George Lucas’s disinterest in women was part of the lethally boring side of the last three Star Wars films. In the three prequels, the film’s females were arranged like wooden geisha dolls on a shelf. In the new Star Wars film—The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams, the emphasis on girl power is a sight to see.
If there’s nothing that pleases an audience more than a lady with a sword, consider their rapture at the sight of a lady with a lightsaber. The brave Daisy Ridley makes this movie—more than the battalions of animators, more than the glorious 65mm locations in Ireland, Iceland and Abu Dhabi.
Ridley’s Rey is a junkyard scavengeress, circumstantially marooned on the dune planet Jakku; there she encounters an Imperial army deserter named FN-2187, or “Finn” (John Boyega, of Attack the Block). Finn is on the run after he helped a rebel pilot (Oscar Isaac) escape; a secret important to the rebellion is hidden aboard a droid they both know—the robot is typically wordless but eloquent. Pantomime is important in these movies; actors acting around a suit of plastic armor or Chewbacca losing his temper. Abrams has to note the horror of the renegade storm trooper through body language and the blank face of his helmet striped by a dying fellow warrior’s bloody hand.
Darth Vader’s iron dream is being continued, more than 30 years later, by a new helmeted menace called Kylo Ren. The interesting angle of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that there’s a Louis Napoleon streak to this Ren. In quiet moments, he prays to the half-melted helmet of Lord Vader. It’s a sacred relic, but he has doubts about his own power.
So much of this movie is things we’ve seen before—from the X-wing dogfights, to the rebels lined up as if for a group snapshot at the end, to a catwalk duel. But one reprise is tender: A meeting between General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the grizzled but still game Han Solo (Harrison Ford); the dialogue is lame, but the exchange of glances says it all between them. As an old hand to these movies, I couldn’t get enough of the frost of disenchantment when these old lovers see one another.
This massive cinematic cornucopia of fights, starship battles and planet-sized weapons is still “a Crackerjacks box full of nothing but prizes” in Pauline Kael’s phrase. The way Star Wars: The Force Awakens is built, it can have neither ending or beginning. It’s leading from a sequel and heading to a sequel; a temporary victory over the planet-blasting fascists of the First Order leads to new adventures further down the line.
Though the new characters acquit themselves with fierceness, I had more eyes for the old Bogartian hustler Solo and his grey-haired Wookiee, still scheming in the troubled waters of a galactic civil war.