My earliest life memory is sitting in my parents’ car at a drive-in movie watching Star Wars. I don’t recall how exactly old I was. I don’t know where the theater was. I don’t know what kind of car it was. All I know is I wanted an X-Wing and a lightsaber and I wanted to make an attack run on the Death Star.
The Star Wars movie franchise has had a profound impact on my life. First action figures? Star Wars. First Halloween costume I was conscious enough to pick for myself? Han Solo. I was on a fun trip to Las Vegas when The Phantom Menace was released and I eschewed the casinos and shows to go see it (which in hindsight was a terrible decision). I didn’t even break down and get a Blu-ray player until the original trilogy was available.
This is a long-winded way of saying when I was lucky enough to see an advance-screening of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (which hits theaters on Friday, December 18) I approached the review writing process from a fan’s perspective.
I will say it is not going to be an Academy Award favorite. This is not “The Godfather” or “Jaws” or “Chinatown.” There are a few holes in the story and the viewer is asked to take a few leaps of faith. This is not a perfect movie. The movie is simply … Perfect.
Star Wars has never been a screenplay writer’s opus. Not even “The Empire Strikes Back,” largely considered the greatest installment of the saga, was on the level of a Quentin Tarantino work. Star Wars is more about story telling than story structure because Star Wars has always been about a feeling.
It’s the feeling you got when you were young and you believed, even if you were an orphaned farm boy, you could become a powerful Jedi; even if you were a smuggler who spent his life running away you could find your place as a leader (and get the girl in the gold bikini); it’s the feeling of hope knowing no matter how dark things seemed good will always vanquish evil; it’s the feeling that no matter what hand life has dealt you … you CAN be a hero.
The original trilogy told that story with heart and romance. The prequels ripped the heart right out of the franchise (I mean, midi-chlorians? What the hell?).
I am more than happy to tell you J.J. Abrams has put the heart back in to Star Wars. There are a few references where Abrams, a confirmed fan of Star Wars in his youth, lets the audience know that he recognizes what happened in Episodes I, II and III and he probably hates it as much as we did so he’s going back to the good old days.
It’s a sensational blend of nostalgia and hope. The movie does a wonderful job of mixing new characters with old, giving an update on what our favorites have been up to for the last 32 years while introducing new ones that are every bit as likeable as Luke, Leia and Han (or as terrifying as Darth Vader).
The original trilogy had humor that was natural and helped us relate to the characters. The prequels tried to force the laughs (like a certain Gungan who will remain nameless) and they never worked. In Episode VII that organic humor returns and works outrageously well.
You can even tell the actors were having a good time. Harrison Ford said many years ago that he did not want to reprise his role as Han Solo because the character was, “a little too shallow,” for him to play anymore. I don’t know how Abrams changed his mind but when you see Ford return to the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon the look on his face reveals true happiness. There’s no acting going on there. He was thrilled to be back where his superstardom was born.
Thrilled is what old Star Wars fans will be as well. The best way I can put it is … this feels like Star Wars again. It has the soul that captivated us all years ago. That will mean something a little different to all of you. For me it meant sitting staring at the closing credits, weeping tears of joy in the dark, feeling like that little kid in the back of the car again, knowing great things can happen if you simply believe.
Remember, The Force has always been with us. It just needed to be awakened. J.J. Abrams has done exactly that.
(Note on the Rating: This version is a bit more violent than its predecessors, hence the PG-13 rating, but I’ll leave it up to each parent whether or not they feel their children should see it. Personally I think a PG rating would have been just fine, if that helps at all.)