Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Early marketing for The Force Awakens made it relatively clear J.J. Abrams and the Disney Corp would not be reinventing the wheel for this entry. And why would they? Even the sacred original Star Wars films closely mimic one another. All open in some barren wasteland, all feature dwarfish scavenging weirdos, all allow an otherwise goofy robot to play hero in a clutch moment. And so, seventh verse, same as the first: desert orphan, precocious droid, masked villain with red glowing rod, geometrically opposed spaceships.
It’s not the material, though, it’s the delivery, and Force Awakens delivers, effortlessly weaving visual potency, emotional conviction, unexpected humor, and raw excitement into a crackerjack package that provides antidote to the prequel trilogy’s turgid masturbation. Set thirty years after Return of The Jedi, the film brings us up to speed quickly: Luke Skywalker has disappeared, the Rebels have failed to consolidate their power, the Empire has not remained in defeat. That evil reich, now known as the First Order, counts amongst its ranks a brooding and violent Darth Vader disciple named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). When a map pointing to the whereabouts of Luke fumbles out into the cosmos, Ren believes it’s his key to restoring Vader’s galactic vision.
Fate (or dumb luck) brings together the heroic team that quickly becomes Kylo Ren’s biggest headache. The AWOL Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and isolated junk trader Rey (Daisy Ridley), both barely out of their teens, are a little overwhelmed as they inadvertently become swept up in the search for Skywalker (a figure neither can believe is real). Lucky for das kinder, another storied figure of lore (Harrison Ford) crashes the party and offers a lending hand (and wookiee). Meanwhile, the First Order turns an entire planet into a makeshift Death Star powered by the sun, and of course our band of outlaws winds up in an assault on that enormous menace, because what, are they not gonna help Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Admiral Ackbar?
Critics dog J.J. Abrams for doing little more than heating up other people’s leftovers in lens flare, but The Force Awakens proves when elements like a supremely talented cast and snappy scripting align the guy can slam dunk. Any bits that seem to defy whatever logic exists in this starry fantasy you forgive because the film’s whizzing you on a spirited, satisfying ride. The wonder and fun have returned to Star Wars, and not a moment too soon.
FINAL SCORE: Four precocious droids (out of four).
Disney’s new logic: what was good for Marvel will be good for Star Wars. The galactic empire that now owns the Galactic Empire is planning to make a trilogy of SW films outside Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, films they’ll plug in between chapters of the tent pole series that will center around different beloved Lucafilm characters. Yoda, Han Solo, and Boba Fett are allegedly in the running for these standalone movies, seemingly safe bets each for compartmentalized adventures (as opposed to your average Ewok who lacks the basic knowledge to pilot a star cruiser off of Endor).
My fear is the Mouse will fall into the Wolverine/Hulk trap where these standalone films underperform and their response is to keep saying “do over!” until people are sick of seeing the chosen characters onscreen. Can you believe Marvel’s thinking about making a third Hulk movie because Ruffalo got so many good notices in Avengers? Never mind audiences practically rioted in the literal sense of the word when they bore witness to the last two Hulk movies. Hey, you know what, movie brain trust? Maybe some of these characters aren’t supposed to sustain an entire production by themselves. Maybe characters like the Hulk and Wolverine and Boba Fett (at least in terms of cinema) should only be ensemble players. Shit, look at “AfterMASH.” No one wanted that much Jamie Farr.
Now, I could be wrong. Maybe the right convergence of talent could give us ninety minutes of Yoda that isn’t wall-to-wall cartoony bullshit like what they made him do in the prequels (he was throwing furniture in that third one—fucking’ furniture! Sheesh!). I’m not holding my breath, though. I’m not even holding my breath for Episode VII. Are we gonna hafta see Chewbacca’s son again? That strikes me as something J.J. might do.
JP = John Piacquadio; ME = Me.
ME: Do you know how Chewbacca died?
JP: Nooooo, Chewbacca didn’t die!
ME: Yeah, in the Expanded Universe. Do you know how? Guess. What do you think killed Chewbacca?
JP: Ah…was it something he ate?
ME: [Laughing] No, it wasn’t something he ate.
JP: How’d he die?
ME: He was crushed to death by a moon.
JP: Ha! It took an entire dwarf planet to take him down!
ME: Yeah! He was rounding up Han Solo’s kids on some planet—
JP: [Laughing] Because he has so many of them!
ME: Well, two, at least. Anyway, Chewbacca’s trying to get them off the planet before this moon crashes into it, only he didn’t make it off the planet in time.
JP: Did you hear about that bear from the Will Ferrell movie?
For more on Chewbacca’s incredibly awesome death, read this.