I'm not dense enough to think that my opinion on Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to persuade to see or avoid the film, but I can tell you up front that this is the Star Wars film you've been waiting on for 32 years. Since 1999, Star Wars fans have had to walk a tightrope between being fans and apologists, with clear battle lines drawn between those who love the entire saga, warts and all, and those who wish the prequels weren't such goofy debacles. My major issue with the prequels and Special Edition revisions to the original trilogy is that George Lucas seemed to want to make his films more "kid friendly" rather than trusting children to deal with mature themes in their own way. Those two fractured groups can now reunite in their fandom thanks to J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens, a spectacularly fun fantasy set in a galaxy far, far away.
Yes, there is a sense of been there, done that with the major plot points, but that's the only thing safe about this ballsy film. Having three major minorities represented among the top tier characters in the film is far from a safe choice, considering there's nothing about their characters' traits that are inherently gender or race specific. The new generations being introduced to Star Wars are in the best hands since my generation. There is an excitement around this film that you can see among the under-10 set that reminds me of being a kid, and that is the kind of nostalgia that's been lacking in the soulless films about Transformers, Ninja Turtles, etc.
The main protagonist and the main antagonist are the best they've been since Return of the Jedi, and Daisy Ridley's Rey is igniting a fire in girls my daughters' age that I haven't seen before in a main character. The very notion of Adam Driver's Kylo Ren could be cynically read as the angry fanboy's surrogate in the film, but Driver, Abrams, and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan honestly sell the character's journey to the dark side better in one film than George Lucas did with Anakin Skywalker in three. That's why these two characters are so exciting to audiences, we've seen huge arcs in them already, imagine where things are going to go from here.
John Boyega's Finn is a very interesting character. He's the audience surrogate in the film and thus his fear, excitement, and his whole emotional arc are tied intrinsically to the plot, which makes me hope that he grows a bit in the next film. This is not a knock against Boyega, who is a tremendous amount of fun in the role, I only hope Rian Johnson gives him more to do than just kind of geek out a lot, and I'm certain he will since the character really heads in that direction in the third act. Ex Machina co-stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson similarly make the most of their relatively small roles, and make them feel lived in and believable in much the same way everyone in the film does.
Which brings me to Harrison Ford. My goodness is it great to see him engaging with material again. His career has been on autopilot since Last Crusade, and to see him give a shit again brought a smile to my face. I loved his interplay with Boyega, and I adored the way he kept calling him big deal in that dickish way he used to call Luke kid. That he's at the center of the film's weakest scene—his introduction into the film involving some ridiculous cgi creatures—is a shame, but Ford is connected to his character and that's an amazing thing to see again.
If I've been talking more about the characters than the plot, it's because the entire plot of the film is a MacGuffin; but that's fine, so was the plot of the original Star Wars. The entire point is how good the characters are, and how much we crave their further adventures and growth as characters in this franchise, and this film absolutely nails that element. Where we leave these characters has me anxious to see how far down the road we're going to pick them up again. That may sound like effusive praise—partly because it is—but my biggest hope remains that things are going to continue in a new direction. My biggest fear is that Episode VIII is going to lean too heavily on The Empire Strikes Back, but the way Abrams and Kasdan shaped the third act of this film makes me think it won't.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars film ever made by a fan of the franchise, and it plays like one to just the right degree. The same elation and sense of excitement for things to come that Abrams brought to his 2009 Star Trek reboot is here in spades, it's just that this particular fan base has been much more extroverted in their fandom. The promise of things to come is much higher than it was following Episode I, and that makes the film a success. The film is sure to ignite the imaginations of a whole new generation of fans, as well as the fans who felt disillusioned by Lucas' underwhelming prequels. There's reason to feel optimistic again as a Star Wars fan, and that just might be the most exciting feeling of all right now.
This review originally appeared on Double Viking