Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
A presence I've not felt since...
The long-awaited return of the Star Wars saga opts for the "all too easy" approach.
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher
Released by Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Expectation can be a cruel thing. Even though it's been over a decade since the last time we visited the Star Wars universe in live-action on the big screen, its status as a cultural phenomenon that's captured the imaginations of millions of fans all over the world has never diminished. Even though the last live-action "episode" was the conclusion to a trilogy that pop culture at-large seems to relish in reviling, the general goodwill that exists for the Star Wars universe and its characters is stronger than it's ever been.
Add to that cultural ubiquity the fact that this is a movie that tries very hard to be a "return to form" for the franchise, and you have a mountain of expectation that can't possibly be met by millions of fans all over the globe. Or...can it?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh main entry in the long-running space opera series, checking in with the universe and its characters in the time period after 1983's Return of the Jedi, becoming the first true sequel the series has had in over 30 years. In addition to introducing us to a whole new cast of characters led by the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) — a mysterious young woman with significant potential in the classic Star Wars mold — we also get to check in, also for the first time in over three decades, with the timeless characters introduced to us first in the original film from 1977.
Directed by J.J. Abrams from a script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Empire Strikes Back) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), the one thing that should be immediately enticing to anyone who calls themselves a fan of this world is the fact that we're finally, once again, moving forward with new stories, new planets, new situations, and new characters to bolster our favorite heroes.
Except...the biggest problem with The Force Awakens as a whole new work in the Star Wars universe is that it's all too familiar.
Don't get me wrong: the new characters all have a lot to offer the stories going forward, especially where Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are concerned, but the overall problem with The Force Awakens is something that is intrinsically unsatisfying to anyone hoping for new adventures.
If this film is any indication, the setting of this new trilogy is virtually unchanged from the original. We have a "Resistance" battling against Imperial wannabes in the "First Order," which on its face is no different from the overall conflict that the Rebel Alliance waged against the Galactic Empire. In thirty years, we also discover quickly that Luke Skywalker has apparently — and utterly — failed to save the Jedi Order from the brink of extinction, since the opening crawl plainly describes him as "the last Jedi." Kind of a troubling perspective to give to the definitive hero of the saga, if you ask me.
While no one can take away from the emotional beating heart at seeing the likes of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and now-General Leia (Carrie Fisher) again, it also looks like their overall positions are virtually untouched, preserved in amber for three decades until the time of this new story arrived in their lives. C-3PO, R2-D2 and the new cute droid BB-8 all have their moments, too, but the troubling thing about The Force Awakens at-large is just how...safe everything feels, except for one major new addition.
Adam Driver's Kylo Ren steals the show here as a brilliant character. Conflicted because of his past (details of which should resonate with every Star Wars fan) and a calling towards the Dark Side of the Force, this guy represents much of the potential that these new stories could have going forward. The creative team wisely decided not to cast him in the mold of immortal Sith Lord Darth Vader, because as much as Luke would discover the nature of conflict within his father, Vader has nothing on the inner turmoil which engulfs Kylo Ren, even symbolized by the crackling, chaotic nature of his own lightsaber.
The Force Awakens is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It brings back the heroes we first fell in love with, introduces us to new heroes and a powerful new villain, and hints at the potential that this new series of films under the stewardship of Disney very much has. On the other hand, though, this first new chapter runs dangerously close to setting us up for a broad carbon copy of the original trilogy, which is a little troubling strictly from an analysis of the film's creativity.
We've got a couple of years before the next episodic entry in the main saga of Star Wars films, and while that next one will likely also roar back to cheers from the masses, let's hope that this solid, if predictable first new turn will come with some exciting swerves as we look to the horizon.
It's great to have Star Wars back, and while The Force Awakens left me wanting more, I don't think it left me with quite the impression that it intended. After all, expectation can be a cruel thing.