WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Let me preface this by telling you that I am not a Star Wars nerd. I mean, I love the old (first three) movies and have always found them entertaining, but I'm not the guy out there buying comic books and toys and exploring the minutiae of the entire Star Wars canon via the magic of Wookiepedia (yes, that is a real site).
The prequel films? Those are terrible in every way imaginable. The acting is wooden at best and awful most of the time. The storyline is convoluted. And the films are almost entirely CGI, which gives it a look of a bad animated film. It's like George Lucas wanted to destroy the legacy he'd created with the original trilogy.
But now, there is "The Force Awakens," the start of a new trilogy. Lucas is no longer around; he thankfully sold Lucasfilm and the entirety of Star Wars to Disney a few years ago. In his place as director is J.J. Abrams, the wizard of a director who created Alias, Lost and then revitalized the dead and buried Star Trek movie series. Abrams is a miracle worker, and so it is no surprise, then, that he has created what is, for my money at least, the best of all the Star Wars films.
"Force" tells the story of two young people. There is Finn, a former sanitation worker and Stormtrooper on a massive new star weapon that is roughly 20 times the size of the original Death Star. The weapon is the prime asset of the First Order, a new group that is neither the Empire or the Republic and, in fact, at least visually has much in common with the German Third Reich. Finn doesn't believe in his mission, and so he hatches a plan to escape from the Order and leave them in his wake. He's helped out in executing this plan by a Resistance pilot who was captured during a raid on another planet by Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren is the bad guy here, and he is an extraordinarily good villain. He is the son of Han Solo and Princess Leiah. His real name is Ben Solo, clearly named after Ben Kenobi. He began his training in The Force with Luke Skywalker, but he turned against Luke, which led to Luke going into hiding. Ren puts on a stunning black mask and works with the First Order, while Luke becomes more mythical than real.
And then there is Rey, a young woman who lives on a remote dusty planet. She is a scrap collector, she is good with mechanical things and she's a damn fine pilot, which makes her sound an awful lot like both Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Oh, and she has a deep connection with The Force, discovered later in the film.
That's the general setup here. The First Order is looking for Skywalker. The Resistance, led by the now-General Leia, is also looking for him. A droid named BB-8 has the final piece of the map that leads to Skywalker, and the First Order knows about it. And so ensues a storyline that is both familiar and new as the Order and the Resistance look for Skywalker.
The most striking thing about this movie was that it did not feel long enough. I didn't want it to end. I smiled like a kid nearly the entire movie. I smiled when I left. It creates a sense of wonder deep inside that I haven't felt since the original trilogy. A whole generation of children will now feel that feeling for the first time, and the Star Wars franchise will continue to live on despite George Lucas' best efforts.
I absolutely LOVED that Abrams built out full sets, relying only on CGI when absolutely necessary. The ships and flying sequences are CGI, of course, and they look and sound incredible. And the lightsabers and laser rifles. But nearly everything else is real. The sets are expansive and gorgeous, and viewing this film immediately after watching the prequel films makes you realize just how tacky they are by comparison. This is a real movie with a lot of real stunts, and it feels far more grounded in reality.
The movie has its share of shocking moments (WHAT FOLLOWS ARE MASSIVE SPOILER, IF YOU DO NOT WANT THE MOVIE EXPERIENCE RUINED, STOP READING HERE). The death of Han Solo at the hands of his own son, Kylo Ren, surprised me even though it felt almost certain once Han began walking out to face his son on a bridge high over what seems like an endless pit. It was a throwback to the scene where Vader informed Luke that he was his father from The Empire Strikes Back, and you just knew it was going to end badly.
There is a lot of speculation about who Rey is, exactly, and where she came from. That's obviously a major plot point that will be revealed in future episodes (the next one comes out 15 months from now, which will feel like an eternity). My best guess is that Rey is Luke's daughter. I believe he left her on the sand planet Jakku to keep her hidden from the First Order, who would have attempted to use her to find him. There are many signals that this is the case, from the similarities with Anakin and Luke (sand planet, great mechanic and pilot) to the visions she experienced when she first touched Luke's lightsaber. Others touched the lightsaber and experienced no visions; Rey did, and I believe that's a sign that she has a direct tie to the saber. And also, there's the moment in the woods when Kylo tried to use the Force to call the saber into his hand, but instead it flew past him and went into Rey's hand.
I also have a theory about Kylo. Near the end of the movie, the giant hologram bad guy (who we can only assume is behind the creation of the First Order and who is probably a very powerful Sith lord) says that Kylo Ren, lying hurt in the snowy woods after losing a lightsaber duel with Rey, needs to be fetched so he can complete his training. I believe that Kylo will finish out his training and become a full Sith lord, and when he does, I believe that his dedication to his grandfather will lead him to don an altered version of the destroyed Vader mask which he keeps in his room on the battleship. He might even be known as Darth Ren from that point forward.
The truth is that I could talk about this movie all day. It was filled to overflowing with little nods to Star Wars fans. There were cameos galore (listen for Daniel Craig's voice; he did a cameo as a Stormtrooper but never takes off his mask) and there were nods to the history of the franchise, mostly the old films. It's a beautiful work of art that was nearly perfect in every way.
If you haven't seen it yet, I don't know what you're waiting for. Go. Now.
RATING: 10 out of 10