The Force finally wakes up and gives us a good movie

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


The Force Awakens
Kramer Imax, Cineplex, Southland
4 out of 5

So. What’s been going on in that galaxy far, far away for the last 30 years?

It’s apparently been an eventful three decades.

Turns out Return Of The Jedi’s rebel victory was less decisive than initially thought. From the ashes of the Empire has emerged a fascist outfit called the First Order. Its boss, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), runs everything with help from the genocidal General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and temperamental Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Hux is basically a Nazi, while Ren has Jedi-like powers.

Opposing these baddies is a military group — the Resistance — which engages the First Order in a proxy war for the Republic.

The movie opens with a shootout that lands Resistance star pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Kylo Ren’s clutches. Fortunately for Dameron he’s rescued by Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a stormtrooper who defects when he realizes he’s on Team Evil. Finn and Dameron crash land on the Tatooine-like Jakku but are separated, but then fate (or the Force?) leads Finn to Rey (Daisy Ridley) a principled scavenger who’s recently acquired a droid carrying top-secret information.

It’s not long before the three run into a certain grizzled but still cavalier smuggler (Harrison Ford, having a ball for a change) and a familiar tall, furry sidekick (Peter Mayhew).

Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (writer of Empire and Jedi) introduce plenty of mysteries, some of which get resolved, some of which don’t. Chief among them is the location of the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) — who the First Order and Resistance are both keen to find.

Strong Enough To Pull The Ears Off A Gundark

The smartest decision Abrams makes is taking The Force Awakens back to basics. One of the (many) problems with the Star Wars prequels was their grandiosity. Between too many characters and non-stop, videogame-like action, audiences rarely had a chance to breathe. Abrams keeps The Force Awakens simple. There are plenty of callbacks to the original trilogy but the direction they take is different enough to make this movie its own beast.

The Force Awakens also benefits from limber cinematography — the original trilogy was wooden and the prequels’ ADD approach was impossible to engage with. Also unlike the prequels: The Force Awakens has a tactile quality, thanks to a combination of practical effects and the fact that this movie was shot on real film. It does make a difference.

As for the 3-D, it’s great — you can’t beat a Star Destroyer threatening to break out of the screen or a shot-up TIE fighter tumbling right at you.

Because this paper is run by nerds, I’ve got some more space to write about The Force Awakens than I usually get for a review, so here’s a bunch of random thoughts. There are minor spoilers ahead, so be warned.

GOOD CHARACTERS The new leads are terrific — Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are all strong and compelling. Rey looks for belonging, Finn guns for redemption, and Ren might embody what George Lucas was (unsuccessfully) going for with Anakin Skywalker. Unlike Hayden Christianson, Adam Driver can convincingly convey his character’s contradictions: strength vs. weakness, confidence vs. insecurity and love vs. hate.

GOOD ACTORS It’s no surprise Oscar Isaac is great in a limited role, but Boyega and Ridley are delightful. Boyega has great comedic instincts and Rey is utterly sympathetic yet tough as nails. I’ll be happy to follow them for the next two instalments.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT All but one of the battles take place on land or in the air — even the obligatory dogfight between X-Wings and TIE fighters. A Star Wars movie never had fewer stars.

GO SOLO OR GO HOME As for the old-timers, that would be telling too much. I will say, though, that The Force Awakens is Han Solo’s movie. Harrison Ford gives Solo new dimensions without losing the rugged charm. His repartee with Chewbacca is an absolute joy. Carrie Fisher is fine, although for some reason she’s saddled with the film’s worst dialogue. A little depressing considering she’s the original trilogy’s only female character.

ALL TOO FAMILIAR Starkiller Base is essentially a less-interesting Death Star (the name “Starkiller is an inside joke—that was Luke’s last name in early drafts of Star Wars). Aside from being unimaginative, it’s impossible to be scared of it. Doesn’t the First Order know rebels always blow these things up? They must cost ridiculous amounts of credits. There has to be a better way to subjugate the galaxy.

Quibbles aside, The Force Awakens creates a new universe with strong ties to the past. It’s good to be home, Chewie.