One of the many benefits for a feline gallivanting around a world dominated by humans is that I can go just about anywhere I wish. The only real prerequisite is leaving my uniform at home. From there, who dares ask a feline for, say, tickets to a venue? If I can sneak in - and I can – and, if later observed, none will ask to see my press credentials. I might get a look, but other matters for the onlooker are more pressing in the moment. A quick dash and I am off to unmolested enjoyment at the premier of perhaps the most hyped film in more than a decade.
Perhaps the last time there was such hype for a film was the first of the Star Wars prequels in 1999. Amazing as it may seem, there are humans out there who do not care for Star Wars. Many came of age during the "special edition" re-releases of the original trilogy and, worse, the exposition-laden and CG-dependent prequels that seemed more concerned with a forced romance and parliamentarian machinations than any real story. To some, the spectacular A New Hope is just some "old" movie. Perhaps they caught a butchered "special edition" re-release because friends told them they should, assuming they bothered to watch at all. They can appreciate a good film, to be sure, but likewise probably never sat down to watch an "old" movie like Casablanca either. The good of Star Wars, if they found any, came from a few successful video games.
As all of us have learned from the politics of government, when told one has to do something, most tend to loathe whatever it is, regardless if it is the right or good thing. My friends love Star Wars and they make me watch it, and I just do not understand what is so great about it! Almost forty years of crap, relying on the legacy of two exceptional films (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) and a decent film that feels like a Casablanca when compared to any of the prequels, Return or the Jedi, has left roughly two human generations out of a fresh and engrossing modern fairy tale. True fans have clung to the expanded universe of books and games. However, the prequels made resistance easy for many, being a great collective disturbance in the Force. Ah, but The Force Awakens, under the helm of J.J. Abrams, serves as more than just the name of the newest addition to the Star Wars saga.
The Force Awakens is a return to what made A New Hope so revolutionary. This, my human friends, is a real film. It is a good film. Fans will love this film, yet it will also introduce the mythology to a new generation, thus holding its own as a cinematic achievement – likely an award-winning one to boot. For fans, it can feel as if A New Hope is the model for which this story is inspired. This is great! We have a new hero in Rey [Daisy Ridley], introduced on a desert planet, embarking on her hero's journey. Likewise, a droid kicks off this journey, and our hero eventually joins with a wise elder, this time, Han Solo [Harrison Ford]. There is even a bar scene! Deviation from that foundation occurs, but its climax is an epic dual of sabers and yet another battle against a new space station, Starkiller Base. In spite of this familiarity, it is not a rehash of the tried and true. For starters, there is another hero on this journey. There is a real and new story here, yet told trough that familiar framework of a Western married to The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The First Order, which replaces the Empire, is searching for Luke Skywalker [Mark Hamill], who has disappeared. The Rebel Alliance is now the Resistance, led by General Leia [Carrie Fisher]. She dispatches her best, Poe Dameron [Oscar Isaac], to go and find him. The First Order is not the clones of the former Empire - these are real humans and, critically, individuals with freedom of thought. This is the Schutzstaffel [SS], actual men politicized early into a cause. The jackbooted General Hux [Domhnall Gleeson] leads them, and his stormtroopers can actually hit their targets! They lay waste to a town, no less brutally than the SS on the Eastern Front. Stormtrooper Finn [John Boyega], as a human having a conscious rather than the mindless clones of old, becomes disillusioned with this new order. He later joins Rey, who begins her hero's journey with him.
The bad guys have big shoes to fill, yet they do a fine job. Kylo Ren [Adam Driver] and the impressive, albeit minor character, Captain Phasma [Gwendoline Christie] make for good enemies. What makes Kylo Ren a particularly good villain is a motivation - one that the viewer can understand. He is not just nakedly evil for the sake of a script. He has a purpose and reason for his actions (his background and a particular thing he does may stun you). This is what helps to make a good and compelling villain in cinema.
I cannot say it enough - this is a real story. There are, to be sure, imperfections and flaws in this story. A convenience regarding a map occurs late in the film for what appears to be, well, convenience. Some of the CG characters seem a bit out-of-place, such as Supreme Leader Snoke [Andy Serkis]. The reason of this flaw, however, is a good one. Unlike those horrid prequels, this film relies mostly on practical effects. This makes the film feel more real, and certainly more like the originals. Most of the CG is exceptional, but in context of the practical, some motion-capture characters stand out a bit more than was likely desired - though not all, as the pirate Maz Kanata [Lupita Nyong'o] comes off quite well. Regardless, by the end, a noob to the Star Wars saga will care as much for the classic heroes as much as fans will care for our new heroes. The foundation of the success of the originals was the characters, and The Force Awakens builds on the same.
I therefore wholeheartedly endorse this film. More specifically, I strongly advise those who have resisted the Force to consider seeing it. Most mystical adventure stories in the human world are ancient. Though its setting is one of a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, it is a wonderful gift to have a mystical adventure story conceived of your own time. Embrace the magic. For the fans, you will love having the slate of the prequels wiped from your mind, replaced with a familiar yet rich visual palette. Your old friend, a snarky scoundrel and his bucket of bolts, join you in a new hero's journey. As another hero once said, "it's not the years, it's the mileage." Fans endured a lot to get here, and just as The Empire Strikes Back ended with a cliffhanger begging for more, so too does The Force Awakens. Yet before, you just popped in the next film. Can you endure the wait?