Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie posterSynopsis
Thirty years after the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, The First Order threatens the peace of the galaxy, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). One stormtrooper (John Boyega), defects from the First Order with the help of the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and along with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join the resistance against the First Order, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Review
Star Wars is in my blood. That is as true as Han shoots first. I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Luke, Han, and Leia to the silver screen since Disney bought Lucasfilm. The last time I was remotely this excited for a film was The Lego Movie, and my excitement for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens exceeds my excitement for that (though not by much actually). Was it worth the hype? I would say yes, but not as much as everyone else seems to think so.

It is very clear that the writers wanted to return to what fans liked about the Original Trilogy. Unfortunately, that meant recycling the plot of A New Hope. The move feels too safe; It leans too much on the nostalgia factor. This type of film should want to give fan service. There are all kinds of references that are inserted into the film without feeling intrusive, which is great. However, fan service also doesn’t mean repeating the story, but with different characters and slightly different settings. Say what you want about the Prequel Trilogy, but each one was different and, for better or worse, told a unique story. When it comes to The Force Awakens, it feels like I’ve seen this story before.

When I left the theater after watching this movie the first time, it felt like there was something off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then after my second viewing I was able to put words to what I was feeling. To me, this felt more like a middle entry of the trilogy instead of a beginning. This has more to do with Kylo Ren’s development. When we learn who he is, what he did, a certain scene over a certain bridge with a certain someone, they all felt like moments that should have been after spending time with the characters and in the new films. I want to expand on this more because but to do so would go into spoilers. If you want to discuss this more, shoot me an email.

The biggest issue I have with The Force Awakens is how many elements are introduced with very few resolutions. Again, as lauded as The Phantom Menace was, one of the things I thought it did very well was show the political state of the galaxy and exactly how different the Republic was from the Empire we met in A New Hope, although I will admit it dwelt on it too long. Regardless, we were introduced to the First Order, the Resistance, and the New Republic but not given much context how they are related. How big is the First Order? If they are a huge threat, why isn’t the New Republic fighting them directly? Or why did the Republic allow them to get so big if they came from the ashes of the Empire? Why does the resistance need to exist in the first place? I know it is meant to be only the first step in a larger journey and I expect (hope) these questions will be answered in due time but one of A New Hope‘s strong points was despite taking place across an entire galaxy, it kept its scope small and still easily set up a larger universe. The Force Awakens isn’t very self-contained and that bothers me.

I was worried that the returning cast wouldn’t be given the screen time necessary to pass the torch to the new cast. Thankfully, Han Solo has a huge, integral part to play that put those fears to bed. Harrison Ford doesn’t miss a beat returning to everyone’s favorite smuggler. Although, he does have a hard time carrying the film without his original costars, Mark Hamill and Carry Fisher, constantly by his side. This is easy to forgive because he has no problem bouncing off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. It’s not as satisfying as his chemistry with Hamill and Fisher, but it creates some pretty funny and heartwarming moments.

Within the first few minutes, I knew The Force Awakens was going to be an exhilarating ride. As soon as the first stormtroopers rush the sands of Jakku, it barely slows down to take a breath. Every new scene either begins or ends with a big action piece. JJ Abrams and the rest of the crew are obviously fans of the Original Trilogy because they take every great action sequence from those films, throw them in here, and crank them up to ten. There are space dog fights, land battles, lightsaber duels, and even wild escapes from terrifying creatures. It has some of the best action scenes in the entire saga.

With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, the new characters had a lot to live up to. From the opening scene with Poe Dameron, I knew they weren’t going to have any trouble living up to the legacy left behind for them. Poe is an ace pilot for the Resistance who is criminally underused. Finn, a stromtrooper with a conscience, might be the most interesting. Any previous depictions of stormtroopers show them as mindless and heartless drones. Now we actually get a look under the helmet and realize that there might actually be some morality in there somewhere. Rey is hands down the best new character to come from this next generation of Star Wars. She’s strong, smart, and knows her way around a ship. Daisy Ridley does absolutely magnificent and may be the find of the century.

