Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Confession: I have never been into Star Wars.

The series that so many people grew up with was never something in which I took interest. I wasn’t one of the children who begged their parents to take me to see the movies that came out as I was growing up. I didn’t collect the merchandise, the shirts and jackets emblazoned with Rebel logos or Empire insignias, the replica blasters and toy ships that populated the halls of the toy stores. Luke Skywalker didn’t inspire me. I wasn’t star-struck by Han Solo. I wasn’t awed or intimidated by Darth Vader.

I never even wanted a lightsaber. That swishing beam, that glowing blade that so many children thought was the coolest thing they had ever seen, never interested me. I didn’t want to be a Jedi like the other kids. I simply didn’t care for Star Wars.

But, I was invited to see The Force Awakens. I was asked to give the series a chance. I sat down and watched the six movies that came before this one, preparing myself for…really, for what, I don’t know.

Tonight, I was excited. Maybe this movie would be what Episode IV (the first movie; it’s complicated, I’ll explain later, maybe) was to so many others. Maybe I’d finally see what so many others saw in this series.

As someone who has never been a fan of Star Wars, I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.

I was thrilled.

I was captured, pulled to the edge of my seat, not just by the grandeur of it all—the sweeping vistas, the grand set pieces, the impossible ships that dominated the screen—but by characters that, so many light years away, in galaxies we may never know, reached into the audience and pulled me into their star systems.

Putting everything else aside, putting away the idea that this movie is just part one of a larger set, or part seven of an even greater series, or just one chapter in a collection of stories, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, by itself, a fantastic film.

The characters resonate with a depth unseen, at least by me, in the original trilogy. These are not the wooden performances of an uncertain troupe set to dialogue that chews more scenery than Godzilla on Broadway. These are people, living, breathing people, well aware of the history that lies behind them, and they feel real. Yes, there are characters who return from the older films, and maybe I would’ve cared more about them had I been invested in their original stories.

The new ones, however, the ones without history, the ones whose stories had yet to be told, burst through the screen with an unrelenting believability. I cared about these people, and, more importantly, I wanted to know more. This was not something I felt in the original trilogy, nor did I particularly care about the fates of anyone in the prequels. Yet these characters, with their dimensions, their conflicts their desires, made me care.

I watched, breathless, as the lone scavenger with dreams of greater things clashed relentlessly with forces far greater than she could have possibly imagined, as she refused to be rescued by anyone other than herself, as she proved to doubting masses that she could be her own hero.

I cheered for the Stormtrooper who chose to think differently, who turned away from the path that had been laid for him and bonded with a boisterous and boyish pilot and his bouncing ball droid.

I was even enthralled by the galaxy’s latest antagonist, not the stoic Lord of an era long before him, but a figure brimming with emotion, with fire and fury and fear, but also pain and torment and uncertainty and, yes, even doubt, a dark lord with dynamicity not typically reserved for figures meant to be imposing.

My heart was broken, and my mind was blown, not just by the stellar performances, but also by the remarkable writing underneath it. Even in its most serious moments, there was laughter to be found in the awkward friendship that united these brave heroes against a threat the galaxy had never known. Unlike the bland language of the original trilogy, and unlike the unbelievably corny “dialogue” of the prequels (it was so bad, it was so, so bad), I believed every word that was said on the screen.

Nothing in the movie felt unnatural or out-of-place. These were not the cheap sets and scavenged costumes of the original series, nor were these the great but gaudy and almost too clean locales from the prequels. The places and the faces in every scene, and the cinematography that was nothing short of stunning, made me feel like I had truly been transported to a galaxy far, far away, and I have nobody but J.J. Abrams to thank for bringing all of these elements together.

There are those reviewers who have said that a lot of the elements of this film were simply borrowed from the original trilogy, rehashed and enhanced for the 21st Century. I will admit, there were scenes that felt remarkably familiar, like we’ve been here before. But that is exactly what Abrams is doing: he is inviting us back to that galaxy we think we know, and he is also showing us how far that galaxy has come in the many decades since its inception. Though it may feel familiar, Abrams manages to keep the film fresh, exciting, and new.

Whatever George Lucas envisioned a long time ago, Abrams has finally managed to achieve those impossible ideals, if not surpass them entirely. I can confidently say that, as someone who had never been a fan of this series, Abrams and Disney managed to exceed my expectations.

There has been an awakening, and I have felt it. Through the tireless efforts of everyone over at Lucasfilm and Disney, this latest entry into the storied Star Wars saga has managed to inspire in me a new hope. After what will only be the rousing success of this picture, I can’t wait to see how J.J. Abrams plans to strike back. I can’t wait for the return of the Jedi.


The Season of Fear

The scent of cinnamon and gingerbread wraps me in a warm embrace as I sit at a tiny table tucked away in the corner of the café. Michael Bublé serenades me through the speakers, dreaming of a white Christmas over the bubbly babble of shoppers and the regular hiss of the espresso machine.

Though steam wafts from the tea in the china mug in front of me, my heart has been chilled to match the frost forming on the window. An hour ago, the idea that my family would never be able to come home for the holidays would never have crossed my mind.

That’s when I was splashed with the most recent batch of venom to spill out of Donald J. Trump’s gaping maw.

To anyone who has been following the meandering mess that is this maniac, his comments should come as no surprise. The ultraconservative and grossly prejudiced Republican presidential hopeful, on top of every other rampant racist remark that occupies his regular rhetoric, has, according to an article from the New York Times, called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders “can figure out what’s going on.”

“Without looking at the various polling data,” Mister Trump has said in a statement issued by his campaign, “it is obvious to anyone the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Typically, these words would not faze me. I would dismiss this comment as yet another cheap shot at Islam by a person who chooses not to understand it.

Yet these words come on the heels of a statement made only yesterday by one Mister Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, only a couple of hours from where I live. He urged his students to carry guns on their person “so we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed us. Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever showed up here.” This statement was met with roars of applause and admiration, and this statement, combined with the repeated racist rhetoric of Mister Trump, continues to underline one very clear idea:

My family is not welcome here.

My father, who fled a nation decimated by repeated war and invasion in order to seek an education, who was determined to build a better life for himself, who was never handed anything but worked for everything, who would give the shirt off his back even when he had none to give, is not welcome here.

My mother, born in America to Americans, who chose to convert and learn a whole new culture, who defies every attempt made to tell her what she cannot do and refuses to let anyone step on her independence, who supports her children when nobody else will, is not welcome here.

My sisters and my brother, my beautiful siblings who possess gifts I will never have, whose time I value more than all the money in the world, who make me proud to be their big brother, are not welcome here.

I am not welcome here.

What angers me most, what makes my heart rage against my ribs, boiling my blood and stinging my eyes with fury, is the sheer irony that these comments, these hate-filled, xenophobic remarks, are being made during this, the season of Christmas.

These “good Christians,” these “holy men,” these figures who reportedly sleep with the Bible by their bed and their Lord and Savior watching over them, would make their Prophet cringe. This is the season during which the Messiah was born, the season that ushered in your holiest of holy figures. Would He approve of your words? Would He condone your behavior? Would He sit solemnly by and nod as you spat your hate at people who have done nothing to earn your misplaced ire?

This is the season for giving, for caring, for love. What love have you in your heart other than love for your own self?

Your words have corrupted this happy season. The snow that dances in the night air, glistening in the strings of cheery lights, has been stained by the noxious fumes that flow from your mouths. The joyous songs that praise the Lord and wish you a Merry Christmas have been drowned out by the hatred that you bellow from your rotten podium.

What do you know of Islam? What do you know of my people, who believe in Jesus just as much as you do, who also regard Him as the Messiah? What do you know of my father’s people, who did not celebrate on 9/11, as Mister Trump would want us to believe, but cowered in fear from 9/12 onward, knowing full well the fury that would be rained down upon them, the blame that would be laid upon them in response to the actions of the radical few, those monsters who we condemned then just as much as we now condemn the poorly-named ISIS, a group that bears more similarity to the Antichrist than it does Islam?

You have turned this most joyous of seasons into a season of fear.

For the longest time, this period of the year has always been my favorite. Whether we were on the cool beaches of Beirut with my father’s family, or gathered around the tree in Richmond with my mother’s family, this season has always been the happiest season for me. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday because, for the longest time, I believed that no matter what wars raged outside our windows, no matter what difficulties we were facing on our own, when our family gathered together, nothing could harm us. For one day out of the year, we were together. We were happy. We were safe.

When one man does not want my family in this country, and when another man threatens to end my family before they even arrive, I can comfortably say that I cannot feel safe anymore.

This is an open invitation to Misters Trump and Falwell:

I want you to tell me why you hate me.

I want to sit down with you and give you the opportunity to tell me, to my face, why you hate my family, why you hate my people.

I want you to tell me what Islam, true Islam, a religion of peace whose people gave your people charts of numbers and maps of stars, stockpiles of medicines and temples dedicated to education and the arts, did to make you hate us so.

I want you to understand that ISIS is not Islam and should not be referred to as “the Islamic State.” Their actions are as un-Islamic as your words are un-Christian. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you started referring to it as “Daesh,” which is their Arabic acronym and which loosely translates to a derogatory term in Arabic. This is also the phrase that almost every nation except the United States uses to refer to this heinous group. Maybe you two can start a trend. Maybe you can redeem yourselves.

I would love to give you that chance. I would love to have the opportunity to sit and talk with both of you, were I not convinced you would shoot me on sight.

Remember this as you kneel before the Cross on your Lord and Savior’s birthday, as you pledge your souls to the man from Nazareth who looks more like my family than he does your stained glass portraits, who died so you may stand before Him and spit your hate:

I hope, if nothing else, that you have a very Merry Christmas. As long as you ensure that my family will never be welcome in their own home, I know that I won’t.