Note: This review contains MINOR spoilers (you’re probably okay if you’ve seen the TV ads). Enjoy!!
I wish I can adequately put into words what it felt like to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time. It was the equivalent to an out of body experience that was so jarring I could barely comprehend what was happening. So, maybe this is a disclaimer for what you are about to read. I was watching a new Star Wars movie. For the first time in a decade. I’ll dispense with the dramatics and get to the part you want to hear: The Force Awakens is a pretty great movie, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel just a little unsatisfied when credits rolled.
If you’ve been imbibing whatever crumbs Disney and director J.J. Abrams have been throwing out about this movie for the past two years then you know the basics. There’s Finn (John Boyega) an AWOL Stormtrooper torn between two worlds, Rey (Daisy Ridley) a scrappy scavenger waiting for her lost family to return, Kylo Ren, a dark side user with a Vader complex, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) a delightfully cocky X-Wing pilot, and BB-8, his too-adorable-to-exist droid comrade. Their paths cross in ways I won’t divulge here, but I’m pleased to say they are enthusiastic, eager, and just as excited about being a part of something (light or dark) as we are watching them.
But let’s be honest for a moment. As ready as we are for some fresh blood on the Star Wars screen, this film knows we want more of the characters that made us fall in love with Star Wars from the beginning. I do think the reliance on nostalgia is a little too strong in The Force Awakens, especially because I feel this approach dumps on the prequels (regardless of how you feel, they are canon, get over it) and also leaves little time for new concepts about this universe, but I let it slide because…Han Solo. As much as he grips about this role, Harrison Ford falls effortlessly back into the quips, and his scenes with Carrie Fisher’s Leia are pretty special.
The performance to look out for though, is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. As far as the films go, we have yet to really see an X-Wing pilot have a personality or utter any other lines of dialogue besides “Red 2 standing by,” or “I’m hit!” before dying in a fiery crash. And it pains me to say, but as good as the chemistry and performances are for our main cast (and trust me, it’s awesome) Poe is the only truly fresh character in the bunch. Finn, Rey, and Kylo all possess shades of characters we have seen before, sometimes deliberately so. As Maz Kanata, another Yoda-esque newbie (voiced by the lovely Lupita Nyong’o) states, “When you live as long as I have, you see the same eyes in different people.” I found Poe to possess a different energy and vibe to the rest that was so enjoyable to watch on screen I wish Isaac’s was starring in Rogue One next year. Without knowing much about what I wanted to see in the character, the second he walks on screen I said yes, that’s an X-Wing pilot.
I’ve thrown out a few characters so far, and there are even more in the film. One thing that makes The Force Awakens a little troublesome for me is how breakneck the pace is in this 136 minute film. It doesn’t feel long, in fact, it’s not long enough. There is so much packed in each moment and the action moves so quickly that there is barely time to take it all in. Which is unfortunate, because while the setup of these characters is done well, their relationships to each other feel a little rushed. It’s a problem that also plagued A New Hope, but is rectified in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I wanted to spend more time in these locations with these people but as soon as initial introductions are over there’s a loud boom off screen and their off dealing with the next obstacle in their way. This film is obviously setting up all the films to follow in this next phase of Star Wars, but I personally could have used some quieter moments for these characters to breathe a little.
One of the reasons that relying on the most obvious forms of callbacks to the original films feels weak is because The Force Awakens simply does not need to do it. Even putting aside the luscious score provided by John Williams, Abrams completely nails the cinematic language of Star Wars. Those old school wipe transitions between scenes, the camera pans, and the attention to detail on the background objects and minor characters makes it feel like a Star Wars film. They’re important details which orient the viewer and keep the world feeling constant across various locales. It’s a major factor in keeping the film even somewhat digestible given the relentless pace.
I’ve been a little nitpicky perhaps thus far, because overall, The Force Awakens is the best case scenario. As tired as I am arguing about the prequels, this film will not disappoint you as much as those films when you first see it. It has everything it needs to have to be a Star Wars film, and really it’s impossible to delve deep into anything without spoiling a lot. But after all the build up and anticipation in my head, I did feel a little yearning. A little itch that wasn’t quite scratched. I love this franchise and while I will continue to bathe in the gloriousness of it’s nostalgia, I’m also eager for it to transcend it.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.