I was planning on writing a proper spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens today. I can’t do it—not before at least a second viewing. So instead, here are my spoiler-free impromptu ramblings.
- Star Wars has finally grown up with us. It feels a bit like the rebooted Battlestar Galactica in that it’s recognisably the same universe and yet… its themes are more adult, its tone is grittier and its characters are more nuanced.
- The film respects the intelligence of its audience. There’s no need to hold its secrets well into the third act—it reveals them at exactly the right time.
- This is about as good as you’ll get in terms of a movie “rhyming”. This is not like, say, Ghostbusters II, where it’s a beat-for-beat remake. This is about variations on themes rippling through generations as each grapple with the same issues in different ways. And that idea is woven into the film’s DNA.
- This film is absolutely better than Return of the Jedi and miles ahead of even the best of the prequels on just about every level. The Force Awakens will hold up over time and age very, very well, especially if Episodes VIII and IX successfully build upon its foundations. The meat of the story is still to come.
Honestly, this is, without a doubt, the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and maybe even its equal, though not totally comparable. Both The Force Awakens and The Empire Strikes Back have depth and complexity, and while The Force Awakens is, in a way, a direct descendant of Star Wars: A New Hope, it embraces its characters in a way that no Star Wars film has managed since Empire.
The closest thing I can compare this film to is Mad Max: Fury Road. Both films resurrect a dormant franchise, creating something familiar and yet totally modern, with more vitality than anything else we’ve seen in recent times. Fury Road was similarly not a “remake” of Mad Max 2, but it was in that same tradition, playfully reconfiguring its own tropes and often turning gender roles on their heads. And both had brief but wonderful character moments as well.
Finally, a brief word about the prequels: despite their flaws, those films share a kinship with the original trilogy that becomes more apparent after watching The Force Awakens. Love ’em or hate ’em, the prequels had a kind of old-fashioned charm about them that I personally find strangely endearing. They were George Lucas’ films through and through.
But The Force Awakens is the future of Star Wars. It’s strange and mythic and fun and funny and totally immersive. Amazingly, it manages to do in 2015 what the original Star Wars did in 1977: it breaks through the noise of despair and homogeneity present in our current media landscape, shocking the audience into a state of alertness. We’ve come full circle, and the Force is calling to us all once more. Just let it in.