Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

At four a.m. on Friday morning I sat in the quietest theater I’d ever experienced. The family of loudly obnoxious chewers next to me had all put down their popcorn, the small children a few rows ahead of me were statuesque, and I was acutely aware of my own breathing volume. Then that familiar music began and the words “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared simple and blue upon the screen. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens Directed by J.J. Abrams
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy,
J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Written by Lawrence Kasdan,
J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill
Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega
Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o
Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson
Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
Max von Sydow
December 18, 2015

It’s perhaps no surprise that everyone was on their best movie behavior, or that the four a.m. show was just as packed as the premiere slot, the midnight showing, the two a.m., and what I saw of the long line, also the six a.m. showing. Haven’t we, as a movie watching culture, been awaiting a redemptive film since the last of the disappointing prequels aired? The Associated Press reported that the film “set a box office record with an estimated $57 million from Thursday night shows.”The success continued into the weekend and NBC reported that it was “the widest December opening ever with 4,134 theaters.” Continuing to break records, USAToday reports, “The latest film in the gargantuan franchise brought in $49.3 million Friday [Christmas Day] in North America.”

The marketing alone for this newest sequel has been impressive. Fans have raved over each trailer released, controversies have cropped up (with racists concerned about the inclusion of a black stormtrooper), and Disney/LucasFilms have tried to reach the women’s market with makeup.

SPOILER WARNING: The following review is FULL OF SPOILERS.

In case you’re not planning on going to go see this movie: Go see this movie. It’s spectacular. It’s enough of its own story that even if you’ve never seen a Star Wars film before you can still enjoy this as a great science fiction film. For those of you who are huge fans of the originals and worried that these films would be as much of a letdown as the Lloyd-Portman catastrophes, do not fear! It is as if the prequels do not even exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not as much of a hater as a lot of the fandom i I believe there is some value in Episodes 1-3. (See Broadly’s recent article about “How the Phantom Menace Inspired a Generation of LGBT Youth.”) Yet I also know that they have none of the fun and joy of Episodes 4-6. I was concerned a return to the original spirit was no longer possible, the waters were too muddied. Further, I didn’t have faith in Director J.J. Abrams as I’ve been, along with many fans, disappointed in his revival of the Star Trek series.

The film opens, after the scrolling text of course, with an impressive shot of a colossal spaceship, and a massacre in the desert. The universe is still at war, with The First Order as the new fascists on the block. During the opening shootout it because clear that Abrams had tapped into the original, campy energy of the best Star Wars moments. As Kylo Ren, dressed in homage to Darth Vader, interrogates a Resistance (Rebel) Fighter, Poe, the latter makes snide comments about it being hard to hear the Dark Sider through his mask.

Through the well-known opening credits text-block, the audience is informed that Luke has been missing and that General Leia’s best pilot is hot on the trail of a map of Skywalker’s coordinates. It is during this first scene that the Resistance’s best fighter, Poe, is captured, the adorable new robot, BB-8, keeps the map safe, and a Stormtrooper comes to an awakening. (Eventually named) Finn witnesses the destruction and death during his first battle and wants no part of it. This is perhaps the risk of no longer having clones; brainwashing doesn’t always work forever.

Everything is familiar and nothing is quite the same. Alien races from the previous films are similar, but have been given a 21st century facelift. Though The First Order has held onto the uniforms of the empire, their clones have been replaced with soldiers brainwashed from birth, and they’ve added in a few snazzy additions to the costume to denote rank. Darth Vader Jr. wears a similar, but distinct costume to his predecessor’s getup. Of course, the iconic music plays throughout the scenes, and a lightsaber still buzzes distinctly.

This is the Star Wars film I wish I had as a young girl.

Rey, the new young Jedi, is seriously impressive. There are the somewhat overdone moments of “man comes to rescue woman, realizes woman is more capable than rescuer” in the beginning, but afterward she is respected by her male companion, and by the older men around her. Han Solo even offers her a job aboard the “garbage” Millennium Falcon. When she is tied-up and tortured by Kylo Ren she is not sexualized, nor is there sexual tension between her and the evil overlord. There is much more focus on friendship and reunion in this iteration than on romance. None of the women are overly sexualized, Lupita Nyong’o plays a really great CGI character (because she wanted the focus off of her body), and the only romancing that is mentioned is between older adults.

Fans will remember this Facebook comment from a few months ago regarding the image released of Gwendolyn Christie playing a Stormtrooper commander:

Tweet

Not only does Christie do an excellent job portraying a fascist, but she’s never de-helmeted, or used as a sexy-woman-beneath-the-armor. Which, honestly, is somewhat surprising. If there is any moment like this in the film, it’s subverted: Kylo Ren removes his Vader head to reveal not a face scarred by fire, but an attractive, full head of hair.

Finn and Rey join up with Han Solo and Chewbacca to bring the map back to the resistance, which feels right instead of gimmicky. The story is full of chance encounters, but they are cloaked in fate and fun, so it’s forgivable. Finn and Rey are a great duo. The ex-Stormtrooper is funny and kind, playing off Rey’s efficient sternness. They make great foils to the long term friendship of Solo and Chewy, the scenes of all four of them are some of the best.

As a child I was obsessed with the Sith, they seemed so, well, powerful, as well as fashionable and free. They did what they wanted while the Jedis lived chaste, monklike existences. Yet I had to fit myself awkwardly into the tale. I was a fat, nerdy girl-child. There were so few women in the films and when they did show up the focus was on their sex appeal, not their strength. During The Force Awakens I thought of the numerous young girls in the theater around me, in the the theaters all around the world, watching Rey be strong and smart and my geek heart grew ten sizes.

This film is like the others, and yet all its own. “A Force Awakens” is a great start to a new trilogy, and not just because it’s Star Wars.

Al Rosenberg

Al Rosenberg

Gay weirdo. Talk to her about tiny games, big books, trash, and all things illness.

4 thoughts on “Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  1. “This is the Star Wars film I wish I had as a young girl.”

    Exactly! I agree with a lot of the critiques of some old hack to the overall plot, but fuck ’em, because I couldn’t help thinking of little me watching that as a kid and seeing Rey and going “I can be a jedi.”

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