When it comes to Kylo Ren, I have mixed feelings. It is clear that he is a strong force user (some of his skills include stopping a blaster bolt midair and interrogation techniques that would make Darth Vader jealous), but it is also clear that he is still just a boy with incomplete training. He has temper tantrums and doesn’t have much self-control. He is a stark contrast to Darth Vader, who was always so calm and collected while force choking someone.

Poe’s first interaction with Kylo Ren gave a good idea on the tone for the rest of the film. It is so funny! It reminds me of The Avengers where the comedy was organic and sprang from great chemistry between the characters. Nothing ever felt forced. You could tell the cast was having a blast filming. Finn had his moments with everyone. He and Poe, he and Rey, he even had a moment or two with the adorable BB-8. There are play on words, visual gags, and everything in between. There is a little bit of humor for everybody.

2015 has been a great year for practical effects. First Mad Max: Fury Road, now The Force Awakens. It makes a huge difference when compared to CGI heavy movies. When a movie uses too much CGI, it can remove the audience. While I applaud George Lucas’ willingness to fully embrace CGI in the Original Trilogy special editions and prequels, he embraces it too much, further proving that too much of a good thing can become detrimental. Remember, the special editions and The Phantom Menace were released in the earlier days of CGI (I consider the start of CGI as it is today to be Jurassic Park), so it was good on Lucas to realize what the technology could bring to films. Now, film directors, like JJ Abrams, are moving back to primarily practical effects with CGI to fill in the gaps. It makes a huge difference and greatly enhances the experience.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is GOOD :-). There is so much more I want to talk about but then I would be moving into spoiler territory. This is the story Star Wars fans have been waiting for since 1983. The return to practical effects and limited use of CGI makes it feel like I’m watching the original Original Trilogy again. Daisy Ridley is the standout performance but all of the newcomers have great chemistry together and easily fill the big shoes left for them. Great action and comedy is just icing on the cake. However, the recycled plot and introduction of so many elements with few resolutions hold this movie back from being as great as I know it could be.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
JJ Abrams – Director / Writer
Lawrence Kasdan – Writer
Michael Arndt – Writer
John Williams – Composer

Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson – General Hux
Gwendoline Christie – Captain Phasma
Pip Torrens – Colonel Kaplan
Simon Pegg – Unkar Plutt
Max von Sydow – Lor San Tekka

Also read my reviews for the rest of the Star Wars saga: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

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19 thoughts on “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

  1. Great review! I really enjoyed Force Awakens, it’s a super fun cinematic experience. It’s not without some nitpicky flaws and I think that certain bridge scene you mentioned could have been tightened up. Rey is a great new character, I appreciated how she was set up and even when she got captured she never needed anyone to rescue her. Finn is probably my favorite though, the actor has a very good comedic touch and feels very relatable.

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    • Thanks! I agree that The Force Awakens is a good film despite its flaws (which many people seem to intentionally overlook). Here’s my theory on why, which I didn’t include in my review: I think that people still have a sour taste from the prequels, so they think that this is better, which automatically makes it great. It is definitely fun and has a ton of great moments but has a whole, I don’t think it’s as great as everyone makes it out to be.

      I love Rey! One of my favorite parts was when she was yelling at Finn to stop holding her hand. What a fun way to introduce her. Finn is the comedic touch Jar Jar should have been. As much as I go against the crowd on the prequels, I have to agree that Jar Jar is abysmal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Finn was my absolute favourite character with Rey as a close second. I loved the scenes with the both of them in particularly. I loved the film, although it was a bit deja vu for me concerning Kylo and how he come to be.

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    • I would switch that and say Rey is my favorite with Finn as a close second. Rey is a beautiful bad-ass whereas Finn is just a bad-ass. 😉 I can’t wait to see where her character goes in Episode VIII. I think Kylo should have been handled slightly differently. A big part of that is because of your point about it feeling like deja vu. I think his relationship with you-no-who (I do not Voldemort) should have been the priority, rather than his identity reveal.

