It’s the first Monday of 2016, and STAR WARS The Force Awakens has already surpassed Jurassic World and Titanic in domestic box office sales and is en route to depose James Cameron’s Avatar for the number one slot for biggest domestic movie ever (update on January 7th, it already has). And all for good reasons, too: the story is a delicate blend of substance and spectacle, the performances are endearing for heroes and villains alike, and the special effects are just plain awesome. The galaxy far, far away has been brought back to the big screen with a zeal and fervor so hot that one cannot help but jump on the LucasFilm Train for the two-hour run time.
Our story begins thirty years after the events of STAR WARS Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker has gone into hiding, Princess Leia is now the General of the rebel forces, and Han Solo – as we discover through a little plot movement – has resorted back to smuggling goods (and bads) across the galaxy. The First Order is the most recent iteration of the Empire (you know, the one that struck back), with General Hux at its militant helm and Kylo Ren as its Force wielder. Enter the new kids: Rey, a scavenger from the barren wasteland planet of Jakku, and Finn, a rogue Storm Trooper.
Put them all together, and you are in for one heck of a ride. Themes of the strength of family ties and the new bonds that arise from experiencing the same trials play heavily into the plot of the film; even the threads of doubt emerge from time to time. But as heavily as these ideas flow through the film, that stream of drama is punctuated by beautiful sequences of classic science fiction action (yes, all the pew-pews). I’ll admit that it took a couple viewings for me to bypass the spectacle and really focus on the drama, but that’s just me.
To authoritatively nominate a singular stand-out performance from this phenomenal cast would be outlandish, so I’ll just start with my own personal favorite: Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Driver’s performance can really be understood in two parts: the Grown-Up and the Kid. Kylo Ren as the character is constantly torn between being in control of himself as the mature leader he strives to be and reverting back to temper tantrums and emotional pleading we all associate with children who are still growing and need guidance (more on that below). Driver plays these two parts of this multi-faceted villain exceptionally well by providing either the calm and cool determination or the savage intensity, whatever the situation calls for.
Of course, Driver’s not in every scene like Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn are. These two actors have pumped new life into the STAR WARS universe by giving faces to the next-level edge of the themes of these stories. Ridley’s performance isn’t as feminine as it is powerful (and I wish the film would have at least acknowledged that Daisy the actress and Rey the character are both women). Boyega’s dramatic sequences at times seemed belittled by his comedic presence. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher act like they never stopped portraying Han Solo and Leia, and for what we see of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, well…whatever.
The Christian Angle: “Let No Man Despise Thy Youth”…Right?
The Apostle Paul shared this nugget of encouragement via epistle with his own padawan Timothy as the latter was establishing a church in Ephesus. It has now become a cliché for youth groups across America and has even slipped through the church walls and into popular social thought with the advent of the veneration of childhood and youth – “out of the mouths of babes” and all that jazz. Even Jesus Himself says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So, being a kid is good, right?
But in STAR WARS The Force Awakens, we see a different theme; we see the idea that being young is not as important as being one who is able. For example, Rey and Kylo are unable to accomplish their goals, and each has to go to a more knowledgeable master to complete their training. Digging a little deeper, Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren are practically orphans who have received that preliminary parental guidance from elsewhere – whether in the constraints of the First Order or the desert wasteland of Jakku. Even Kylo Ren’s red lightsaber cackles with instability, symbolizing his own immature state of being. These kids, according to the film, are incomplete without discipleship.
Timothy, on the other hand, had Paul himself as a mentor. So when Paul tells Timothy to “let no one despise (his) youth),” he says that with the recognition that Timothy’s training is complete, and even though he is younger than the people he’ll be church-planting with, he can stand firm in the faith and teachings passed onto him from Paul. May that also be said of us believers, that we believe we are able because our foundation in Christ Jesus passed onto us from those who have instructed us like Paul instructed us and that we can pass on that foundation farther along.
By now, you’ve probably already seen STAR WARS The Force Awakens at least once. And if you’ve seen it once, you’ll see it a couple more times. Even if you haven’t seen it yet, you will most likely end up seeing it because you probably have that one friend who has already seen it six times enough for the both of you but who will want to share the experience of the seventh viewing with you. Don’t be disheartened: you will enjoy this film and you will be glad you saw it in a movie theater.