The most anticipated movie of all time, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is exactly what we wanted. I can’t think of a movie sequel that so answered all of the desires and fantasies of the audience for which it was created. In that way, it’s to movies what Adele’s “25” album is to music– comforting, well executed, and with the right pointers to the future. What more can you want?
I was thinking tonight, I have new respect for people who made the three “Star Wars” prequels. How could they win? They couldn’t have Luke, Leia, or Han. Their hands were tied. No Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford. Almost everything and everyone in those three films had to be new. That’s no small task, since fans were bound to be cold toward them. They were like grilled vegetables.
“The Force Awakens” is the first part of a three course dessert. (The main course was Episodes 4-6, as they are now known.) J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan just went into the kitchen and made the best, richest, most wonderful pastries and puddings they could imagine we would want to eat. To devour. And so we shall.
I don’t want t0– and can’t– give away too much here. I’m sure parts of the story will seep out after Friday. Suffice to say that Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher seem rejuvenated in unexpected ways. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are super. Better known quantities Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver are perfectly cast, and shine in every respect. Isaac is really a bona fide movie star now.
A big spoiler is given away about halfway through the film, but it’s not for me to say. It explains to the audience that “The Force Awakens” really is a personal story of a family, not just a bunch of robots. What happens to that family will be relatable in so many ways to the audience. It may happen in a galaxy far, far away but you’ve experienced it yourself, or known plenty who have been down these roads.
There are riffs back to the earlier chapters of “Star Wars.” (Chess is still popular in bars, and it hasn’t changed much.) There’s at least one nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” actually maybe more. Suffice to say that Daisy Ridley as Rey is a modern Dorothy Gale. Boyega as Finn, Ford as Solo, and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca are her Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. You’ll see what I mean.
What Abrams did with the “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” reboots he accomplishes here in spades. His achievement in all three is that he moves the game forward while still touching on the past. But “Star Trek” was an origins story, and “Mission Impossible III” was a bit of a reboot. “The Force Awakens” is an actual sequel, the others were not. So it’s to Abrams’ credit (and Kasdan, the house expert) that the story picks up in the right spot and never hits a false note– as far I could tell. I will leave the nitpicking to the fan boys.
Kasdan wrote the screenplay for “The Empire Strikes Back” (Episode 5 of the original trilogy) and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He knows his Spielberg-Lucas-Ford. Sometimes– particularly in what I’d call Act II here– “The Force Awakens” becomes Harrison Ford-centric. There are echoes of “Raiders.” But that’s okay. I would call it “Harrison Ford Awakens.” He looks so happy and comfortable in this role. It’s just a pleasure. Carrie Fisher, who became a humorist over the years, resumes acting without missing a step. Her General (not Princess Leia) is integral and forceful. I will not say yet what happens to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But I dare say we’ll be seeing a lot of him in the next chapter.
Oscar nods? All the below the line stuff, set design, costumes, make up, editing, special effects, cinematography, etc. are all going to be there. John Williams’ music is good as ever; I even stayed through the closing credits to hear it. Acting? I don’t expect any big surprises, although at one point I was really moved by Daisy Ridley and Carrie Fisher. It may be too late to spark anything for this episode. But there are two more to come.
A couple of addenda: Abrams usually uses composer Michael Giacchino but didn’t of course here because of John Williams. Giacchino has a credited small role instead. Other Abrams alumna include Ken Leung (from “Lost”) and Greg Grunberg (“Alias”)– J.J. Abrams’ own Easter eggs. There is terrific support work from Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, and naturally Kenny Baker as R2D2 and Anthony Daniels as C3PO.