Star Wars is back

Spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens, a film that feels a lot like the old films, and may make you forget the terrible prequels.

Star Wars

BB8 and Daisy Ridley

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed something quite like the fever pitch that has preceded the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Oh, sure, the first prequel was highly anticipated, but it came out when the Internet hype machine was still embryonic. Today’s hot-take-obsessed pop culture has analysed every released frame of The Force Awakens in order to piece together a film no one had seen; fan theories were bandied about, incredibly detailed suppositions laid out, preview tickets sales were through the roof — all for a film whose every secret was very, very closely guarded.

Never has a significant percentage of the world lost their shit with so little to go on; all we knew is that it was Star Wars and it couldn’t possibly be as bad as The Phantom Menace. My own personal ties with Star Wars are, I think, one that many kids my age share. Even though I’d seen them on TV a bunch as a kid, I hadn’t properly watched them until the restored versions hit theatres in 1997. I guess Star Wars sort of sparked my interest in film as a medium alongside a bunch of other things I had noticed around the same time, but mostly, Star Wars sparked my interest in Star Wars. I had a solid two years of quasi-obsession, fantasizing about lining up at midnight to see the first screening of the upcoming Phantom Menace. Like many others, my obsession was pretty much killed by the overall shittiness of that film. Even though I suppose I had sort of enjoyed it at the time, it did not keep the spark of desire to collect all the action figures and live in perpetual bachelordom, surrounded by decorative mugs and a life-size replica of Chewbacca.

Oscar Isaac

Oscar Isaac

You might wonder why I’m going through all of this preamble before discussing the year’s (if not the decade’s) most anticipated film; the fact is that Lucasfilm and Disney have asked the press not to reveal any spoilers or significant plot points in order not to ruin the audience’s enjoyment of the film. This is both maddening and completely understandable. On one hand, Disney, Abrams and the rest of the crew have gone to Herculean lengths to avoid anything leaking to the press, and having some schmoe from the Internet yell it from the virtual rooftops kinda defeats the purpose. On the other, I have to write something here besides my dewy-eyed recollections of walking to the drugstore to buy that one Star Wars magazine.

I can’t really describe what happens in The Force Awakens but what I can do is describe what doesn’t. There are no lengthy, pointless discussions about trade agreement and spice tariffs here; there are no clumsy-ass romantic dialogue scenes that seem pulled from Harlequin’s line of colouring books. There are no tired performances where actors we all know are talented struggle to make eye contact with a tennis ball; there are no scenes that feel positively bathed in CGI to the point where any live-action element appears to be floating above the surface. There are no princesses waiting desperately to be saved; they do their own saving when saving needs to occur (suffice to say this is a banner year for strong female characters who live in the desert). The dialogue is not completely devoid of clunky exposition, but the film does not hold your hand or shower you in incomprehensible backstory babble.

Star Wars 4

Gwendoline Christie

I have no idea what die-hard fans of Star Wars await from The Force Awakens; I have no idea what even I expected from it as a reformed obsessive nerd. What I can tell you is that I had a lot of fun watching it but I didn’t feel the tingling wash of nostalgia as I watched it and I didn’t shed a tear at the enormity of it all. The Force Awakens borrows a lot from A New Hope in its general structure, its new character archetypes and its settings. In avoiding the many horrible mistakes made by Lucas et al. in the prequels, Abrams and his team have delivered something so reverent to the source material that it sometimes risks being redundant – but even that feels like a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. There’s a lot of things that The Force Awakens isn’t but I think I can safely say that it’s the kind of Star Wars movie I’ve wanted to see since roughly 1998.

The fact is that I can’t really reveal what happens in The Force Awakens because the idea of going into an anticipated film unsullied is exciting to me — and I know that if you’re reading this, you’ve already made up your mind on whether you’re seeing it. It’s both the easiest and most frustrating review I’ve ever had to write. ■

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theatres on Friday, Dec. 18, with preview screenings on Thursday, Dec. 17. Watch ALL the trailers here: