(Editor’s note: this review is of a version of the film that everyone wanted to see, not the actual film. ‘The Force Awakens‘ was genuinely awful; a hurried afterthought of a script nervously directed and rushed to screens by a greedy production monster totally unconcerned with making great cinematic art. As a result, I’m now living in an alternate reality where it never happened. One where The Force is always awake…)
The first Star Wars film in 10 years, “Lords of Dark and Light” accomplishes the impossible. Surpassing expectations of mythic proportions, the film delivers in all the ways we wanted it to and more, stylishly drawing us even further into the Star Wars legend. “Lords of Dark and Light” is a Cinderella story which plays out across a gritty space fantasy backdrop, lovingly curated in a way we haven’t seen in 30 years. Spoiler alert: There are NO CG characters or sets. Everything actually look real. (Really? No CG characters? No Jar Jars?) Really. More on that later.
After the standard word crawl explaining how 30 years after Episode 6 the Dark Lord Darth Agar is searching for the child of Luke Skywalker, we follow a Republic droid (the adorable BB-8) to Tattoine. Darth Agar sends a bounty hunter to track it because he believes it will lead him to young Skywalker. A scene where Agar speaks to the Dark Side of the Force on an altar with the melted Darth Vader mask as the centerpiece echos the ancient tradition of ancestor worship. The film has many such passages where the screen feels like a rich fabric artfully woven together from the materials of space fantasy and classic mythology in a way that is equally familiar and totally new.
We then pan across space and land on Tattoine, seeing young Rey Skywalker scavenging wreckage from the fall of the Empire for daily survival. She visits with her scavenger friends who tease her about being 16 and still playing make believe star fighter pilot and Jedi. Ren is unflappable, eyes gleaming as she gushes legends of the Force and the heroes who brought about the Fall of the Empire.
Later, in the Tatooine desert Rey rescues a captive BB-8 from a group of Sandpeople, who are kicking the spherical droid around like a ball. Rey proves to know how to fight, showing a fierce, cunning side of her character while she dispatches the gang of Sandpeople. She takes the damaged BB-8 to Mos Espa in hopes of selling him and taking a few days off from scavenging. One of her friends tells her the best price she’ll get for it is at the Cantina. The scene where Rey goes there to find a buyer felt just like the original Cantina scene, effortlessly sidestepping the alluring taint of banal fan pandering. Rey encounters Agar’s formidable bounty hunter and is rescued by Chewbacca. Awed by the presence of the legendary Wookie, Rey and Chewy escape in the Millennium Falcon. “Where’s Han Solo? Is this not his ship”, asks Rey. Chewy falls silent.
Chewy takes Rey to Jungo the Hutt, a longtime ally of Chewy and Han Solo. With C3PO translating, Jungo reveals to Rey that she is the daughter of Luke Skywalker, hidden on Tattoine since birth to protect her. Rey’s reaction is played beautifully; we experience her feelings of being swept away by limitless wonder into the center of her fantasy come true. Jungo gives Rey Luke’s lightsaber with a hologram message inside. She plays it and Luke introduces himself as her father, explaining that she had to be kept safe from Darth Agar because of his intention to turn her to the Dark Side. Luke has sent Chewbacca for her now that she is old enough to know the truth and begin her training as a Jedi.
Rey and crew leave Tattoine on the way to meet Luke on the Jedi home world. Before they reach lightspeed, Darth Agar captures them and travels hyperspace to the Sith home world, a red and black realm of dark forests, ruins and monsters. There Agar has amassed an army of next generation storm troopers and a fleet of Star Destroyers using his powers of mind control amplified by a crystal in his mask. Motivated by a twisted obsession with the Force, he intends to leverage Skywalker to complete his training. He tells her the story of how Kylo Ren Solo, her cousin, turned to the Dark Side during his Jedi training after The Force spoke to him and asked him to bring it back into balance. Taking the name Darth Agar, he saw Rey’s birth as a sign that she is to be his Sith apprentice. Agar tries to turn her to the Dark Side, but finds that The Force is strong with Rey and locks her in the dungeon. Rey, Chewy and crew are freed by Fin, a storm trooper defector who is sympathetic to their plight. They escape for the Jedi home world and take Fin with them.
As they come out of hyperspace at the Jedi home world, the film builds to its climax when they are recaptured by Agar who confronts Skywalker on the planets surface. When they all meet face to face, Luke tells Rey the horrid truth of what happened to Han Solo, Princess Leia and his wife, Rey’s mother. In the final battle scene Luke, inhabiting the elder Jedi look much the same as Obi-Wan did in the original Star Wars, struggles with his own rage and feelings of revenge as he duels Darth Agar. Overcoming both inner and outer conflicts, he frees Rey and the others, turning Agar back to the Sith home world. Father and child are united at last and Luke starts Rey’s Jedi training.
Congratulations are due the director for exercising remarkable restraint and shooting a film that’s consistent with the first three in the original trilogy in terms of being the story of a single main character. His camera lens calls no undue attention to itself, allowing the audience to be absorbed in the sharp ensemble performances of his cast. His humble, mature filmmaker’s eye coupled with brilliant production decisions like using computers to make and control real life characters with 3D printing and next-level animatronics make “Lords of Dark and Light” a cinematic achievement that will span time with the other films we all know and love. Like the last shot of The Empire Strikes Back, I was transported back to 1980 again and felt the same frantic anticipation for the next Star Wars film.