Note: I thought I'd wait until after the weekend rush to post this review. And yes, this post is full of spoilers.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” kicks off with a rather poignant statement. The first lines of dialogue are spoken by a mysterious character named Lor San Tekka, who says, “This will begin to make things right.” In the story, he’s referring to his piece of a map that will lead the Resistance to the location of the lost Jedi, Luke Skywalker.
But in the real-world, it almost feels like J.J. Abrams and company are telling us, “We get it. This is where we begin to make Star Wars great again.” At the risk of descending into a pile of prequel-bashing madness, I will say that most fans have heard J.J. loud and clear. This is beginning to make things right.
“The Force Awakens” spoke to my heart. It touched on every emotion I feel like I’ve ever experienced while watching a film – a visceral, awe-inspiring emotional tour de force. The reveals were incredible. The twists didn't feel overly contrived. The storytelling kept us all spellbound for two hours.
This film sealed the deal for me right at the opening crawl. It wasn't just the music. I mean, who can really say they didn’t feel a wave of child-like exuberance when the first notes of John Williams’ iconic theme filled our ears? What truly sealed it for me was the opening sentence:
“Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
Luke was my favorite growing up. I took my dad’s flashlights and looped a paper clip through their loopholes, clipping them onto my belt to create my own lightsabers. I looked up to him as my hero. I have genuine love for that character. So realizing that something had gone terribly wrong in the 30 years since he triumphantly declared himself a Jedi Knight was a dizzying experience.
What really happened that drove Luke Skywalker away?
The answer, it turns out, did not arrive in this movie. But we meet amazing new characters. Finn is hilarious, funny, slightly awkward, and you can’t help but root for the guy. Kylo Ren is a maniac. He's got a few wires loose up in his head, a dark Force-user who sees himself fighting against the call of the Light Side of the Force. He is prone to emotional outbursts and rage-induced tantrums, much like his grandfather… Speaking of familial ties, Ren happens to be the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who lost him to the Dark Side after he rebelled against the teachings of his mentor, Luke Skywalker. His turn to the dark side is, as we learn, the reason Luke went into hiding.
We meet Solo and his Wookie companion Chewbacca, back to their old smuggling ways; a little older, a bit wiser. Organa, no longer a princess, is a tired general of the Resistance. BB-8 serves her Resistance as the new lovable astromech droid of this new series, a spinning ball of charm and earnestness who plays an important role in the heroes' stories. Poe Dameron is arguably the coolest new character in this series as well; self-proclaimed as the pilot who "can fly anything," he is confident but also endearingly humorous. Deemed the best pilot in the Resistance, his skills are deemed invaluable.
There are many other great new characters, but the best is, without a doubt, Rey. I have theories about who she is, and the movie drops some subtle hints that may be either brilliant misdirection or obvious hints for the viewers to learn from. She is a child left behind on a desert world, longing for her parents to return to pick her up. She represents hope and optimism in this film, and as we learn later on, power potential. Rey is strong in the Force. She is a kick-ass female lead character, and Daisy Ridley commands the screen with a level of skill that belies her lack of experience. Her mastery of the character of Rey is a revelation, and she delivers over and over on each emotional payoff. She dominates the screen with straight epicness as well, as she wields the lightsaber that once belonged to her fa-, i mean, Luke Skywalker and, before him, Anakin Skywalker, in the film's climatic third act. Her lightsaber fight with Kylo Ren is one of the most visceral, breathtaking fights of the series - masterful storytelling.
To further cement her status as the "Chosen One" of this new trilogy, Rey is also later dispatched to find Luke at the end of the movie. She eventually becomes the first person in decades to set eyes on the beleaguered Jedi, an emotional scene which concludes the film. As Luke turns around to meet Rey, we see on his face the weight of 30+ years. Gone is the boyish optimism of a farm hand from Tatooine. Not a word is spoken; his face says more than lines and lines of dialogue could – regret, sorrow, guilt, pain, all outlined in the wizened Jedi’s face. Opposite him is the new, optimistic, hopeful face of Rey, who seems a lot like Luke used to be years and years ago; a new hope for the galaxy, if you will.
I don’t want to delve too much deeper into the plot. I am not the novelist for this movie, after all. But to sum it up, I think that “Empire Strikes Back” will keep its throne in my personal list… it felt so weighty and nearly perfect. But “The Force Awakens” continues to inch up higher with each viewing.
It is a film that moved me in ways few films ever have… and I will love it always for that. Cinema, I've decided personally, needs to move the heart of the viewer to succeed. And “The Force Awakens” is a masterpiece of cinematic delight. Other films might be more cerebral, might be smarter, might be shot much better even, but few can top the emotional tour de force that was The Force Awakens. I still feel in awe.