Like most “Star Wars” fans who grew up with the original trilogy, I have felt a great deal of skepticism regarding the new Disney-produced film. In an article I wrote last year that ranked the previous six episodes, I reflected on how the franchise has been a mixed bag at best: two masterpieces (“A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back”), two solid entries (“Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith”) and two disasters (“The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones”). It wasn’t until the second teaser for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” premiered this month that I finally became legitimately excited. It left me feeling like a kid again. Here are VII reasons why…
I. The look
Whereas the prequels were marred by static framing and airless digital landscapes, the imagery here looks both epic and alive. Abrams’ “Star Trek” cinematographer Daniel Mindel revitalizes the familiar ships and gadgetry with an energy and—it’s gotta be said—forcefulness sorely lacking from much of George Lucas’ later work.
II. The effects
Animated overkill removed any sense of tangible weight or dimension from otherwise imaginatively designed creatures in the prequels. Here, Abrams wisely utilizes a noticeable array of practical effects to create a credible physical world rather than a formless mass of 0s and 1s. It goes without saying that Yoda would approve.
III. The music
John Williams’ score for Lucas’ 1977 landmark is arguably the greatest in the history of the medium, a towering achievement that influenced everything that came after it. Hearing Williams’ timeless melodies against this new footage gives them a fresh resonance, while getting us enticed for the as-yet-unheard music to come. A “Star Wars” film without his contributions is unthinkable.
IV. The newbies
Just as Lucas took a gamble on a trio of fresh faces to anchor his first wildly ambitious installment, Abrams is granting lead roles to relative unknowns John Boyega (who proved a charismatic presence in the cult hit “Attack the Block”) and Daisy Ridley, who is making her feature debut with this film. May the Force be with them.
V. The pros
Thankfully, the newcomers are going to have a wealth of support, courtesy of a spectacular ensemble including screen legend Max von Sydow, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie, motion capture icon Andy Serkis and the consistently superb Domhnall Gleeson. And let’s not forget Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, who memorably sang a prophetic tune about “outer space” in the Coen Brothers’ gem, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
VI. That smirk
After growling his way through a slew of curmudgeonly roles, it was flat-out exhilarating to see Harrison Ford display the signature smirk and twinkle in his eye that made his portrayal of Han Solo so captivating. He looks and sounds absolutely perfect here, thus pumping up the anticipation for the returns of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and Warwick Davis (Peter Mayhew and Kenny Baker also make costumed cameos in the teaser).
VII. The fans
We’ve suffered through quite a few disappointments over the years. We’ve paid for movie tickets out of obligation, as if in support of a cause we once believed in. Now we have the power. As Brian Babylon reminded me during my recent appearance on Vocalo’s Morning AMp program, the last thing Disney wants is a “John Carter”-sized flop on their hands. They want to please franchise fans of all ages, and please them they did, if the following reactions to the second teaser are any indication. The crowd’s reaction to Han Solo and Chewbacca’s surprise appearance never fails to give me goosebumps.
And now, a view from the audience…
Okay, J.J., you have officially earned our interest in this wholly unnecessary yet thoroughly welcome reboot. Don’t make the same mistakes Lucas did. Do what was once thought impossible: bring back the magic we feared had been lost to the Dark Side. Do or do not. There is no try.