Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - 3.5 out of 4
It's a new Star Wars film. It has lightsabers, blasters, wookies, Jedi, Sith, Han Solo, the Skywalkers and another huge struggle between good and evil. I'm probably never going to judge it using the same standards I use for other films. (I'll have two year end lists. One for The Force Awakens. One for every other film.) This one could probably have been "merely good" for me to gush its praise. But it ends up being more than that. It ends up being the perfect homage to the original trilogy, while fixing everything bad folks had to say about the new one. (Unlike others, I don't revile the new trilogy, but I think it has a lot of issues that have been fixed here.)
To refresh my memory, I watched the entire series in Machete order (including Episode I, which is not adivsable). My biggest complaint with the new trilogy is that it lacks the sense of fun and adventure that the original trilogy had in abundance. Sure, Obi-Wan and Anakin crack a few laughs here and there, but that's about it. It all seemed very uptight and serious to me. (As it should be considering it is the story of Anakin's fall-from-grace, but still...)
That problem is fixed within the first few moments in this one where Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron cracks a one-liner to the Sith Lord staring him down. Once that happened, I knew I was in safe hands. (In fact, my biggest complaint about this film would have to be the lack of screen time for Isaac. I do hope he is put to better use in the next two films.) From there, almost all of the film's cracking one-liners and humor worked for me.
Another aspect that I appreciated is the diversity. Enough people have already spoken about this, but it is pretty awesome that the biggest movie release in years has a woman as its primary story-driving character. It is one thing for Mad Max to do it, but it is entirely another for The Force Awakens to do the same. I loved how the film poked fun of all those stories where the hero takes the lady's hand in his own and runs away. ("I can run fine enough without you holding my hand.") And not to forget John Boyega as well. This kind of stuff is definitely heartening to see.
One of the interesting questions posed by the major scene in the film is this: What happens to Kylo Ren after what he's done now? No previous member of the Skywalker family has done something so irredeemably bad. Surely, there's no redemption for him now. Any thoughts? Although I saw it coming, it was still a shock that it happened. (EDIT: This piece in The Mary Sue has the screen writers explaining their decision making behind the big scene. It is interesting to hear that they wanted a villain who wasn't the finished product and thought of that scene as making him into one.)
My issues with the film are few and far between. Mostly minor nit-picks The final take-down of the oscillator on the new Death Star is not as dramatic as the one in A New Hope. I felt it could have been more extravagant. I also had an issue with Finn's use of the lightsaber. I thought the whole point of these weapons is that it requires a Jedi to control it and not cut themselves in half. Sure, using it as a knife and taking down a few Stormtroopers is fine. But battling a Sith Lord who can control the force, even an injured one; that's stretching it for sure.
On the positive side, there are moments where I simply lost it and gave in to my inner nerd. That moment on Jakku where Finn and Rey discuss about the piece of junk and the camera pans to reveal the Millenium Falcon. Man, I got massive nerd-chills in that scene. Han's line from the trailer, "Chewie, we're home." One minor nitpick being not enough, "I've got a bad feeling about this." (One could say it's been overused in the trilogy as a whole, but still... who's keeping score.) The final scene as the film closes to Williams' immortal score. It's not bad that The Force Awakens is a love-letter to Star Wars fandom. It is just about perfect because of it.
This has left me in a "cannot wait for Episode VIII" mode. So many unanswered questions. Just one and a half years to go. In the meantime, I'll be seeing The Force Awakens at least one more time in theaters.
For those of us not well-versed enough in Star Wars lore, could you kindly elaborate? I'm certainly interested in learning what these ideas are.