I’ve never picked a side on the Star Wars vs. Star Trek battle, but this much is true: I have seen 5(?) Wars movies and precisely no Trek episodes or movies. I guess I’ll get there one day. I’m not in a rush or anything, and to be honest, I wasn’t going to see the new Wars precisely because of this indifference. I know how much Episode VII means to other people, and I thought my apathy wouldn’t be welcome in such a fervent fan environment. But then my cousins invited me to go, and I thought, “Why the hell not?”
When the lights went down and the stars came up on the screen and the yellow text started scrolling across the universe, I grinned like a tiny tot. I may have seen Episodes I & III in the theater in high school, but I never got that feeling that everyone 15+ years older than I am talks about. That singular yet complex feeling of knowing you’re seeing something special, knowing that the whole world will see it, knowing that it came from your country (and state, and region!), knowing that all of us secretly believe Han Solo is a real person and that Calista Flockhart is married to him. Episode VII is FUN.
I can’t think of a movie that had this much buildup and expectation around it. To say that J.J. Abrams was under a lot of pressure is a stupid understatement. The fact that he was selected to direct actually surprised me, given that George Lucas is still alive and well — plus J.J. was already involved with the Trek side of things. Maybe, in my mind, I wanted to see the name “Joss Whedon” up there, to fuel the fire of nerd rage and rivalry. But that’s irrelevant now; Abrams did a pretty damn masterful job.
The most amazing thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is how much restraint the collective group of people who produced it showed in producing it. Given the existence of Michael Bay movies, Bond movies, and every other over-the-top, special-effects-laden, explosion-peppered movie, this reboot could have been a massive, disrespectful shitshow. But it was the opposite; save for the high-definition clarity of the images, the world of Episode VII retained the exact aesthetic the original trilogy (orig tridge). Sand piled up everywhere, except in that one random snow scene; most metal objects were halfway to full oxidation; most characters dressed in beige tatters; and most characters also had one small-but-noticeable-but-unnecessary piece of flair. “Vintage” isn’t the right word, because Star Wars didn’t look like anything else when it came out in 1977 anyway. Both movies maintain that they aren’t necessarily about futuristic technology — except for the lightsaber, of course — they’re about resourcefulness and talent and instinct. Those cards trump special effects any day, and they’re probably why the movies played so well with audiences in the first place. They forged a human connection with sci-fi that hasn’t really been matched to this day.
The story isn’t all that interesting or surprising, but it doesn’t need to be. Audiences came seeking comfort, mostly — in the arms of Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher), and they got it. And that probably would have been enough, but the rest of the actors selected to expand the universe a little (pun most definitely intended) did their due diligence. I particularly loved John Boyega as Finn, the rogue Stormtrooper and vague love interest of Rey (Daisy Ridley), the newest Jedi-in-training. He had the certain Ford-in-the-70s quality of being able to wink at the camera while keeping a straight face, yet he also had a softness that Ford will never have. Given Ridley’s character, it’s impossible not to root for her, but she still had big shoes to fill. Never once did I doubt her Jedi-ness (Jedididity?). She’s Chosen, sans the silly pomp and circumstance. I like her style.
I also love Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, but knowing their faces took me out of the story a little. Star Wars has this element of anonymity to it — Ford and Fisher and Hamill were once as unknown as Boyega and Ridley, and so they blend right back in with the myriad adorable aliens scurrying around in the background. Driver and Isaac, on the other hand, are distinct enough not to. I do think Driver added a level of depth and torture to Kylo Ren that hadn’t really existed in Star Wars before, and I enjoyed the relationship between Finn and Isacc’s Poe Dameron. Poe’s before hoes, perhaps?
Speaking of adorable aliens, Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata 100% replaced Yoda for me. (I was never a fan of his to begin with. You can’t diagram his sentences. It’s infuriating.) I mean, look at how goddamn cute she is:
She had this sympathy about her that Yoda didn’t — he expected so, so much out of Luke Skywalker, in that way that people do when they take pleasure out of watching you figure it out yourself. “Figuring it out yourself” is a valuable lesson, but not under annoying scrutiny. (Seriously, I hate Yoda.) Maz got that, and acted more motherly because of it. I just wish I had seen Lupita’s actual face at some point.
There’ll be another one. There’ll probably be 30 other ones. Once you tap the keg, the Star Wars cup runneth over. (Not my best mixed metaphor.) As far as I’m concerned, though, this one stands alone in how complete it is. The storyline is clear enough, the loose ends are tied up, and the melodrama only skyrockets when it absolutely has to. Whatever questions are left over at the end are more fun to think about than to see actually played out in another movie. But you better believe I’ll see it anyway. The force is too strong.