Star Wars: The Force Awakens | Movie Review

Out of all the giant megafranchises that rule Hollywood, “Star Wars” holds a special place in my heart. I first saw the original trilogy as a kindergartener during the 1997 rereleases, grew up with the prequels, played several of the video games, read a few of the novels, and generally acquired an embarrassing level of dork knowledge (if you want to talk about the difference between Dathomir and Dantooine, or between the Rodians and the Yuuzhan Vong, I’m your guy). I never thought I’d get to review a Star Wars movie for this blog, and it delights me that I finally have the chance.

As far as this nerd is concerned, “The Force Awakens” is a dream come true. J.J. Abrams now reigns supreme as the king of resurrected classic sci-fi – what he’s made here is light-years ahead of anything in the prequel trilogy, a roaring comeback that even edges out 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”

At first blush, “The Force Awakens” shares many similarities with “A New Hope.” There’s a desert planet (Jakku), a stargazing young protagonist (Daisy Ridley’s Rey), a droid that interferes with our hero’s peaceful life (the charmingly toyetic BB-8), a masked wielder of the Dark Side of the Force (Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren), legions of stormtroopers, and so on. But on closer examination, the direct parallel breaks down. Rey isn’t a female Luke Skywalker clone – instead of being brash, she’s wary, a Hermione-type in space. Kylo Ren’s motivations are complex. There’s a reluctant stormtrooper who shows up, John Boyega’s Finn.

In short, “The Force Awakens” is the Star Wars equivalent of “Casino Royale” (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible). Just as “Casino” brought along a few holdovers from an older era of the saga (director Martin Campbell, Judi Dench as M), but put a fresh spin on franchise tropes in service of a younger, savvier, sleeker product, “The Force Awakens” synthesizes elements old and new.(These elements, for those curious, include a lot of thematic DNA from the now-no-longer-canon Expanded Universe.)

And make no mistake, “The Force Awakens” has everything you could possibly want in a Star Wars movie, including the single greatest lightsaber duel the saga has ever put onscreen. It hits every possible emotional chord, including ones I thought I’d outgrown. The last time I felt this jazzed about a movie – this enthusiastic to do something great and epic and heroic – I’d just walked out of 2002’s “Attack of the Clones.”

Vast amounts of ink have been spilled on the philosophy of the Force and of the saga as a whole (I’ve written here and there about such themes). Sociologically speaking, however, “The Force Awakens” throws in a new twist. This is a film tailor-made to the millennial zeitgeist, embracing such themes as family dissolution, “nonbelonging,” the loss of transcendent ideals, and the fear of trans-generational heritage being sacrificed. Here, the dark side is real and terrifying – not as some swirling cluster of deviant midichlorians, but rather as an ideology, a belief in powers and principles beyond the mundane. Accordingly, the psycho-emotional conflicts at the heart of “The Force Awakens” are far more wrenching than any banal “take over the world” nonsense (Marvel Studios, take note).

In some ways, reviewing the first new “Star Wars” movie in a decade is a pointless project: everyone and their mother is going to see it, probably more than once. But if, by chance, you were on the fence – or if you, like me, were seriously miffed at the demise of decades’ worth of Star Wars lore – “The Force Awakens” is a breathtaking, effervescent adventure that more than meets one’s highest expectations.

Go see it. Every dollar this movie makes, it deserves.

VERDICT: 10/10. I haven’t felt this sense of joy and wonder after a movie since I was ten. It’s good to be back.

John Ehrett

John Ehrett

John currently resides in Arlington, Virginia, where he works as an attorney and writer. He holds an M.A.R. from the Institute of Lutheran Theology and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

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