For as much as Harrison Ford has, let’s face it, hated the character of Han Solo over the last, oh, 32 years (despite Ford’s newfound, let’s say, toleration of everything Solo over the last few months), you would never guess it from watching Ford blast, fly and finagle his way through Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is Ford’s best performance in years — he really looks like he’s a guy having fun on the set of a Star Wars movie for the first time since the original Star Wars. (Ford is great in The Empire Strikes Back, but that’s not really a “fun” movie.) In the next few years, Lucasfilm will be releasing a new standalone Han Solo movie featuring some other actor playing the role. In the meantime, The Force Awakens is almost a Han Solo movie unto itself.
But, not quite, because Daisy Ridley as a lonely desert scavenger named Rey; John Boyega as a former First Order Stormtrooper, now wanted deserter, Finn; and Oscar Issac as Resistance pilot Poe (I would have liked to have seen a little more Poe) are all so fantastic, and they bring to The Force Awakens what the prequels were so desperately missing: a sense of humor. There are actual laughs to be had in The Force Awakens! The original Star Wars had laughs. It’s this, more than anything, that makes The Force Awakens feel like a direct sequel to the original trilogy.
The Force Awakens does not take itself too seriously – oh, boy, just wait until you watch Domhnall Gleeson ham it up as General Hux – and this is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong! There are many “serious” moments, it just threads that needle like a Star Wars movie should.
At this point, I am going to get into vague plot details, much less than I would for any other movie, because I understand how much people want to go in knowing as little as possible. But, I do imagine if you’ve read this far, you want to know something. So, here we go:
The story centers on the search for Luke Skywalker. As he’s missing from the poster, he’s also missing from his friends and family – namely, Han Solo and now General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance against the First Order, which are both mutated versions of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire from the original trilogy. (The movie explains the differences from their former versions, but, honestly, it kind of feels like the same thing. This is not a complaint.)
There’s a scene early in the movie where the new villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) confronts Poe Dameron. In the spectrum of the film as a whole, this is not a super important scene. As a Star Wars fan, it means everything. Kylo Ren (who, let’s say, has a bit of a temper) needs some information from ace Resistance pilot Dameron. There’s an intense stare-off, then Oscar Isaac’s Poe says, “How does this work? Do I talk first? Do you talk first?” The theater I was in erupted in laughter. No more stilted dialogue. This was a cocky asshole cracking wise in the face of danger. It was great.
In another scene shortly after, Finn (whom Poe has just met) makes a grand statement about the nobility of what Finn was doing at that moment. Poe calls bullshit on the whole thing. Finn gives a short mea culpa because it was bullshit, the audience laughs again, and the two are off on their first adventure.
Daisy Ridley, boy, here’s everything you want out of a co-lead in a Star Wars movie. She is funny, commanding, and, as Rey, can totally take care of herself. She is, obviously, a huge part of this new Star Wars trilogy and we are in excellent hands. Everything about Rey, Finn, and Poe works, and the presence of the characters from the original films make them work that much better. There’s a sense of a torch being passed.
Okay, yes, there are some aspects that don’t totally work. The new First Order weapon, Starkiller Base (the one on the poster), seems like almost an afterthought even though it’s a big deal. Yes, it’s much bigger than the Death Star (as characters almost sarcastically point out), but it does kind of feel like Death Star 3. And it does peculiar, kind of way-too-insane things that feel like it’s just director J.J. Abrams saying, “Okay, I have this really cool idea and I don’t care if it’s ridiculous.”
Also, without saying anything really, Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma really is the new Boba Fett. She looks super cool! But, well, if you know Star Wars, you know Fett’s role in the original trilogy leaves something to be desired. I’m going to stop writing about Phasma because I could write a lot about Phasma.
So, those last two paragraphs: Whatever! You know what sounds like a cool movie? “Luke Skywalker’s Jedi father fights in an arena battle with countless other Jedi, Boba Fett, and Samuel L. Jackson. Along the way, we get hints at Luke’s father’s eventual fall, becoming Darth Vader.” What’s most important here is the tone. The Force Awakens absolutely nails the tone. This feels like the first Star Wars movie since 1983. It features the original characters we love. (Good grief, the first time Han Solo and C-3PO see each other in this movie, you will laugh for a week.) It looks beautiful. (Of course there’s CGI, but there’s so, so many real, actual things in this movie, you just want to touch them. I’m going out of my way to avoid the much overused term, “practical effects.”) And, again, it’s funny.
With humor comes heart, and it’s easy to forgive a couple plot points when a movie has this much heart.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.