By Joe Sneed
In true child-like fashion, I counted down most of last year until that magical day in December when the family gathers together, receives presents, and celebrates the important things in life—like dressing up like aliens. This we did for the opening day of Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens of course. (Oh yeah, and Christmas happened a week after that).
After the desecration of the “special” editions and the pitiful prequels, Star Wars fans have longed for a magnificent, or at least a good, new installment. When word got out that Lucas had given up creative control and Disney had taken over, expectations grew to astronomical proportions. Entire families donned their Jedi garb and stayed up late to witness the premier, including three of my brothers who drove in from far, far away to join my wife and me. As a true Star Wars nerd, I can say that the movie lives up to the hype.
J.J. Abrams and his team delivered about as well as any earthlings could. They orchestrated a solid plot with compelling characters. The special effects made me believe and the music made me soar. The Force Awakens has everything I wanted in a Star Wars film.
The film picks up about 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The sinister First Order has risen from the ashes of the old Empire. Led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the First Order seeks to destroy the Resistance, led by General Organa (Carrie Fisher). However, Resistance fighter-pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has gained valuable information on the whereabouts of missing Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who may know how to defeat the First Order. Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) aids Dameron in escaping from the First Order. Finn later joins up with scrappy female scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Together, Finn and Rey are thrust into a cosmic struggle neither one wanted to join. Along the way they meet up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), R2-D2 and C-3PO (Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels, respectively).
The appearance of old faces ties this movie seamlessly into the original installments. Learning from the errors of the prequels, writers Michael Arndt, J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan combined elements from the three good Star Wars movies and rolled them all together into one. Thankfully, they added enough new twists to keep it fresh. Among other changes, they made the main character a woman, a Stormtrooper turn good, and a villain present an unscarred face (so far). At times, the movie feels like a dream that a die-hard fan might have after binge-watching the originals, back-to-back-to-back. Maybe the script came about this way. Who cares. It worked. The story kept me engrossed until the end and left me begging for more.
Abrams also did everything in his power to avoid the CGI fakery of episodes I—III by shooting at actual, physical locations. No world was created entirely by computer-generation. They used real props, models and costumes whenever they could. This resulted in a Sci-Fi fantasy opera that feels much more authentic. This tangible quality contributed in part to the massive success of episodes IV—VI.
The writers also created believable and interesting new characters. Heroic good guys and (more importantly) complex and sinister villains, populate this latest installment. The roles were cast perfectly. Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac deliver stellar performances. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega interact in flawless on-screen chemistry. These fresh faces deliver many snappy lines from a well-written screenplay. The plot itself contains a mixture of beauty, epic adventure, and charm. The action sequences toss you around and leave you breathless.
Though most adult fans of Star Wars will rejoice at the latest installment, the film contains some scary and heart-wrenching scenes. I recommend parents watch the film first and then determine if their Padawans can handle it.
Some may object to the movie’s spiritual message as well. The impersonal “Force” governs the Star Wars universe. At best, the Force represents a vague view of the spiritual world. At worst, it points to Panentheism. Also, the idea of an equally powerful good and bad side of ultimate reality harken back to ancient Zoroastrianism. George Lucas intentionally mixed elements of eastern religion and western values. He wanted to combine facets from all faiths to combat the idea of atheism. Thus, he presents the basic ideas that God exists and good and evil exist. However, discerning Christians can perceive the errors, recognize the truths, and enjoy the movie. They can even use it to teach their children. Parents can contrast the ideas of the Force with the personal, Triune and holy God who has revealed himself in scripture. They can remind their kids that good and evil do not combat each other as eternal equals. Rather, evil is a perversion of the good, and Jesus Christ will ultimately crush it with a single breath (Isa. 11:4; 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:15).
Many long-time Star Wars fans felt that the remakes of the originals, and the subsequent prequels, had sent the franchise barreling dangerously close to a black hole. Under the new leadership, the number one movie franchise in the world feels thawed from carbonite.
Joe Sneed has a B.A. in Business Administration from Texas Christian University, and is completing his Masters of Theology degree with a Media Arts in Ministry track from Dallas Theological Seminary. He also works as writer, editor and illustrator for Children’s Relief International, based out of Rockwall, Texas.