Pride of the Nerfherders — Star Wars Episode VII

The following post is spoiler-free. Fear not.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is a good movie. No, it’s a great movie.

I had reservations going in about whether or not JJ Abrams was up to the task of revitalizing literally decades’ and generations’ worth of love and devotion in a way that could also wrangle in a new era of fans, but he has definitely done that, and in a great way, much like he did with Star Trek.

As anyone worth his nerd-cred, I’m a big fan of the Star Wars films, and while I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the extended universe, I’m passable enough to consider myself an intermediate-level fan. A few months ago, in anticipation of the new film, I went back and watched all of the others in a marathon session (451236), and I recommend you do so if you’re a little rusty. At least, watch the original trilogy.

As I’m sure you know, The Force Awakens takes place decades after Return of the Jedi, and you’ll be pleased to know it’s much more like the original trilogy than the prequels, at least in terms of storytelling and general quality.

All of our favorite characters are back in at least some capacity, though the balance of screentime is decidedly lopsided. The heaviest hitter here is Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, who is arguably the main character of the film, which I am totally cool with. Ford returns into the role like a comfortable pair of old shoes, and his ever-present compatriot Chewbacca is here in all his furry glory, as well, in addition to their old ship, the Millennium Falcon.

As the director for the first film of the new trilogy, Abrams had a lot of difficult ground to cover, and as such the early stages of the movie feel a little far beyond the realms of possibility. The new characters and the old are all thrown together through a chain of particularly unlikely events, but it’s okay because the Force, and also because it’s a hell of a fun ride.

Our three new characters are Finn, Poe, and Rey, and while I can’t say too much about who they are and what their roles are in the story, I will say that they’re all incredibly welcome additions to the Star Wars family. The new actors (none of whom I’ve heard of before) all take on their roles with gusto, and their chemistry is surprising and strong. The prequel trilogy was decidedly lacking in the banter and wit that was present in the dialog of the original trilogy, and through these new characters, that comes back in a big way.

The movie The Force Awakens is most like is definitely Episode IV (retroactively titled A New Hope), as it relies on some pretty thick exposition to get off the ground before the adventure gets moving via a message with an important droid. Unlike Episode IV, however, The Force Awakens gives us some fresh looks at old concepts by means of our new characters, and the new perspective is familiar enough to be realistic, but new enough to be interesting and fun to see pan out.

Our villains in particular stand out as really fun and thought-provoking looks at old ideas from the original trilogy. The most prominent, of course, is Kylo Ren, who ties back to the original series in a great way that I won’t get into, and Adam Driver does a phenomenal job giving him a sense of depth and unpredictability that sets him apart from similar figures like Darth Vader or Darth Maul. Other villains were kept a little bit more hidden, like Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma and Andy Serkis’s Snoke, obviously meant to whet our appetites for what’s to come.

Visually, The Force Awakens is a marvel. JJ Abrams knows how to do an action scene in space, and the battles and space flights are shown from angles we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie. His signature love of lens flare is also still there, in case you were worried. The star of the show is undoubtedly BB-8, this generation’s R2D2, and his ability to communicate, emote, and, in one instance, give an adorable and hilarious thumbs-up, is phenomenal, especially considering he was made entirely from practical effects. Other characters, however, are entirely CGI, and still fit right in. This is most assuredly a modern Star Wars movie, unlike the prequel trilogy’s poor use of CGI.

John Williams is also back with his signature score, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll get goosebumps when you hear the iconic theme at the title crawl, and also at the little hint we get of the Imperial March (you know, dun dun dun dun da-dun, dun da-dun).

Episode VII feels enough like a Star Wars movie to keep fans interested, but it also smartly navigates new territories in storytelling and dialog. The humor is faster and wittier, with John Boyega’s Finn standing out as perhaps the funniest character, giving Han Solo a run for his money. The actors all play off each other really well, and some of the best scenes involve some great nods to the classics such as the Kessel Run, Admiral Ackbar, “I have a bad feeling about this,” and trash compactors, among other things, though they’re not too prevalent so as to confuse newcomers.

JJ Abrams had a huge undertaking to contend with, with fans threatening to call him Jar-Jar Abrams forever if he ruined it, but thankfully, he-sa gonna make a good movie, after all. The movie is called The Force Awakens for more reasons than one, and plenty of which I can’t divulge in a spoiler-free review, but primarily it seems to entail a resurgence (no, not Independence Day). The Star Wars of old is back, and with fresh new characters, awesome effects, and an exciting story to tell, I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

My only complaint would have to be just how little actually happens here. Most of the movie seems to be serving as an appetizer for what’s to come, which is entirely understandable. While there was one thoroughly heart-wrenching moment in the third act, and a spectacular and applause-worthy final scene, not much was going on here besides reintroducing us to the galaxy far, far away. Which is fine. If you’ll permit me to make a video game reference here, The Force Awakens serves as our Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It’s great, but it’s not quite enough.

Thankfully, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was spectacular, so I have high hopes for Episodes VIII and IX, as well.

If you loved the original trilogy, go watch Episode VII. If you loved the prequels, go visit a neurologist, and then see Episode VII. These are the droids you’re looking for.

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