Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Tim Rose, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Ken Leung, Miltos Yerolemou, Max von Sydow, Jessica Henwick, Christina Chong, Simon Pegg, Billie Lourd, Crystal Clarke and Pip Andersen.
30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie. It’s actually a very flawed movie, but despite that, the film is successfully able to recapture that majestic sense of wonder and engagement that the original trilogy was capable of sparking and maintaining throughout the childhoods of many. There came a point during the adventure where, even though I knew things were wrapping up and headed towards a temporary conclusion, I never wanted the experience to end; the prospect of anxiously waiting another two years or so for another episode of the story can simply sink one’s heart like a rock.
Paramount to J.J. Abrams’ (who was also responsible for resurrecting both the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible franchises with positive results) triumphant revitalization of the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars, is a functionally working coexistence between the new major players introduced, along with fan favorite characters that have been heralded across multiple generations. The narrative kicks things off tending to focus on bringing the trifecta of new heroes (Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, and John Boyega’s Finn) and villains (Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke) into the fold, while establishing the central conflict of two major factions at war, and the fact that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing in action and has mysteriously disappeared for years.
While that is all I’ll say about the plot, I will express some disappointment that the structure takes many cues from the formula of A New Hope. Not only does it make for some bland, familiar beats, but it also makes the majority of the nefarious villains look like a bunch of idiots. Remember the Death Star that had one overlooked weakness in its blueprint, allowing it to be rather easily disposed of? Yeah, let’s do that again, along with using the film’s new concept for a droid, BB-8, to store some secret information for our protagonists to uncover.
Thankfully, a large portion of the film feels fresh thanks to the filmmakers having faith and trust in both the actors and new characters to guide the story, without reverting to an over-reliance on old, aged warriors to hog the spotlight. Han Solo and Chewbacca easily get the most screen-time of all the returning legendary, mythical beings, but it’s also a decision deeply rooted to serve as an extension of important narrative details. It also helps that Harrison Ford is having fun and more into this role than any other movie I’ve seen him in for the past 10 years, possibly even longer.
Moving on to the heavily marketed and promoted dastardly antagonist, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he definitely lives up to the hype as the evil baddie nerds around the world would love to have a collectible figurine of on display inside a bookshelf in their living rooms. It’s a combination of the aesthetic designs of his body armor and breathing mask that is both similar yet different to what Darth Vader donned, a soft-spoken intimidating voice filled with malice, and that fancy new red cross-guard lightsaber.
Physical appearance aside, he is also in a conflicted state mentally and deeply troubled. It’s a little unfortunate that the events that led him to embark on this path aren’t explored at all much (although you get the feeling they obviously will be in future episodes), considering that there are moments where Kylo Ren takes off his mask and comes across as a bit of a whiny emo bitch without reason. It’s nowhere near as off-puttingly annoying as Anakin Skywalker, but for now, Kylo Ren should keep that mask on if he actually wants to impose a physical threat.
He’s also not the expert lightsaber dualist that I imagine many moviegoers are expecting him to be based on all promotional material. His training is actually incomplete, leaving a lot of his technique and battle maneuvers amateurish, subsequently giving the ending climactic battle a substance of unexpected grittiness rather than the flashing grandeur we have been accustomed to in past franchise installments. It’s like watching two rookies pick up lightsabers and go to town on each other, which isn’t a bad thing; the scene is very entertaining and looks stunning in a snowfield surrounded by trees that frequently get cut down to size amidst all the slashing.
Speaking of environments, it should go without saying that many of the planets the journey takes us on are all beautiful to behold and varied in landscape. Jakku is basically a barren desert wasteland where scavengers struggle to survive by trading in random junk they can find at local markets, while another locale visited contrasts this by consisting of green pastures and forests. There are also many zoomed out shots to capture just how gorgeous some of these areas are.
The film also isn’t afraid to utilize some nostalgic touches, such as the classic screen-wipes to transition from scene to scene. I will also reassure you by mentioning that, yes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does begin with the traditional John Williams music and opening synopsis crawl. Where this movie goes right however, is never truly falling back on fan service and homage; it’s all there only in areas that make sense, and never done overbearingly. The only exception is a quick scene (this isn’t a spoiler considering it can be seen in the official trailer) where Kylo Ren is admiring the mask of Darth Vader. It’s made clear why he would want it, but how he acquired such a treasured possession is anyone’s guess, pointless, and at the end of the day, renders the whole moment as an unnecessary reach for fan service.
Aside from the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is essentially a re-skinning of A New Hope; audiences are being treated to a movie that largely feels different in terms of character definition. This will be appreciated by some more than others, but there is actually a lot of Marvel-esque comedic banter among protagonists during battle and life or death situations. It’s something that personally can get a little grating to me if not done carefully and in moderation, but it’s alright here, and most importantly gives the new trilogy some extra identity. I could go without the scenes of Kylo Ren throwing temper tantrums with his lightsaber whenever something doesn’t go his way (I should be fearing this guy and not laughing at him, which is something the script clearly wants us to to do at his outbursts of rage), but overall, the elements of humor work.
Also welcome is the pacing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is consistently set to warp speed. Abrams somehow finds ways to bring new characters into the world, reintroduce old favorites, and tell a logical story, all while continuously jumping from one joyous action sequence to the next, whether it be a lightsaber duel or one of the numerous aerial dogfights. There isn’t a single break from excitement, which is an astounding feat for a film that is 136 minutes long.
Ultimately though, the one thing that pushes Star Wars: The Force Awakens from being a good film, to a great film, are the surprises and twists. And I’m not just referring to the ones that are present in this installment (there is a scene here that is absolutely guaranteed to make diehard fans cry their eyes out), but everything that is left to come. Abrams has done a lot more than rebirth this series, he has renewed it with hope for the future. The torch will be passed to director Rian Johnson next, and he has more than enough pieces in place to create this generation’s Empire Strikes Back.
Finally, I would like to close out this review by mentioning that Jar Jar Binks is nowhere in sight, thank the fucking movie gods. Hopefully the son of a bitch is rotting 6 feet deep somewhere.
Movie: 4/5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★