It has been nearly a year since Generation X-ers like myself ooo-ed and aww-ed over “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the long-awaited sequel to the movie phenomenon of my youth, the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Nearly everyone who experienced the movies of the original trilogy when they were released was clamoring to relive the feeling of when they first saw it, including filmmaker J.J. Abrams.
But I was not clamoring. I have great affection for George Lucas’ original trilogy, and although I was disappointed by “The Phantom Menace,” I actually thought his prequel trilogy of the 1990s was entertaining and served its purpose – to tell the story of how Darth Vader became Darth Vader and how the Empire became the Empire. One of the reasons I think it fell short is because the cast lacked the chemistry that helped make the original trilogy so engaging. But no matter how disappointed I was by the prequels, they were still Lucas’ work, his vision for characters that he created, and I think that’s important.
So even though it had Lucas’ blessing and a screenplay co-written by one of the writers of the original trilogy, Lawrence Kasdan, I was reluctant to get on this bandwagon for someone else’s vision of the Star Wars universe evolution. But of course, as a fan of the franchise, I had to see where J.J. Abrams would take those beloved characters and what new characters he’d create. I finally saw the movie a few months ago on Starz! (yes it took me that long), and it turns out that he tapped into exactly how to win over the hardliners. It is essentially the same movie from 1977! He knew he needed to give the people what they wanted. Feed the need for their childhood amazement, wonder and exultation. They wanted that familiarity, and Abrams delivered.
But he also delivered new compelling characters, particularly Rey, played with sincerity by Daisy Ridley. The young, would-be warrior with a strong affinity for the Force clearly represents Luke. I also thought Adam Driver was solid as Kylo Ren, wearing his vulnerability and insecurities on his sleeve even as he strives to live up to the worst parts of his grandfather. Then there’s John Boyega’s Finn, the fugitive Stormtrooper turned good but still reckless and hot-headed – very Han. But I’m still not that attached to him; I’m hoping he’ll win me over in the next movie. And, of course, it was great seeing Leia and C3PO and hanging out with Han and Chewie on the Millennium Falcon again, even though parts of it felt forced. But Abrams really knocked it out of the park with BB-8 – great name, great look, great personality. I love him almost as much as I love R2-D2, and that’s a lot. I admit I totally fell for the scene when BB-8 and R2-D2 worked together to solve the primary mystery of the plot.
I am fond of a good story. As a writer, I should be. And Mr. Abrams has told a fine story, built on the story of a master storyteller, George Lucas. But Lucas is more than a master storyteller; he is a mythmaker, and that’s what allowed him to capture the imaginations of a generation. Abrams is not a mythmaker, and that’s the difference between him and Lucas (and between him and Steven Spielberg, for that matter). But he is a talented storyteller working his way toward becoming on par with his filmmaking heroes.
Overall, "The Force Awakens" was different enough to make it fresh and intriguing, and familiar enough to make it feel like home again.