Here are my spoiler-free initial impressions of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
As a geek who grew up on Star Wars more than any other movie, I have been excited for The Force Awakens. My daughter just turned seven, so she’s now the same age I was when the original movie came out. We’ve been watching the movies together in preparation for this new one, and her excitement for the originals, and her anticipation for the new movie, have further spurred on my own excitement. I saw it late last night, by myself; we’ll go as a family just after Christmas. Without further ado….
This movie has a lot–perhaps too much–to do in a couple short hours. It has to set up a bunch of new characters, establish an arc for the trilogy, tie it together with the past, and also has to have a plot to drive this episode. I think it does really well at the early things in this list, at the expense of the latter.
If you don’t want to read the rest: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. It doesn’t quite reach the level of Empire, but is better than Return of the Jedi, and might even be better than A New Hope, except that Episode IV has the benefit of being the original. Episode VII is far, far better than any of the terrible prequels.
- Rey is perhaps the best-formed, most interesting character right out of the gate, from any Star Wars movie. Her story is good, and Daisy Ridley is convincing and captivating. I think her performance as a strong female character is more in-line with what I expected from Natalie Portman, before being bitterly disappointed. Unlike Portman’s Amidala, Rey is not a character who has to be pulled into the action from a diplomatic post; she’s in the thick of it from the beginning. Her strong start is reminiscent of, and perhaps even better than that of, J.J. Abrams’s Sydney Bristow from Alias. I’m so happy that my daughter will have such a great female character to enjoy.
- Finn is another fun character with a strong start. It’s so fun to see characters in Star Wars being played by actors who are good, and not burdened with expectations from other big performances (see Natalie Portman, above). Finn is not quite what I expected, but he’s great.
- Han and Leia’s relationship is more complicated than ever, and it’s wonderful to see them spend screen time together. The nostalgia is off-the-charts when they’re on-screen. Harrison Ford is obviously having fun making this movie, and his rough edges have softened, making for a fun performance.
- Kylo Ren is a different kind of dark robed bad guy with a light saber, and I’ll leave it at that. His performance is a lot of fun to watch, and it’s great to have another take on a Force-wielding bad guy. His role and personality are likely to be controversial, but I really enjoyed it.
- The arc for the characters being set up for the remainder of the trilogy is interesting, and there are plenty of fun questions raised by this movie. The end of the movie is reminiscent of the bittersweet ending from The Empire Strikes Back; it’s built to be the starting point of the next movie.
- The story of this episode is too derivative of some past plots, but luckily it almost doesn’t matter; it’s simply there to provide the action to keep the rest of it moving, and an impetus to bring our new characters together.
- “Easy? You call that easy?!” No, I call this easy. “All too easy”, even. You’ll know what I mean. That said, see the bullet point above.
- Poe Dameron is too much of a cliche, even for a movie franchise whose characters are all cliches. It’s possible for this to get better in the future, I suppose.
- Captain Phasma doesn’t have much to do, and is much less impressive than I’d hoped.
- There’s not enough explanation of how the Resistance and First Order sprang from the Rebellion and the Empire. I understand why this probably couldn’t make the cut, but as a fan of the originals, I want to know more about what happened after Return of the Jedi.