- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
“This will begin to make things right.” That’s literally the first line of dialogue in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Well excuuuuuse me, Mr. J.J. Abrams, co-writer and director of the year’s most anticipated movie by a large margin. We’ll just see about that.
The spoilers ahead will be the most mild. We’re not going to discuss that thing with the bad guy. Or that super cool thing with that one ship. You know the one I’m talking about. As we’re definitely not going to talk about … well, I’ve said too much already.
And yes, you will probably really enjoy the film. Some of you — maybe most of you, perhaps all of you — are going to absolutely love it.
All that stuff you hated about the prequels: The overpacked CGI, the trade disputes, the Jedi rattail, the $#@#% Midi-chlorians? All gone, all unmissed.
But I can understand why — upon viewing this, again, massively enjoyable movie — “Star Wars” progenitor George Lucas kept his comments somewhat passive-aggressive: “I think the fans are going to love it,” and “It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.”
Which is to say Lucas recalls an animated George Harrison on the “Simpsons” watching Homer and his barbershop quartet, the Be Sharps, performing atop Moe’s Tavern and mumbling, “It’s been done.”
Because, for all of its humor and charm and thrilling dogfights and genuinely teary moments (I’m not made of stone, people), “The Force Awakens” revels in its derivative nature, in its open-armed embrace of warm nostalgia.
Abrams has said “The Force Awakens” is self-consciously mapped on the 1977 movie, but there are shoutouts to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Triumph of the Will,” “The Third Man,” “The Hobbit” and “Harry Potter” (The circle is now complete!). And Abrams’ own directorial cliches are absent: There is no lens flare and no Beastie Boys on the soundtrack.
Abrams, who wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), had the tallest of orders: Could he continue the “Star Wars” story and not make it seem like the most egregious fan-fiction?
It’s a tightrope, even if “Star Wars” is and always has been a generational story, about the repetition (emphasis added) of family tragedy and heroics through time.
In the crawl, we learn that [redacted] has gone on a bit of a walkabout and that the Resistance — essentially an elite military aspect of the New Republic — is very eager to find him.
A post-Imperial junta calling itself the First Order — essentially the Empire as well-armed terrorists rather than a governing body — would like to bring fascism back to the galaxy.
Their most fanatical adherent is a young man named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who dresses in black, wears a black helmet, and acts like a millennial Darth Vader. Pretty much everyone else in the First Order is British, just like on the Death Star.
In a tiny hamlet on the desert planet Jakku, we meet hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac and man, is it fun hearing him say “Star Wars”-y things in that wait-is-he-doing-Pacino? accent) receiving a thumb drive from an old man (Max von Sydow) that contains a special map.
Quicker than you can say “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Poe is shoving the thumb drive into his charming droid BB-8 as First Order troops are having their way with an extremely flammable village. BB-8 rolls off into the desert to find … wait, is this sounding familiar?
Elsewhere on this backwater, a young and extremely self-sufficient scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley, in a star-making performance) encounters a Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega, also a blast), who has suddenly grown a conscience.
They soon team up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford, as charming as he gets in the 21st century) and Chewbacca, and we’re off into a world of melodramatic planetary romance and high space fantasy, complete with people we know (Carrie Fisher looking a little wobbly as General Leia Organa) and people we don’t (Andy Serkis as the First Order’s appropriately weird Supreme Leader Snoke).
Perfectly paced, the story flies along, giving fans what they want to see. There is a brilliant light saber battle. There is a planet-buster of a weapon. There is a trench just like Beggar’s Canyon back home. Abrams is more than willing to gloss over a few weird plot holes (How does the Resistance know … eh, nevermind), which remains a heck of a lot more fun than overexplaining things.
After all, Abrams is smart enough to know that “Star Wars” isn’t a thinker; it’s a feeler. It’s never been about science; it has always been about fiction. It’s about the sensation you get when you see Rey or Finn holding a lightsaber and diving into battle, about seeing the Falcon spin and dive, about seeing a furious Kylo Ren.
Look, we’ll talk more after you’ve seen it. But Lucas, of all people, is right: It is exactly the movie “Star Wars” fans want.