I never thought being in Kazakhstan could give me a pop culture advantage. In this case, I was able to enjoy a most surreal experience: seeing Star Wars Episode 7 in English in a cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a full day before most people in the United States. And it was a treat to be sitting in the audience with my 12 year old daughter and my 14 year old son, a multi-generational viewing experience that I’d not had before with a Star Wars movie.
After the lights came up, and the credits were rolling, I desperately wanted to write four words on my social media. Four small words that would have been the spoiler of spoilers. I actually laughed, thinking about how many friends I would lose with that little stunt.
And so I didn’t do it. I resisted the dark side.
Because I like my friends.
That, and I didn’t want to wake up some night with a lightsaber buried in my chest.
But be warned. Now, that I’m home, writing on my blog, I will write those four words. Not now, but very soon. So, if you have not seen Star Wars Episode 7 yet, and you are trying to steer clear of spoilers, then steer way clear of this review. Because it will be chock-full of spoilers.
***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***
Having gotten that out of the way, I’ll start my review with four other small words, not spoiler words, but important words nonetheless.
Star Wars is back.
If the prequels showed us anything, they showed us that it was easy to lose sight of the feel and the energy of the original trilogy. It was easy to set out to make original trilogy prequels, but to make something else altogether. While each prequel episode had something redeeming, there was quite a bit more that sent them spiraling off into space.
The prequels were not terrible movies in and of themselves, but they were terrible Star Wars movies.
But now? Star Wars is back.
J.J. Abrams brought it back.
Yes, with this film, Abrams managed to restore several of the things that made the original trilogy great.
Star Wars is about people
Episode 7 works because it is a movie that is primarily about people, not trade federation blockades or secret clone armies. Yes, big events are playing out in this film, but they are the backdrop, not the focus. People are what matter in this film, and not just the good guys – both sides. Not only do the people matter, but they also act like real people. They relate. They argue. They emote. They struggle. They risk everything for each other, and for bigger things. They live, and they die.
Oh, boy, do they die.
But I’ll get to that.
Star Wars is about risk
In this new/old universe that J.J. Abrams has given us there is risk. Risk that someone may not make it out alive. Risk that someone may run away from their destiny. Risk that the darkness is much too powerful, and that the light side will never be able to defeat it. Even risk that the bad guy might fall to the light.
In this new film, everything can be questioned, the outcomes are not a given, and power is found in the strangest of places.
Star Wars is about fun
The movie also brings back the fun. We loved the original trilogy because they were fun rides they didn’t get bogged down in bureaucratic proceedings, or endless scenes of people sitting in chairs talking about things. The movies were about people in motion, taking us along with them as they lived on the brink of disaster. Episode 7 is a fun ride from start to finish. People do talk about things, but usually while taking deep breaths after just escaping one catastrophe, and right before plummeting into another.
And it’s not just roller-coaster fun, it’s also laugh-out-loud fun. This is a movie that is brimming with wit and humor. Not in a silly way (ala Threepio in Attack of the Clones), but in a real way. People say the kinds of things that people might really say in an attempt to blow off steam, or reacting to the madness around them, and you can’t help but laugh.
Finn and BB8’s interaction on the Falcon…
Rey and the stormtrooper in the interrogation room…
When the two stormtroopers come around the corner as Kylo Ren is destroying the interrogation room…
Finn suggesting to Han that they use the force, and Han’s reaction…
Han using Chewie’s crossbow for the first time…
And on and on…
Star Wars is about the mysteries of the universe
Specifically, the force – and the nature of the force. The prequels got all bogged down trying to make the force into a science. Episode 7 turns it back into a mystery. In this movie, the force is something that is unknown but not unknowable, and we get to see a new generation start to learn about it.
And there’s nary a mention of a single midi-chlorian, thank the Maker.
Ultimately, I walked out of the cinema feeling like I had just read a love letter. A love letter written by J.J. Abrams to all of us who loved the original trilogy. This was the movie we wanted the prequels to be, and then some.
Given, just like the films in the original trilogy, this is not a perfect film. The dialogue might be light years ahead of both trilogies, but it is still sometimes a bit corny. And in his attempt to make an homage to the original trilogy, Abrams veered dangerously close to just plain copying some pretty big ideas, situations, characters, and settings.
But it worked. Even with the flaws, the movie worked in spades.
All of that said, here are some bite-sized spoilerly thoughts:
I now have some new favorite images of the Millennium Falcon, which still kicks butt.
X-Wing fighters are cool once again, especially when being flown by Poe Dameron.
Apparently, stormtroopers are now trained to duel with swords, and by extension, light sabers.
J.J. Abrams kept the sex out of Star Wars.
Kylo Ren is not nearly menacing enough, even with the heinous act he commits, but he has potential to grow into something pretty menacing.
Enough with the doomsday devices with kill-switches, already. An homage is great, but again with the one weak spot on the big space station? Please, no more.
Han Solo said “I have a bad feeling about this”, but Admiral Ackbar did not say, “It’s a trap.”
What happened to Wedge Antilles?
Teasing Luke before running the credits definitely answered the question of why he wasn’t in the trailer or the poster, and it’s because he’s really not in this movie. In fact, if this had been a Marvel movie, the scene with Luke would have been an end-credits scene – a tease about what was to come.
But the film worked. On all different levels, for this lifelong Star Wars fan, it worked. I am fully re-invested in the franchise, and will be there on opening night for Episode 8, if I am able.
And oh – I almost forgot. The four small words I really, really wanted to post on social media as soon as the lights came up? The spoiler of spoilers? The “I am your father” moment of this film?
Abrams killed Han Solo.
And while I may never forgive Abrams for doing this, I do have to admit that it was the perfect death for the old scoundrel – dying trying to save his son from the dark side, and then Chewie’s chilling reaction?
A tear-inducing moment the likes of which we haven’t had since Nicholas Meyer killed Spock.