies the Emperor’s arrival to the Second Death Star). In this film, the music steps into the background more often, feeling more like a film score rather than an opera score. The score has the chaotic fun of Williams’ Indiana Jones music along with a gorgeous theme for Rey that has the elegance and colorful beauty of his Memoirs of a Geisha score. There is quite a bit of action, so there aren’t as many quiet contemplative moments as in other Star Wars films, but it’s a joy to hear John Williams doing Star Wars again.
If you had any doubts about seeing this, believe me, you have nothing to worry about. It’s a fun movie that promises a fantastic new trilogy filled with its own twists, turns, and revelations. It doesn’t feel exactly like the Original Trilogy, but it still feels like Star Wars.
If you have seen the film already, may I direct you to my companion post entitled So You’ve Seen The Force Awakens…
Until next week!