Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaacs, Lupita Nyongo’o
I went into this film with a lot of high hopes and excitement, but I knew it would never live up to the very first Star Wars film. How could it? I was 17 when I saw the original Star Wars. It was unlike any film I had ever seen before. It was the first film I ever spent my own money to see in a theater more than once. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen in a theater more than three times. That’s a big legacy to live up to.
This film was also released in an atmosphere of massive anticipation, with an accompanying social media and advertising blitz. I read numerous online articles speculating about it, saw hundreds of still photos, and watched many behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube. In the weeks leading up to its release I saw at least a half-dozen different trailers. Yet somehow I managed to find the movie full of surprises.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! You have been warned.
I’ll start from the beginning. The film opens with the classic introductory title “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by a title crawl. The crawl mentions that the best pilot in the Resistance has been sent to find Luke Skywalker. I took that statement to be a wink at the audience, likely indicating that the “best pilot” was Han Solo, since I knew Harrison Ford was in the film. But the movie promptly proved me wrong by introducing a new character, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs). The trailers had also led me to believe that the franchise’s newest adorable droid, BB-8, belonged to main new female protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley). But immediately this was also disproved when Poe Dameron was seen with BB-8, treating the droid as his best companion.
The film went on to shatter almost every preconception I had about it. I had expected Han Solo’s role to be small, due to the desire to focus on the new characters Rey and Finn (John Boyega), and Harrison Ford’s age. But Han was an important part of much of the story. I expected Leia’s role to be larger than it was. I expected Luke to show up earlier and have some dialogue. I expected to see more of C-3PO and R2-D2. I expected Rey to be related to the original characters somehow (she still may be), but there was certainly no indication of that in this movie. I expected Finn to also be a Force user because he was shown using a lightsaber in the trailers, but no one commented on that (so either lightsabers can be used by anyone, or he is a Force-sensitive but none of the other Force-sensitive characters cared to say anything about it). I expected Finn’s reason for abandoning his stormtrooper armor to be different. I expected Kylo Ren’s true identity to come as a horrible surprise to Han Solo and General Leia. I spent a lot of the movie thinking, “Oh, wow, so that’s what happens!” and grinning.
I also found myself pleased and amused by how well this movie stuck to the style of the original trilogy. In many ways it felt as though Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VII: Return of the Jedi had been mashed together. A young person living on a desert planet was suddenly taken away aboard the Millenium Falcon to be introduced to a whole new life. She learned the ways of the Force in a very short time. She fought a black-clad masked villain and overcame him. A young man abandoned his former life to join the fight against a repressive regime, and helped his new friends to destroy an ultimate weapon of mass destruction. I’m sure there many people out there who found this annoying, in the same way they disliked how director JJ Abrams re-worked the iconic Spock death scene from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan in his film Star Trek: Into Darkness. But I enjoy that kind of storytelling, taking an existing tale and twisting it a little, letting the viewer see it from a different perspective. I liked seeing how Abrams and his team did that in this movie, and yet did it very respectfully with the same kind of characterizations, plot elements, and dialogue as in the original films.
But this movie, like its predecessors, is part of a continuing saga, and the new production team wisely left lots of questions yet to be answered. Why was Rey on Jakku, and who are her parents? Why is she so strong in the Force? How did she learn to use it so quickly with no one to teach her? How was Finn able to overcome his lifelong conditioning and rebel against the First Order? What happened to Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma when the planet started to implode? What has Luke Skywalker been doing all the years he’s been missing? What will he say to Rey? I want answers, and I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next installment to answer some of them. The original film made me want more, and this film made me want more. I’d say that’s a success.