“I think George Lucas gonna sue somebody!”
-Chaka (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)
No other movie in the history of film has been more anticipated than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Perhaps the prequels were close, but the internet was young, and information was hard to come by. Once critical word got out about The Phantom Menace, expectations began to slow. If you are just looking at the box office numbers, it’s hard to describe the prequels as disappointments, but if you talk to any fan, they have mostly feelings of disdain for those films. So the intrigue and secrecy around The Force Awakens had fanboys and critics questioning the hype.
J.J. Abrams’s first shot at the franchise answered all the questions with a round of applause. It will be hard to write a review that doesn’t spoil the movie, but I will attempt to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. J.J. Abrams was perhaps the best choice to restart this franchise. The Force Awakens is reverent to the source material without completely pandering to its audience. Abrams has faced many criticisms throughout his career, and he has always pushed forward. While his direction, particularly in The Force Awakens, can seem contrived, he always creates endearing characters.
With all the good and bad that comes with Abrams, his best attribute is his ability to cast a film. Working alongside casting director Nina Gold, Abrams has chosen the perfect array of no name talent to share the screen with the famous originals. The most intriguing presence on screen is Daisy Ridley. She is our “new Luke”. The story is told through her lens. Not only is she a strong female character, she is also an excellent actress. This cast is littered with diversity and not just for the sake of it. John Boyega is terrific as Finn. Finn is essentially our co-lead, and the chemistry between Boyega and Ridley is off the charts. The last bit of casting I want to praise is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren.
Driver is a favorite among cinephiles, but he will surely be building his fan base after his performance in The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren is light years ahead of every other villain created by George Lucas. That includes the classic Darth Vader. We understand Vader’s character arc because Lucas gave us three films to flesh it out, but Kylo Ren has his arc revealed as the film plays out. This particularly sets this installment apart. Driver is a terrific actor and delivers a powerful and chilling performance. Star Wars as a series isn’t known for its acting, but in this movie the acting is center stage.
Even though The Force Awakens is a breath of fresh air in this universe, it isn’t without its problems. I don’t want to get to involved in the story for fear of spoilers, but let’s just say that it isn’t the most original screenplay. Plot points are hit as though it was created out of a how to make a Star Wars handbook. At times The Force Awakens feels like it could have been stolen from a fan fiction website. Those who are accustomed to J.J. Abrams will also recognize some of his habitual mistakes. Oftentimes side characters are given overly expository dialogue, and some characters could be described as stilted.
The fortunate thing for fans is that Abrams is an excellent craftsman. He handles the story perfectly and builds just enough tension to pay off some rather obvious surprises. The best quality Abrams brought with him to this franchise was his eye for talent. When the story and script falter, the cast picks him up. Daisy Ridley could be the find of the century and is going to be a huge star in the coming future. John Boyega is another rapidly growing young actor who is sure to be sought after, but the casting of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren puts The Force Awakens over the top. What could have been just another Abrams lens flare has ended up being a fun space romp with some of our favorite characters.