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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is my favorite movie of 2015.
Now, let me explain. It’s not the best movie of 2015. That distinction, in my humble opinion, still belongs to Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, a searing take down of the Catholic Church that’s expertly crafted and boasts a flawless ensemble. Nor is it necessarily the movie that’s going to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in March. Campaigns dictate frontrunners, and too much will change on that landscape between now that then.
But Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first movie this year that I can wholeheartedly embrace and recommend to anyone who enjoys going to the movies, stating with all honesty that I adored every single frame of this crowd-pleasing roller coaster ride. From its opening beats to its majestic ending, I rode J.J. Abrams’ unconventional vibe of nostalgia and world building, while also grinning like a full-blown film geek from ear to ear for the entire duration. Now, let me explain in a spoiler-free fashion why The Force Awakens made me feel this way.
This is not a review. Our own Eric Eisenberg handled that for us. Read his take on Star Wars: The Force Awakens here. This is more of an emotional response to our return to this universe – but also a direct reaction to the last trip we tried to make to the worlds that George Lucas invented. The normal stuff is sure to tug at your heartstrings. Again, no spoilers, but the hairs on your arm are bound to stand up, and your heartbeat will increase with anticipation, when you once again see the words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" and the trumpets blare as the title scroll begins.
Little by little, though you start to realize that J.J. Abrams, against all odds, actually delivered on his promises. During production, while keeping plot points under wraps, Abrams spoke about the desire to return to the movie-making tricks of the 1970s to recapture the feel of the Original Trilogy. When The Force Awakens is on Jakku or hop-scotching to alien locales, the use of practical effects, handcrafted creatures and physical sets on organic locations… these decisions mean the world to establishing an environment that is very much Star Wars. This is a sequel to Return of the Jedi, in form and function. But it’s not nostalgia for profit’s sake. It’s a continuation of a book that you put down 30 years ago, and are now able to pick up and plunge into once again.
I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself while watching The Force Awakens, "What if the Prequels were half as lovingly crafted as this?" Then I came back to my desk, and watched this trailer.
I wanted to vomit. It was so artificial, so out of tune with the Original Trilogy, I’m still astonished that it comes from the man responsible for A New Hope in the first place. How is it possible that J.J. Abrams, and not George Lucas, made a better Star Wars movie? OK, fair. Directors not named Lucas have been making the better Star Wars movies since A New Hope. Abrams just becomes the latest in what’s bound to be a long line of filmmakers who will hold that distinction.
It certainly helps The Force Awakens that it follows the Prequels. But even if this was the first Star Wars movie that fans had been treated to since Return of the Jedi, I still think they’d welcome it as an invigorating return to the spirit of the series that we all loved so much. The Force Awakens does the little things that great Star Wars stories – on screen, and in print – have always relied on. It establishes underdog heroes, and creates powerfully intimidating villains. It’s thrilling. It’s funny. It’s sometimes heartbreaking, and often times hopeful.
And it has performances. PERFORMANCES! Scruffy, improvised, lived-in and off-the-cuff performances can be found throughout The Force Awakens. The Prequels, under Lucas’ direction, aimed for Shakespearean drama delivered by Capital "A" Actors, as if George was proving to Harrison Ford, "You see? People CAN say my dialogue." Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac aren’t stage-acting. They’re in the story, serving the narrative. Ford and Carrie Fisher plug back into comfortable roles. Hell, the droid BB-8 gives a better performance than any single person in the ENTIRE Prequel trilogies. That’s saying a ton.
I’ll stop here. I want all of you to experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens for yourselves. Truthfully, I want to experience it for myself all over again. This is the first and only movie released this year that I desperately wanted to see again immediately after it ended. It’s the kind of movie I want to share with my sons, the kind of movie I am DYING to see with a theater-full of enthusiastic fans who have been waiting for a proper sequel to their all-time favorite franchise. It’s here. The wait is over. Star Wars has returned. The Force Awakens might not be the best movie of 2015. But it’s the best Star Wars movie we have seen in decades, and my absolute favorite movie of the year. I sincerely hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.