"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the seventh installment (both within the series' chronology and in real world release time) of the famed Star Wars franchise, being released in December of 2015. It stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in their roles from the original trilogy, and introduces Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac as a new generation of characters. The movie was directed (and in part written by) JJ Abrams, famous for his similar rebooting of the Star Trek franchise.
The following discussion of the movie may involve some spoilers:
The first thing I would say about this movie is that it grabs the viewer and moves very quickly. From the first scene, there is a variety of very fast, very action-packed scenes with sudden changes of scenery, moving from a desert planet, to a star destroyer, to chase scenes both in outer space and on the ground, in vehicles and on foot. Characters are introduced with a minimum of explanation, but Abrams' directing and the actor's skills allows the viewer to get the essentials of characterization and motivation. After the opening action sequences, the viewer is given a small breather of some sorts to both meet some of the original cast, learn a little bit about the plot proper of the film, before being launched into two consecutive high-stakes, high-energy battle scenes. The film then ends with a coda of sorts whose meaning is left up to the viewer to understand.
At the very least, then, this film is fun to watch. The special effects, fight choreography, and snappy (and nostalgic) dialog keep the viewer absorbed. It would have been easy to get bogged down in the Star Wars' series bulky mythology and spend the movie overexplaining aspects of the vast fictional universe (and to many people, this need for world building was one of the things that that bogged down the Prequel Trilogy), but the movie mostly manages to eschew this baggage in favor of showing one of the things that the original movie was supposed to be: a homage to adventure serials. But having asserted the film's value as entertainment, people might have two questions: is there a deeper meaning to the story, and how does the story address an audience who might have a very different attitude towards war than the original audience?
The first question hinges on how much the viewer took the entire Hero's Journey motif of the original film, and furthermore, how much they think that repeating the type of story would be necessary in 2015. In 1977, Joseph Campbell and an introspective look at mythological tropes might have been a stunning and deep move, but I feel that forty years later, after our society has been inundated with wu wu and new age beliefs, it might seem stale or trite. While the movie does discuss the force, and does dabble in some emotional issues, it doesn't seem to make a point out of it, which, to me, at least, seemed like a good move. Whether the next few films manage to make a story and a message remains to be seen.
Secondly, an America that has been at war, and in a series of messy wars, for fifteen years, might have a different view of war than the audience of 1977. We are, for better or worse, a little bit more sophisticated. And I do have to admit that this is a failing of the film: while two members of the Dark Side-embracing First Order are humanized, and we get some emotional moments showing conflict in the face of violence, this movie embraces the cliche that a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic: the fate of plot-important characters is shown with emotional detail, while the deaths of thousands of Storm Troopers is merely an excuse for pyrotechnics. This is perhaps unavoidable given the nature of the film, but it did still seem a bit awkward.
Overall, I would rate this movie as very well made and fun to watch, but I am somewhat skeptical at its ability to move on to a higher level. But perhaps the fault here is the burden of expectations that this film came in with. The original Star Wars, in two hours, managed to change the culture and plant new ideas and dreams in people's minds. Not because it was a great film on its own, but because it was the first. As a thirty-six year old going into a movie theater (even on an exciting opening night!) and viewing Star Wars: The Force Awakens after having been exposed to dozens of gigantic, pop cultural fantasy epics, I really can't compare this film to how a thirteen year old, innocent of internet and manga and video games, in 1977, would have felt going into a theater for the first time and having their universe expanded by mythology and mysticism for the first time.