SPOILERS AFTER THE DROP
PLEASE DON'T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN FORCE AWAKENS YET
OK they're probably gone now. If not, it's their own damn fault.
OH HOLY SHITBALLS STAR WARS!
I'm struggling to get over the fact that I, a 32-year-old man living in the year 2015 was able to sit in a movie theatre today and watch a Star Wars movie that didn't feel like tossing my inner child into a sarlacc pit to be slowly digested over a thousand years. It happened. Today. To me. I never thought it would. My abiding memory of the prequels - like everybody else's - was a feeling of utter disappointment. The abysmal dialogue and characterisation. The awful pacing. The fact that none of the characters were even slightly likeable. The fact it seemed to sully all that went before it. It felt like nothing going forward in life would ever be as colourful and carefree and pure as it was before. The Star Wars prequels were more or less childhood's end for a generation of 70s and 80s kids.
But I am here to tell you that is no longer the case. It all makes sense now. Those irredeemable prequels had to happen to get all of the storytelling crap out of the system. An origin story (ugh) for Vader is the logical place to go to start off with, even though it killed any sense of suspense the story might have had, and saddled the story with so much shit that needed to happen but just wasn't that interesting. However, J.J. Abrams obviously did his damnedest to avoid the same pitfalls in his film, and he seems to have learned a number of crucial lessons from the prequels.
The first lesson Abrams learned was to keep it simple. The prequels were rightly criticised for focusing too much on trade and politics. If anything Abrams plays it too simple with his portrayal of the galactic political situation. Little attempt is made to explain how the Resistance and the Republic relate to one another, or how the First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire. The yellow text at the beginning might as well read SEE STAR WARS: AFTERMATH (CHUCK WENDIG, OUT NOW). And yet, this is the only niggling bad point I can come up with in regards to this film. Straight off the bat I realised I didn't care, for the moment at least. I'd delve into the new expanded universe later.
Another reason the prequels needed to happen was to clue Abrams into a fact that expanded universe readers have known forever. It's not just about tossing out the same characters and hitting the same story beats. What people wanted to see all along was more of the incredible world Lucas created, and see more diverse and interesting characters moving around in it. Rather than the plastic, indistinguishable Jedi of the prequels, we're introduced to a genuinely interesting team of characters, all of whom have agency and don't simply exist to drive the plot from A to B. Poe Dameron is the cocky fighter pilot type, Finn is on the path to redemption, and Rey is on the hero's journey to unlock her force powers. Together they have so much chemistry, especially Daisy Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn, whose friendship-maybe more relationship is particularly well done. Also, I think that if anyone says they wouldn't like to buddy up with Poe, they're probably lying.
With that triumvirate complete, they add the crowning glory: Harrison Ford is back as Han Solo, playing the aging smuggler with a great deal more conviction than he did Indiana Jones in his most recent outing. Han snarks at Chewie, blasts stormtroopers and cracks wise like it's 1983 again (or its galaxy far far away equivalent). At the same time, Abrams pulls a beautiful act of inversion and positions Han - the scoundrel, the skeptic - in the role of wise old mentor a la Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. Harrison Ford's hangdog face really conveys the weight of Han's years and all of the terrible things that went down after the Battle of Endor. It's when Carrie Fisher shows up as Leia, we get to see hints of the old, smooth Han. Really, based on Ford's solid performance in this film I would be happy with him leading the team into the second movie of the new trilogy. But the wise old master role is not without its pitfalls.
So they kill Han Solo. You bastard, Abrams!
In the context of the movie, it makes perfect sense. Han had reached the end of his arc. He embraced the ideal of family, of belonging, which is what the first trilogy was really about for him. He'd been running from his responsibilities pretty much since Ben Solo's heelturn. Walking out on that gantry to confront Kylo Ren AND ENCOURAGE HIM TO EMBRACE THE LIGHT SIDE OF THE FORCE EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW HE WOULD KILL HIM is the most Obi-Wan thing that Obi-Wan never did. I saw it coming, but somehow I was still shocked. Abrams killed Han Solo, but to be perfectly honest, if it were me reviving Star Wars, I'd very likely have gone down the same route, for the same reasons. RIP Han Solo, you'd better return as a force ghost in the next one.
Adam Driver deserves a lot of credit for this scene. When he was cast as Kylo Ren I was nonplussed. But he embodies the conflict of someone struggling against parts of their own nature. Driver is 100 times better at this than Hayden Christensen ever was. I also particularly enjoyed his rage-out when he demolished a console with his lightsaber. He's volatile, emotionally unstable, damaged and unpredictable. Unlike Vader, he actually needs that mask. During the scene with Rey where he removes it, and you see for the first time that he is in fact human - that somehow makes him scarier.
My favourite scene, though, was the final one. Since Luke was always my favourite when I was growing up, and I was waiting for him to show up for the entire thing, very aware by the end he hadn't appeared. When Rey takes the Falcon to Planet Skellig Michael to find him, I thought there was going to be a Return of the King one-too-many-endings thing going on. But instead she climbs the hill, sees Luke, and wordlessly offers him his lightsaber. Bam. Perfect ending. A wonderful emotional note to end on, because Luke looks so broken up by the fact he knows his exile is over. Also, because now he looks just like Alec Guinness did in A New Hope. The whole thing has come full circle. And if Abrams can avoid trying to duplicate frame for frame the original trilogy and just have fun playing in that same, magnificent sandbox, then I think we'll be OK.
1) Chewbacca goes freaking mental when Han is killed. It's adorable.
2) Chewie flirts with a nurse.
3) I didn't see a single lens flare in this one.
4) I love how Abrams got the character of the droids, something that was completely missing from the prequels.
5) Check out 3P0 completely cockblocking Han.
6) Has anyone thought about what a Marty Stu Luke is? He's a Space Samurai Wizard Fighter Pilot. That's like a five-year-old's dream resume.
7) If Han was the Obi-Wan in this movie, I guess that means Luke is Yoda in the next.
8) Space Lupita's bar is a worthy successor to the Mos Eisley Cantina.
9) It was fun watching Domhnall Gleason getting his own back on Oscar Isaac for his treatment in Ex Machina.
10) Seeing George Osborne's name pop up in the Special Thanks part of the credits was nauseating. That reptile scumbag pops up everywhere.
11) I want an X-Wing.
12) The re-introduction of the Falcon is lovely, but an awful big coincidence.
EDIT: Here are a number of other thoughts that popped into my head last night while being kept awake by a screaming infant:
12) Poe and Finn's bromance is so instantaneous it momentarily seems possible the pair might move to the Outer Rim together and herd nerfs.
13) Star Wars was very different from any big tent pole movie these days. At the end of it, one of my first thoughts was "I can't wait to see what happens next!" something I don't ever remember thinking coming out of, say, an Avengers movie.
14) If I can have one more quibble with poorly explained plot - Why is it so important to find Luke? Kylo Ren is obsessed with killing him, so I can buy the First Order looking for him, but why is it so important for the Resistance? Sure, he's a badass war hero, but this is a world where the majority of people still don't believe in the Force.
15) Did anyone else notice Poe and Rey shared no screen time together?
16) General Hux is about one Demi-Hitler away from Full Hitler during his speech. Spittle everywhere.
17) Did anyone count the number of whoohoos, yeeehoos, or variants thereof?