“Chewie. We’re home.” The words uttered by Harrison Ford‘s Han Solo in the first full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been rolling around in my head for months. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is home for millions of fans worldwide and a lot of pressure has been placed upon the movie, and director J.J. Abrams specifically, to give those millions something that could possibly—improbably—live up to everybody’s expectations. It seemed almost doomed to fail. But, it turns out all it needed to do was be true to what made people love the franchise in the first place. My ear-to-ear grin for most of the running time spoke volumes. We’re home.
The original trilogy had three main things going for it, the Three Hs: Humor, Heart, and Heroism. Above all the spaceships and technology and droids and aliens and lightsaber duels, what made those three movies stick with people were the characters, their plight, their hopes, their dreams, and how they relate together. The Force Awakens was all about that: The heroes meet, they help each other, they bicker a little, but they’re ultimately all after the same thing—the same goal. For different reasons, of course, but for an adventure movie like this, it really does a world of good.
But enough with the vagaries, let’s get into the spoiler-free version of the story. There’s a secret mission undertaken by Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his faithful droid BB-8—only the evil First Order attacks and the two are separated. While Poe is captured and interrogated by Dark Sider Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), BB-8 treks through the desert world of Jakku and eventually finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger who’s been waiting a long time for …something. They, too, eventually meet up with Finn (John Boyega), a former First Order stormtrooper who just wants to get away. They need to get the droid back to the Resistance, and they run into an old pirate and his faithful Wookiee friend who might be able to help them get there. (That was about as un-spoilery as I can possibly make it.)
Let’s not beat around the bush anymore: I loved this movie, and I loved it specifically because it’s very clear everyone making it wanted it to be good, loyal to the universe, and furthering of the story. There are certainly lots of references to the older movies, but only a few of them were necessary to the plot; mostly they were fun Easter eggs. Opposite Abrams’ Star Trek movies approach—which relied almost entirely on references to the past and copying what came before—this movie addressed the older films and built on them in order to create its own thing. Not to outwardly knock the prequels any more, but all they did was repeat and spin wheels; this movie has a direct path for each character and when they converge, it’s wonderful.
The cast truly does a fantastic job, too. Daisy Ridley is poised to become a huge star: She really cements herself as the hero of the piece and it’s absolutely fabulous to watch. Boyega likewise brings so much emotion to Finn that you can’t help but side with him. And, I mean, who doesn’t love seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca out being awesome together again? The answer should be nobody. A dynamic I was surprised to find I really loved, though, was the fraternal rivalry between Driver’s Kylo Ren and Domhnall Gleeson‘s General Hux, both of whom are vying to be the “favorite” of the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Ren is not the hardened badass he’s perceived to be. He’s unsure, he’s highly emotional, he’s imperfect as a villain, and that makes him all the more dangerous.
The attention Abrams paid to things in the movie feeling real and not just bottled in a computer somewhere really paid off. The action is outstanding, both in the ground combat and the space battle sense. They also made it so every action sequence wasn’t the same, both in scenery (they go to quite a few planets and there’s some action on all of them) and in execution. And, not for nothing, but John Williams‘ score is absolutely perfect as usual, and it makes every one of these scenes come to life all the more.
There are mysteries to uncover, backstories to explore, and I love the fact that we don’t know everything that’s about to happen. That said, I wouldn’t say I was surprised by anything in the plot; more things that were suspicions were either confirmed or denied. This isn’t a criticism, though; a well-told story doesn’t always need to depend on twists. There are high moments and low moments, there are sad moments and triumphant ones, too. There are allusions to each of the three previous films, but it’s completely its own thing. The script is very funny and that helps to give the movie its own vibe as well. Again, taking from the old and moving forward.
I’m going to need to see this movie again (and again and again, I’m sure) but right now it’s sitting very pretty in my head and my soul. It’s so nice to feel like Star Wars is back, and I honestly can’t wait until 2017 when we get to see the next chapter of these characters. And, yeah, Rogue One next year will be pretty cool too.
Heart, humor, heroism, home. It’s Star Wars, people.
And if you want more spoiler-free thoughts on The Force Awakens, check out what editors Dan Casey, Malik Forté, Kyle Hill, and Alicia Lutes had to say:
Kyle Anderson is the happier than you can imagine film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. He can’t wait for you all to see this movie, so tweet at him when you do! Yes, all of you.