Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
"Hi, I just purchased some tickets online for the new Star Wars movie that comes out today -- you're probably very aware of its release, now that I think about it -- and I was wondering how early you would suggest I arrive to ensure a good seat," I blundered through a call to my local theater. Gracefully allowing my clumsily-worded inquiry to slide, the manager recommended that I get there an hour ahead of the 10:45 PM showing of The Force Awakens.
We arrive at the appropriate time and promptly stand in the wrong line for half an hour. Eventually, we are herded into the correct auditorium to watch handsome-but-bland knockoff Chris Hardwicks (even worse than the real thing!) tell us about the hottest new movie trivia onscreen while being subjected to what was apparently the cleverest seating ruse of all time, at least judging by the smugness of the teenagers who executed the ploy. By all accounts, I was in a less-than-perfect state of mind to enjoy two-and-a-half hours of space antics.
But hey, the new Star Wars is rad. I won't talk about plot specifics, and this isn't really a review anyway. I'll need to see it again a few times to cement my feelings on it, but I had a great time watching the movie. J.J. and his squad captured the essence of what (I think) people love about Star Wars by making a Star Wars-ass adventure take place in a Star Wars-ass universe. The Force Awakens is A New Hope 2.0 and that's totally great -- because A New Hope was great. There's some undeniably super hokey stuff happening in The Force Awakens, mostly in the second half, but guess what: Star Wars is super hokey. It would have been nice to get away from some of the contrived-apocalypse aspects to the plot, but erring on the safe side of what made the original trilogy work is what the franchise needed after the prequels. The movie is in perfect position to set up a solid trilogy and lays firm groundwork for its successors (Rian Johnson directing Episode VIII is all the more exciting now).
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are tremendous as the new faces of Star Wars; I'm instantly entirely invested in their characters and excited to see where they'll go. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson hit all the right notes as they are quasi-reunited after 2015's other sci-fi film, Ex Machina (although it's weird to think that both The Force Awakens and Ex Machina share a genre). Harrison Ford is still the man and Carrie Fisher still can't really act very well, although the two share a few moments that are genuinely touching. Adam Driver as an angsty villain who fetishizes Darth Vader plays his part with fervent intensity, which makes up for some of the weirdness surrounding his character. Beyond the human characters, BB-8 is endlessly charming as nu-R2. Unfortunately, because there are so many practical characters - whether costumed or robotic - the CGI ones stand out despite the quality of their rendering.
The Force Awakens is appropriately equal parts hokey nostalgia and modernized, slick science fiction fantasy. I understand some of the criticism that's floating around out there, but I also think it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the new Star Wars movie must be the absolute best or absolute worst. An audience must either gush praise or scream outrage at the latest blockbuster, and when facing a film with the pedigree of The Force Awakens, the reaction will be correspondingly more extreme. I had a great time with Episode VII, even if my experience watching it is basically a laundry list of reasons why I should avoid going out into public.