As Promised, My SPOILER-FREE Review of The Force Awakens

You know the phrase, “if only I’d known then what I know now”? When I watched the first Star Wars movie back in the ’70s while I was a kid, I had no idea how big of a deal it would become. Nobody did. To know that the Star Wars saga has had a profound impact on popular culture for almost forty years is absolutely mind-boggling.

I can honestly say that watching The Force Awakens is like rediscovering A New Hope all over again.

That treasured line you’ve loved hearing in movies past? You’ll hear it again, or something like it. That iconic scene that still gives you goosebumps? You’re going to see it again, with just a bit of something new added to the mix. And of course, we know that our beloved characters have all gathered together again, to tell the next chapter of the story. Hell, I’m getting goosebumps just typing this.

Yes, Star Wars is formulaic, which for most movies would be disappointing. But in this case, it’s ingrained in the franchise. Star Wars works because of the formula, and to take too radical of a departure is to do it a grave disservice. Because seriously, any Star Wars fan knows EXACTLY how they want The Force Awakens to begin, and you are not disappointed when it comes. And as the formula dictates, we leave the story unfinished–we already know there are more movies to come, and we leave the theater itching to know more. As my husband pointed out to me, this is the first time since 1983 that we’ve come to a Star Wars movie practically fresh, with no foreshadowing of what will happen to any of these characters. With the prequels centered around Anakin’s life, we obviously knew he would grow up to become Darth Vader. It provides a new perspective, to be sure, but the events don’t change. We’ve already seen how that story ends. The new story unfolds with a wonderful sense of true adventure, one that we haven’t seen for a long time. Yes, some of the beats of the story were a bit predictable, but to me they were overshadowed by the current of the larger story, and I was more than happy to get swept away.

I think my favorite part of seeing The Force Awakens, though, had to be that shared audience experience. Many times, I go to the movies not only to escape but to retreat from the people around me. The experience at the premiere was completely the opposite, as could be predicted. The air was filled with excitement and I overheard people near me chatting a bit nervously about what we might see. The expectations were very high, and I’m thrilled to say that they were beautifully met. There’s something about enjoying this epic saga in a room full of people for whom the story carries the same weight and meaning. We all cheered when the movie began, when our favorite characters filled the screen for the first time, and most notably, when Han and Chewbacca stepped on board the Millenium Falcon and Han said, “Chewie, we’re home.” I really think the room breathed a collective sigh of relief; we were all home.

I can’t complete a review of this movie without giving proper credit to the magic of John Williams. The Star Wars score has become as iconic as the lightsaber or Darth Vader’s helmet, becoming a force all its own that gives emotional continuity to the series. I couldn’t imagine hearing anyone else’s music paired with this movie, itself a fanfare announcing the re-awakening of the Star Wars fandom. I love how beautifully this illustrates the importance of music in storytelling, and sets the foundation for a shared experience like this.

When it was over and we were walking past the huge crowd gathered to watch the next screening, I could feel people watching us–watching our faces, trying to tell just from looking whether we’d loved the movie or hated it. Again, the excitement was palpable. I couldn’t help it; I turned to someone who’d made eye contact with me as I was passing by, smiled, and simply said, “It was incredible.” He beamed, turned back to his friends and said, “See? I told you!” So that’s what I’m going to say to you. Go see the movie. See it soon, while the excitement is at its peak. See it with the people who love the movies like you do. And fall in love with Star Wars all over again.