Now, I don’t plan on spoiling anything, but those four words are, as far as I’m concerned, all you need to know. But if you want more, here goes.
Everything in this movie comes down to characters. Rey (Daisy Ridley), the scavenging girl who gets swept up into events is strong and smart, if not very experienced in matters of resistance fighters and battle. Her meeting with Finn (John Boyega) is great, because he’s just as young and out of his element, though he has way more experience with the First Order, the inheritors of the Empire in the wake of the Emperor’s death at the end of Return of the Jedi. Finn is funny and jittery, but he has heart and courage for days. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the bad guy in that black mask, is a more complex and out of control character than I expected.
My favorite character, though he probably gets the least screen time of these four, is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). He has Han Solo’s swagger, Luke Skywalker’s flying skills and Leia Organa’s sense of duty. And he’s got a few moments of humanity sprinkled through the film to make him feel real and not just an impossible hero.
Those four new faces are the core of this film, even though Han, Leia and Luke all appear in some form or fashion. And Chewbacca. And maybe a droid or two we remember fondly. The nostalgia stuff works well. I didn’t even mind all the little things popping up in the Millenium Falcon, even though there was maybe one too many.
The overall story does borrow from A New Hope, but not in a bad way. I didn’t feel like they were out of ideas, but that they understood, given the nature of this universe and its political and technical realities, there would probably be similar tasks to perform and similar dangers to face.
Now I suspect I have to support my decision to label this the best of all seven films. It’s too easy to say that the effects are better. (They are.) But some specific things I feel are superior are the bad guy and the central droid. I’ve already talked about Kylo Ren, who is a more engaging and, to me, scary bad guy than Darth Vader ever was. And BB-8 is adorable in a way C-3PO never was and R2-D2 almost was. But there are other things as well. Chewbacca is a more fully rounded character here. I love the fact that most of the ship to ship combat is near the ground and not just out in the blackness of space. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear there’s a light saber duel at the end. It’s not a emotionally affecting as Return of the Jedi, nor as straight-up bad-ass as The Phantom Menace, but it’s got an amazing look and a very aggressive, unchecked fury.
As yet another “Star” property directed by J. J. Abrams, it could have felt like his take on Star Trek. There were a handful of camera moves and unusual lighting choices that felt very “Abrams”, but those moments were few and far between. This is largely the kind of Star Wars look you expect, if maybe a little grimier and grittier. And so much the better after those antiseptic prequels.
I watched this on Thursday night, and I already have plans to see it again on Saturday. That alone could be an indication of its quality. I never watched a Star Wars film wanting to see it again immediately. If I like it as much on a second viewing, it won’t just be my favorite film in this series, but one of my favorite films.