The seventh episode of the monumental Star Wars saga opens just like every Star Wars should. The iconic print logo and opening fanfare. The introductory prologue written in yellow. A wide shot revealing an ominous spacecraft.
Followed by a cut to the interior of a rattling space pod, overhead light flickering on the helmets of stormtroopers about to invade. As traditionally as this film begins, it suddenly jumps and disorients us within a dark, confined space.
The Force Awakens is a brilliantly constructed and spectacularly told film. It manages to both give audiences what they want, while subverting action film norms through its consistently surprising narrative. The tropes of action films are often mocked, and almost always dismantled, by the charming relationship between the sharp, powerful, self-sufficient heroine Rey and the occasionally old-fashioned-minded Finn.
Not that you can blame him – Finn is a product of the First Order, a neo-fascist return to the days of the Galactic Empire. He knows only the world he was taught, and his antiquated attitudes are a product of the only life he knows. There is even a metafictional irony in this, as Finn is one of few black heroes in any blockbuster film – he himself is an anti-traditional male lead (another trend this film will hopefully dismantle).
They join forces (along with some other familiar faces) against Kylo Ren, the terrifying new villain played to chilling perfection by Adam Driver. While it’s hard to imagine anyone filling Darth Vader’s shoes, Kylo Ren seems to come as close as you can get.
[Semi-Spoiler] And the best part is, we’re deeply invested in these characters and the story by the time familiar faces arrive. This is a terrific decision by the filmmakers, to allow us time to get to know the new stars, who will hopefully carry this new trilogy, before bringing back iconic figures from the originals. [End Semi-Spoiler.]
I had the opportunity to see this on its debut Thursday night, with a terrific audience: applauding as each new character is introduced on-screen, cheering in key moments (like the first lightsaber “unsheathing”), and gasping at plot surprises (there are plenty). I didn’t get to watch the original Star Wars back in May 1977, but seeing The Force Awakens on opening night sure feels like the next-best thing.