The thoughts are late because I waited until last night to see it. Starz had it on all their channels at the same time, which was rather unusual, and I prefer DirecTV’s HD broadcasts to sitting in theaters.
I must say that I was taken completely by surprise. I expected the usual Abrams excessive effects and forced nostalgia. Some of that was present, but mostly the effects were in correct proportion to the drama and the nostalgia was usually subtle and appropriate. If I didn’t know better, I would say that JJ is developing a sense of taste.
The old characters were sort of shockingly old, but I did the math and realized that Episode IV was made almost forty years ago, so yes: they really are that age. Nonetheless, the movie sold the notion that even though Han Solo is a geezer, he’s still Han Solo and still doing exactly the same things he did in days of yore. Leia, on the other hand — well, I don’t think she’ll be wearing the slave bikini any time soon. I guess wookies age differently because Chewy was . . . erm, still Peter Mayhew in a costume (which did not look as convincing as muppet’s masterpiece).
I also did not expect to like the new characters as much as I did. Let me go ahead and get Kylo Ren out of the way first. Sorry, but this guy just didn’t work for me. The concept and identity weren’t presented well, and Adam Driver wasn’t able to sell Ren’s dark side or his conflict with the light. He reminded me of that neighbor kid who went off to college and became a disappointment, but the family is still working on him. The new “Luke” — Daisy Ridley as Rey — was very good. I think they made the right choice there. The big surprise was John Boyega as Finn. I did not expect to care about this character, but I did — a lot more than Poe (a.k.a. the new “Han” or really a new Han/Luke hybrid of some kind). I think Driver may be able to do better work with Ren in succeeding episodes, and let’s be fair: Oscar Isaac’s Poe was not very deep and had a lot of dumb lines — I would say that Isaac did a good job with what he had. I think Finn will be revived and we’ll get to see more excellent work from Boyega. I expect big things from Miss Daisy as the series progresses.
Obligatory notice of BB-8: aww, so cute — will sell a lot of Pez dispensers.
The writing, to me, was nicely done. The plot made sense in most places, and I don’t really care that much about Star Wars “lore,” so I wasn’t cognizant of any horrible sins in that department. The music was excellent, of course.
I think the whole thing shapes up as a successful reclamation of the Star Wars franchise, now that it’s out of the hands of the Episodes I-III quacks. Some things could have been better: (1) I wasn’t really impressed by either the First Order or the Resistance. Neither had the definitive Saturday matinee identities of the Empire and the Rebellion. (2) Too many “incidental” resuscitations were made of old Star Wars alien types and scenes. The best example is the final X-Wing assault on the improved Death Star, which was almost a remake of the original, right down to the droopy faced alien and the fat-guy-friend-of-George-Lucas. (3) The villains weren’t really too dire, and the threats weren’t very threatening, even though it was clear that The Force Awakens is an intentional homage to A New Hope (you might even say a remake, as so many scenes and events were nearly identical to those in the first movie). At least George Lucas sort of believed in his hokey Empire, whereas I never get that sense from Abrams’ First Order.
But otherwise, our young Abrams does a surprisingly good job with a massive responsibility. I was expecting to hear millions of voices suddenly cry out that they were being asploded in a Transformer movie — or worse, that they were stuck in a new Star Trek movie — but it may be that JJ has grown up and the Force is strong in this one. The new episode isn’t perfect, but I think the series is moving in the right direction. I’m anxious to see what Luke does with Rey, and speaking of Luke: that may be the best ending scene in any movie ever. Is old Luke cool or WHAT?