This post will contain no spoilers—we promise.
“We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner—now I am the master.”
Few movie franchises have successfully spanned the decades quite like Star Wars, and even fewer have managed to keep the attention of generations of moviegoers with a single epic story arc. This year, the weight of expectation on director J.J. Abrams to deliver with The Force Awakens—the first Star Wars film in a decade, and the first with the original cast returning—has been immense. Disney, which spent $4 billion to bring the Star Wars franchise into its empire, would’ve had to answer to investors if the new film bombed.
But Abrams, along with Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, pretty much nailed the new film. The Force Awakens condenses what is great about the original trilogy into one blisteringly fast-paced movie, and leaves behind what wasn’t so great. This time around, women have leading roles on both sides of the film (they even talk to each other!), people of color aren’t side characters, and the main villain doesn’t sound like he’s sucking through a wet straw for the entire film. (Yes, the prequel trilogy had most of these things too, but they were pretty much objectively terrible films as well.)
At one point in the film, Han Solo walks onto the Millennium Falcon—this appears in trailers, so it doesn’t count as a spoiler—and says, “Chewie, we’re home.” Although the film mostly takes place in new settings, with new droids, new weird aliens, and new villains, Han’s line distills the film perfectly: To a Star Wars fan, this feels like coming home.
Abrams captures the feel of a galaxy that George Lucas first showed us in 1977. It’s rusty, cobbled together, fantastic, but hopeful. In The Force Awakens, the legends of the first films loom literally and metaphorically, and the original dust, broken parts, and families are all still there. A litany of lines pay homage to the original trilogy, as do several familiar minor characters and plot points. John Williams’ original musical themes also reappear, binding it all together.
The Force Awakens is not a perfect film. Some of the plot is painfully clear before it unfolds, and some dramatic tension is missing at moments. But the film never was going to be perfect—the originals weren’t either.
In the beginning, in a galaxy far, far away, a farm boy saves the world with the help of a criminal-turned-good and a walking carpet. This year, new actors including John Boyega, Daisy Ridley—and to a lesser extent, Adam Driver—have imbued that same spirit of possibility into a new generation of characters that could easily keep audiences coming back for another 40 years.
This film is being released around the winter holidays, a time of year when many are returning home in real life. Today, I saw The Force Awakens with my parents at the cinema closest to the house where I grew up. I don’t live in this country anymore, and it changes a little bit every time I come back, but it still feels like home. I feel the same way about The Force Awakens, the latest in a series that has been a cultural touchstone for generations.
If this is the course that Abrams and Disney have set for the Star Wars of the future, I hope the Force will be with us always.