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 have already seen the film. It is spoiler heavy, and if you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you read my spoiler free version here.
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 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.
We’re immediately thrown into the search for Luke Skywalker. All of a sudden we understand why we’ve seen next to nothing on the character in the marketing push for the film except for his glaring absence. Two parties are searching for him. The Resistance, who could use all the help they could muster, and the First Order who seek to destroy him and any remaining Jedi.
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, but now he’s a far more mature, and devastated version. 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. I’m not sure how they got ahold of that freighter (or how Finn confused it with a First Order ship), but I know I’m not alone in saying it was good seeing the two onscreen again.
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. Alongside Solo is when her character shines best.
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. BB-8 carries a vital message that needs to reach the right hand, similar to R2. Rey is swept away from her homeworld to learn that she is a Force user, similar to Luke. Han plays the role of the mentor who has to fall so that the hero can step up and become whom she needs to be, similar to Obi-Wan. Starkiller Base/Death Star. Maz Kanata’s castle/Mos Eisley cantina. Darth Vader/Kylo Ren. And so on. 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 story pan out as they should 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 Death Star 3.0, supercharged with more firepower. They are capable of leveling whole star systems, as we see with the Hosnian System where the New Republic ran their tasks. The Resistance is up to the challenge, however daunting. They must destroy the Base before it readies another shot that would cripple them.
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. It’s incredible seeing her grow as a character as her Force abilities awaken. Never have we seen a character grow so swiftly into their Force abilities as she does, and it begs the question as to how she is adapting so rapidly. She doesn’t know where she comes from, but others appear to. When Kylo Ren hears about a girl helping BB-8 and Finn escape, he freaks out as if he knows something. When Maz Kanata asks Han who she is, the scene cuts before he can answer. And it gave us more than enough hints as far as what her lineage was. She tried to dream of an island in the middle of an ocean at night, which was no doubt the Force pulling her to her family. She was drawn to Luke’s saber, which he lost in Cloud City (which also happens to be Anakin’s lightsaber in RotS). I’m surprised that her origin is still ambiguous by the end of the film.
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. We know he was raised from a baby in the First Order, so one would assume it’d be very difficult to see his friends die. I mean, he has one of those moments in the beginning of the film when Poe kills one of his friends, but after that his assumedly brainwashed mind doesn’t even register who’s behind the trooper armor. We can say for a certainty that after he meets Rey, his loyalty is with her. But beyond that and his initial defection, I don’t really get his motivation.
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. He’s essentially the Han Solo of the new cast. 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. Interestingly, he was being seduced by the Light Side of the Force, something we’ve never seen. He appears to be particularly adept at an all new Force stop ability, which he uses to awesome affect. 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.
It was no huge surprise discovering that Ren was the son of Han and Leia, but it was a fun reveal. I was half expecting the character to be named Jacen (which is what his name is in the now non-canonical Expanded Universe), but was totally surprised they named him after Ben Kenobi. I feel that is a mistake, as Ben was close to neither Leia, nor Han, that we know of. That said, Kylo Ren’s murder of his father was tragic, beautifully done, and an appropriate end to a character we’ve loved all these years. I teared up, even though I knew it was bound to happen.
What wasn’t appropriate? Leia and Chewie’s lament of their longtime friend, or lack thereof. When the Resistance got back from Starkiller Base, instead of consoling each other, they ignore each other, and Leia went to console Rey (a character she has yet to interact with in the film – but likely knows more about than meets the eye). Why would Han’s two closest friends in all the galaxy not mourn with each other the first chance they get? And better yet, why would we be robbed of that scene? Leia is given so little to work with in the film already, and this was a huge mistake on the writer’s part.
The worldbuilding is exceptional though. 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, soaring 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. The last track before the credits, The Jedi Steps, is the best example of this.
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, but a minor one.
The biggest mistake the movie makes is with R2-D2. He only appears as a cameo appearance… Until the plot necessitates his return. He wakes up from “low power mode,” and conveniently has the missing portion of the map to find Luke Skywalker. Who was the genius who split up these coordinates in the first place? Why did no one think to search Luke Skywalker’s droid’s memory for the map years ago? It was such a poorly explained (or rather, simply unexplained) plot development it was infuriating to the extreme.
But what a way to end a film in which the primary goal was to find Luke Skywalker! That scene will go down as one of the best in the entire Star Wars saga. The amount of tension, emotion, and feeling in that one 45 second scene by Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley is heart stopping. I want the next film to start right back up there, because that’s such a great cliffhanger of a moment.
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.