MOVIE – J. J. Abrams had one of the most envied – yet still hardest jobs ever in a director’s life. Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises ever, and there were so many possible mistakes, traps, and poor choices to make about directing another Star Wars movies, that it seemed an almost impossible job, to not only avoid those but also equal the legend what Star Wars became. Still, it had to be a movie for us: the young, the grown up and the older fans of 2015. It had to be as much a classic Star Wars episode, as a modern sci-fi tale. Was Abrams up the to the enormous challenge and pressure from the fans?
An eight years old kid, standing on the street with his mother, back in 1979, in communist Hungary. That was me. On a small billboard, the movie Star Wars was advertised (it came two years later to its US sortie) with Han Solo in the middle, looking intense, drawing his gun, and Princess Leia and Luke were standing behind and also Darth Vader overshadowing the whole group. I was instantly in love; I HAD to see Star Wars, so I told my mother, that we will see it as soon as it is in the movie theaters, period. That’s how I became a fan, and while I somewhat distanced myself after Return of the Jedi, which disappointed me, I remained still a fan.
That’s my own Star Wars story, but everybody has his own. That’s one of the reasons we love so much this franchise: our childhood is linked to it. Whether George Lucas is a genius himself, or he just successfully used his diploma about characters of fairy tales to write the Star Wars script, doesn’t matter, as Star Wars surpassed him, it became a legend of its own, almost an entity.
Star Wars, made in 2015
The real challenge for J.J. Abrams was to tell us a modern Star Wars tale, while not only using modern technology but also provide us a modern, fresh story, with memorable characters – both old and new ones. The good news is that he succeeded. J. J. Abrams is known for his bold choices concerning actors, story arcs and directing and while sometimes they are a bit hokey or cheesy (ahem… his first Star Trek…) but, this time around he succeeded to bring characters I really care about.
Finn, the disgusted stormtrooper went AWOL (John Boyega), Rey, the scrappy female scavenger (Daisy Ridley), resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), and the new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), brings all the freshness that this series does need. While I liked, the good or bad main characters and villains from every Star Wars movie, the characters are more nuanced, more interesting in Force Awakens than the classic ones. Those changes are introduced with subtlety: with those more elaborate characters, this is still very much a bona fide Star Wars movie.
Of course, we are not missing our familiar characters either. Harrison Ford’s infamous Han Solo character is still as roguish and likable as in the original trilogy, his constant punchlines with Chewbacca are funnier than ever.
Perhaps there was one character I felt a bit off: it was Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Age wasn’t kind with Carrie Fisher – that’s understandable – but she somewhat also forgot how to play Leia: unfortunately all the charm, all the energy, all the dynamism are missing from her portray of the Princess and age has nothing to do with all this.
Classic roots, modern representation
The script – penned by Abrams, Michael Arndt and original trilogy scribe Lawrence Kasdan succeeds to be original, yet, also manages to bring in ideas that are familiar to the original trilogy. The movie is far from being a “remake” (as some negative review tried to point it out) but still feels familiar enough to Star Wars fans.
One of the greatest achievements of the script is to imbue every main character with personality and complex motivations that are often lacking in films of this kind. That’s even true for Han Solo, who succeeds to be much more this time around than a charming, nonchalant rogue smuggling merchandise throughout the galaxy.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is another great addition, fascinating as the masked villain clad in black whose own internal struggles immediately grant him an incredible level of complexity.
Another big achievement is that the movie succeeds to be genuinely funny, or sometimes cute, without the cheese of the prequel trilogy. (Or even the original trilogy.) There’s no furry Ewoks for kids, or idiotic Jar-Jar Bin here, yet the BB-8 droid (which was actually the original design for AR2D2 from Lucas) is a genuinely adorable. The films have always had a knockabout silliness to them and The Force Awakens turns out to be far funnier than might have been expected.
More importantly, though, the story self-contained enough to function on its own terms and it doesn’t just rely on nostalgia but weaves memory and heritage into its very fabric – like some all-surrounding life force. It makes for an incredibly moving, rousing experience and the return to the galaxy far, far away that audiences have been looking for.