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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Release Date: 12-17-2015)

        A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... a filthy, exhausted, and frustrated Luke Skywalker attempted to lift his X-Wing out of the treacherous Dagobah swamp using only the force. With victory in the palm on his hand, the Jedi in training experienced a lapse in focus and confidence, and watched his star ship sink back down into the murky depths. When Yoda, his wise, pint-sized master, implored him to try again, Luke simply answered "You ask the impossible." I've never felt quite as much like young Skywalker as I do right now, two days removed from my first viewing of J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and attempting to write a worthwhile film review without spoiling ANYTHING. The film series that George Lucas brought to life back in 1977 has developed a following that, more so than any other in the history of cinema, borders on religion. Were I to ruin any of the events that take place in the movie, I could be force-choked in front of a crowd of people, and no one would lift a finger. And frankly, I would deserve it. In my near-28 years on the Earth system, I cannot recall a single film generating this level of feverish anticipation, and experiencing the movie myself only reiterated the importance of going in with as little pre-existing knowledge as possible. Difficult as it may prove, I hereby promise to not reveal a single thing about The Force Awakens. This is no laughing matter; there will only be doing, and strictly no trying.

        The seventh entry into everyone's favorite intergalactic saga begins with... wait, damn it (is it a spoiler to say that, at one point, it begins?). The inclusion of a summary in any movie review serves the simple purpose of cluing a reader into wether they might be interested in the story at hand, which makes The Force Awakens the perfect review in which to bypass one entirely. There have already been 6+ hours of Star Wars movies for everyone to decide if they're in or out on this space-set odyssey (13+ if you really want to include those other ones), and I've got a funny feeling that revealing the whereabouts of C-3PO isn't really going to move the needle one way or the other on that issue. People know Star Wars the way that they know language, not as something that they learned at a specific point, but a tale that's been recited since near infancy, and thereby wholly entrenched in the brain trust of popular culture.

        This makes adding anything to the universe both terrifying and tantalizing, but I'm here to tell you that those reservations can finally be set aside. The Force Awakens might not be a perfect movie, but I would argue that its casting actually is, ushering in a new slate of heros and villains to love and despise for years to come. It's a very rare thing to actually witness a star be born on screen in a single two-hour sitting, but in Episode VII, it happens twice-over. Where in the galaxy has Daisy Ridley been hiding all this time? The young Brit is like a magnet to the eyeballs, and if fans have retroactively appropriated Leia as a feminist icon, wait until they get a load of her performance as Rey. Then there's John Boyega, who vacillates between wonder, fear, snark, and joy without any discernible effort. Anyone starring in a Star Wars movie will inevitably have their name permanently etched in the history of cinema (Jake Lloyd, anyone?), but this is different. As of this writing, both are only 23 years old, and if both aren't legitimate movie stars for at least the next decade, you can freeze me in carbonite.

        When it's all said and done, it's Ridley and Boyega who truly stick with you, but that's not to say the other new additions aren't sublime. Oscar Isaac makes the most of his limited screen time as... wait... never mind. Then there's Kylo Ren, perhaps the film's most intriguing and multi-faceted new character, whose every action will stir up feverish conversation and debate until Episode VIII arrives in 2017. No such controversy will exist for BB-8, that soccer ball of unstoppable adorableness who gives Wall-e a true roll for his money as to who's the cutest robot in the last decade of film. None of these glorious new characters would exist without Lawrence Kasdan, the scribe behind both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, whose name we have not heard in a long, long time. He brings the same understanding of how to create interplay between lovable characters into this film as he did the last two, and Abrams' crisp visual aesthetic and preference toward practical effects make him unthinkably well-suited to steer the ship. Fans of the original series may take umbrage with his pacing, which is fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, but with his preternatural understanding of how to create endearing characters and immediately engross an audience, there's little denying that he was the perfect person to bring Star Wars into 2015.

        Yes, everything that's new sparkles and shines, but some of the old stuff keeps The Force Awakens from fully ascending to the delirious heights of its predecessors. I'm of course only allowed to dip my toes in the waters of this idea without ruining my spoiler-free promise, but suffice to say, I think the further this new series moves away from its forbearers, the better. This is perhaps a bigger problem than I can really get into here, but this movie is capable of putting that kind of critical thinking on the back-burner for the majority of its runtime. As anyone who's already seen the film can attest, there's strikingly little that can be elaborated upon without drawing some severe ire from all who have not yet had the pleasure, but the latest entry is pretty damn good, and left me with three impressions that I feel safe in sharing: the new cast is phenomenal, I wanted to watch it again almost immediately, and it genuinely felt like Star Wars, and that's a presence I have not felt since... well, this. That's right people; we're home.

Grade: A-

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