What’s best about the new Star Wars movie is that it isn’t just for white boys anymore. The new maestro, J.J. Abrams, put a strong, principled woman and an African-American man equally gifted in the morally awake department in the central roles. Yet it never feels like some quota of inclusiveness was invoked. They tell great stories: Rey (Daisy Ridley), the woman, is shrouded in enough mystery to make a terrifying vision she has late in the story seem randomly odd but fitting. Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper we first meet with blood on his helmet, wants to put killing behind him, but he obviously has fighting chops. They both seem “Force sensitive” and, better yet, discover new powers as the story unwinds.
The next great thing is how it gets told, at least in the beginning, when we’re thrown into a whirlwind of action that opens on Max von Sydow’s face to ensure that proper existential groove. Then, as we catch our bearings, familiar aspects and faces from the original films accumulate, beginning with the Millennium Falcon. Later, you may feel the movie gets too rich in Luke and Leia–era artifacts, though. There’s a Death Star equivalent, a Darth Vader wannabe (Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and a world where the Jedi have all but disappeared.
But my favorite aspect of the new Star Wars universe is that it’s funny again. The banter makes this movie sometimes feel more like a Joss Whedon (The Avengers) film than an Abrams (Star Trek reboot) venture. (“Escape now; hug later,” says Han.) It’s also dark enough to fit the Lucas cosmology: both New Age-y and Republican-sensitive. Late in the film, someone suggests that it doesn’t matter if you call it Sith, Imperial Troopers, or the First Order (the new threat against the Republic). Evil abides. It’s still the same old story: a fight for love and glory, even if set on picturesque Jakku or Takodana.