'The Force Awakens' brings Star Wars back to the light side


By Garrett Strother (@StrotherGarrett)
There is no shortage of blockbusters, nor is there a shortage of Hollywood octane. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the most refreshing action in decades. “Jurassic World” demolished box office records. Marvel movies? I’m all in.
But “Star Wars” will always be my first love.
The dominant years of my young life were spent playing with lightsabers and saving Keebler boxes to trade in for a Darth Vader cookie jar. So, when Disney bought “Star Wars” and announced a new trilogy, I was chief among the skeptics. Coming off of the disaster that was the prequel trilogy, I wanted nothing more than to see the remainder of the legacy of the three original films I loved remain intact, even if that meant untouched.
But, luckily, the creative minds behind the new films shared my love and appreciation for what had come before them. The first installment in the new trilogy, Episode VII “The Force Awakens,” sees the spirit and legacy of those original “Star Wars” films still very much alive.
It’s not merely the return of original cast members or the practical effects, although the film delivers both of those better than could be asked for. The tone is right. The new actors are right. Everything has the intangible feeling of “Star Wars” that a new generation of filmmakers has made magical and accessible again. But they’ve also made it theirs.
Also, getting geriatric Harrison Ford to actually try and earn his paycheck deserves an accolade all its own.
Ford’s Han Solo has been a scene stealer since he definitely shot first back in the 1977 “Star Wars,” but in “The Force Awakens” the newcomers bring their A-game as well. They are some of the most complex the entire series has showcased, with fairly stellar performances backing them up. John Boyega shows everything the audience needs to know about his character without speaking, and when he does the words are fun, quippy, and delivered exactly how they should be. His chemistry with co-stars Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley cannot be looked away from.
All three are thoroughly charming individually, and are all going to be huge stars, but if any combination of them interact they bring a heavy and incredibly refreshing dose of humanity that big films so often lack.
That humanity not only services the new and returning characters, but also makes the stakes feel galactic. Every lightsaber clash, squabble, and sinister meeting is heightened because of how human everything feels. You know exactly how every character is feeling and understand their motivation. Because of this one of the lightsaber battles might very well be the best in the series, and definitely the one that feels the most real.
You can see plot influence on the film from all three installments of the original trilogy, and a few things here and there feel convenient. But, overall, “The Force Awakens” pays homage to the epic series that came before it while still being confident enough to find its own way. It’s open enough for casual audiences to enjoy, but director J. J. Abrams has crafted something special. He has crafted a film for the fans. The film makes evident that he has taken such care because he too is a fan, and is just as excited to see the Force awaken as the rest of us are