Star Wars as a film (and especially as a franchise) has transcended mere pop cultural significance. It goes beyond generational importance, as it’s now a multi-generational phenomenon. No other film franchise will ever make such an impact on the public consciousness. Never will there be a series more quoted, influential, or parodied. And if that love for the galaxy far, far away were ever in question, The Force Awakens will certainly silence all skeptics. Already making unfathomable Box Office records, it won’t stop until it breaks the rest. And best of all? Star Wars is never going away.
Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars could not have come at a more appropriate time. Original trilogy fans are now middle-aged or older. The prequel generation are now settling into adulthood. And then we have the kids who were raised on The Clone Wars and Rebels cartoon shows. The most important thing Disney’s new series of films could capture was the magic that brought fans to the franchise in the first place. Episode VII needed to be the film fans expected from the long-awaited sequel, but it also needed to bring something altogether new to the mix. And boy did it.
This review is geared towards those who haven’t yet seen the film. It is a spoiler free version of my full review. If you’ve already seen the movie, head on over to my spoiler-heavy review.
Director J.J. Abrams nails it. Not without its faults (it is just a movie after all), The Force Awakens is a testament to the staying power of the franchise, and a reclamation of the movie magic that made the original trilogy so exceedingly brilliant. The ability to merge forgotten filmmaking techniques with modern digitalism is comparable to nothing before it. This film feels more like a Star Wars movie than half of the George Lucas’ installments. And I’m not a prequel hater – but what Abrams has concocted is a thing of real, tangible beauty. The galaxy hasn’t felt this real for over 30 years.
As soon as ‘STAR WARS’ appears onscreen in all its avant-garde glory, flies off into space, and is quickly replaced by that all-too-familiar yellow crawl of text, you know you’re in for a wild ride. John Williams blaring music dominates your senses and you’re transported back to when you were a kid, and it feels like you’re watching Star Wars for the first time all over again.
One thing that I forgot to expect from this new film was the humor inherent in Star Wars. From the very start there’s a layer of joy and humor amidst all the chaos the film has to throw at the audience. Not in the sense that you’ll find there’s a comic relief character present. Even BB-8 is too awesome to be relegated as just comic relief. No, Disney wants to steer clear of that. But it’s the simple irony of the differing agendas each character possesses, along with their unique personalities, that make scenes pop with levity.
Harrison Ford’s return to the character of Han Solo is seemless. The moment he walks onto the screen, it’s all smiles. He still has all the quips and swagger of a scruffy-looking nerf herder. And of course, side by side with his faithful Wookiee copilot Chewbacca, the two appear to have been on many an adventure offscreen – just as we’d envision it.
Princess General Leia is a different story, however. Although it felt like the same character (as far as her evolution could presumably go), Carrie Fisher was playing a very different role in this film. More reserved, more level-headed. And I’m not sure I entirely buy the new her. I felt she was wooden at times. Still, it was wonderful seeing her back, and sporting some crazy hairdos.
Abrams and script writer Lawrence Kasdan (who famously penned Episodes V & VI) chose to reach back to the series’ roots, not only stylistically, but thematically. In fact, they chose to take a route of such poetic symmetry with the original film that it seems to be an exact replica of the original outline. Were you to explain the major happenings of this story to someone else without using names and locations, it would sound very similar to A New Hope. That said, it never once feels stunted by the similarities to the past, nor do I feel this is a criticism worth laying against the film. The events in this film panned out as they could have organically, within the confines and history of the Star Wars legend we know and love.
The new threat takes root with the First Order, an extremist offshoot of the Galactic Empire of old. Led by Supreme Leader Snoke, a character we still know very little about, they get up to some serious galactic evil with their Starkiller Base. This Starkiller Base is essentially another Death Star, except much more powerful. But that’s not to say that the Resistance isn’t up to the challenge.
And the new cast of heroes is one I truly, overwhelmingly, look forward to seeing grow. Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, instantly joins the ranks as one of the most fantastic characters of the Star Wars saga. She’s strong, independent, competent, and always up to the challenge. She is the primary protagonist of the film, and kicks some serious butt.
Finn, played by the energetic John Boyega, is a defecting stormtrooper, who leaves after he witnesses firsthand the atrocities the First Order is willing to commit. He’s a lovable character, who’s a treat to follow along. His motives, however, leave much to be desired. For the sake of the story and viewing, he’s a good person, but he seems undeterred later when he has to face off against his longtime First Order comrades.
Even Poe Dameron, who claims to be the best pilot in the Resistance, is an extremely likable fellow. I was most surprised that he was so funny. Sadly, he gets sidelined for most of the film.
BB-8. What an incredible new addition. Not only the kids will love him, YOU will too. He steals every scene he’s in. The amount of personality they are capable of putting into a droid like him is remarkable. And, aside from some animated effects here and there, the soccer ball-like droid is a real, fully functioning thing. And that’s just too cool.
But the real standout star for this film was Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. He’s not a Sith. Nor is he a Jedi. He is, however, a worthy replacement to the Dark Side void left by Darth Vader. But he’s also a very complicated character, full of anger and rage, and probably more than a tinge of sorrow. Scenes where he is wearing his mask, he’s a truly menacing threat. But the character steals your curiosity and attention when his mask is off, and you see the war raging inside him. What a performance.
The worldbuilding is also quite well done. The team did such a good job with the worldbuilding that you don’t even realize it’s there. You’re thrown onto these remote worlds with realistic, beautiful landscapes, inhabited by alien and humanoid persons alike. Never once do you question the reality of it. In fact, the team did too good of a job. Many characters they’ve created didn’t even make it into the finished film. Most notable here is Constable Zuvio, who was actually among the first characters to get an action figure.
However great the practical effects and believable prosthetic puppeteering is in the film, it is counterpointed by the extremely obvious computer generated imagery. Some of it was seemless, but not all of it. Our eyes are sensitive to things that don’t look real, and some scenes take you out of that magic, if only briefly.
Composer John Williams has crafted yet another exceptional score. Rey’s theme is whimsical, full of wanderlust, innocence, and hope. And on the other extreme, Kylo Ren’s theme is harsh, swift, and powerful. This, mixed with the music we know and love, makes for some great atmosphere and adventure.
Captain Phasma only has a minor role in this film, and that’s a shame. That is one of my only nitpicks for the entire movie. I do have two major qualms with the film though, but both involve incredible spoilers to the plot, which I won’t mention. If you’re curious, see the film, and read my expanded spoiler-heavy review here.
Overall, this is perhaps the most fun I’ve had while seeing a film in theaters for several years. Star Wars is back, and long may it continue to be so. I see a lot of potential stories spanning from this one film. Now all I want is to find out how we got to this point, so I’ll be eagerly reading the books and comics that come along that help bridge that gap. From here on out we’ll be seeing a Star Wars film drop every year, with the episodic ones showing up every two years. It’s never been such a good time to be a fan.