      Thanks for commenting, Jen. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so hard to review this movie without spoilers, isn’t it? I’ve seen it twice now and enjoyed it much more on the second viewing. I was frustrated by Kylo Ren at first, but I just want to know everything about his backstory! I’m really hoping that gets explored in Episode VIII 🙂
    – Allie

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    • It really is. I thought about doing two reviews, a spoiler-free and a spoiler-filled review, because of the things that I wanted to talk about didn’t make it into my review. It I had talked about *everything* I wanted to, it would have been about 50% longer! But doing two reviews would have been a lot of time I my lazy self really didn’t want to commit to. 😛 I also found it more enjoyable the second time, once I had time to think about it. I’m sure Kylo Ren’s backstory will be a huge part of Episode VIII, or at least I hope it will! Ren is in an interesting place to be one of the most complex Star Wars villains.

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    • Thanks. It seems that Episode VII has been well received, which is great! I’ll go read your review of it. No film or director had the amount of hype to face like Abrams did and he clearly delivered.

      Thanks for commenting, Michael. 🙂

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  4. Nice review. It’s too bad that the recycled plot element actually got to you that much though. While I thought it had the same structure, it seemed like so much was flipped around in reverse to a point where everything still felt fresh while also being familiar. At the end of the day, for this movie alone, it was probably wiser to take a safer route than making something very very different. Leave that to the sequels and spin-offs. For this, I actually enjoyed it because it had a job to do. Win back the fans that were lost with the prequels, and bring Star Wars to a new generation. I think it did that well for a number of reasons that you stated in your post, especially regarding the new characters.

    ” introduction of so many elements with few resolutions”

    Keep in mind though that this is the start of a new trilogy. There were always going to be things that wouldn’t get resolved. When the original came out, there wasn’t this huge intention to move the story forward with sequels, other than some ideas that Lucas had. So that’s why A New Hope feels more standalone. Empire is what brought about the intention to leave answers out for a third film to answer. This movie is different in that, Disney knows they’re going to make multiple movies during the development of the first. This has that middle chapter feel here and there for those reasons. We’re so used to just “popping in the next movie” when watching the original trilogy that we sometimes forget that each movie in that series brought up new things and unanswered questions too. I’m sure that these same complaints would be made right now if A New Hope was released today in our “need answers now” world that we live in. Back then the speculation would run the course of 3 years. Now thankfully we only have to wait a year and a half for 8. For television, we don’t even have to wait a week anymore. Unless you’re current with a show and do watch it weekly, but I’ve found that is less and less the case for a majority of people lately.

    I agree with what you say on it having flaws, but this is really nothing new with Star Wars. I get why you would think something was missing, I didn’t really feel that way though, and I think it’s because I knew going in that I would leave with more questions than I had before. Definitely not trying to say you’re wrong in regards to this criticism, I’m just saying that from my point of view, that’s what makes Star Wars so fun. It forms a whole community over speculation.

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    • Thanks, Dave. It was definitely the safe route to go. You are absolutely right about the idea being to win back the audience. I get that this is part of a new trilogy but my problem is that a lot was left to the upcoming episodes. Sometimes a film’s focus will be broad and look to potential sequels to fill in the gaps, often times it will collapse on itself (Jupiter Ascending for example). Also, when a movie gets left open-ended that usually doesn’t sit well with me either (look at Matrix Reloaded). I know that sometimes it is necessary, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The Force Awakens is guilty of both of these things. However, there is enough good to mostly make up for it and still be a blast.

      As much as I love Empire, I brought up in my review that I didn’t like the open ending. Disney’s plan shouldn’t be that because after 2018, people are just going to watch the New Trilogy back-to-back-to-back so they don’t have to worry about making them complete now. Overarching plots are OK. To use your example of TV shows, that’s their bread and butter. I am one of the few who do watch shows weekly nowadays (though I do enjoy the occasional binge watch). The greatest shows will tell a complete, singular story each episode and lay small pieces to be collected at the end of the season. Movies can do the same thing. Just because they know the pieces will be put together eventually doesn’t mean they have to be dropped on the audience all at once right now.

      I know I’m in the minority that didn’t find this movie amazing. I’m used to that because I am also in the minority that doesn’t find the prequels terrible (they aren’t all great but they aren’t all bad either; They had some great ideas that just weren’t properly realized). I know many who share your overwhelming enthusiasm for The Force Awakens, I’m just not one of them. I knew that when I was writing my review. Hell, I knew that when I left the theater. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Of the fandoms I am a part of, Star Wars is one of my favorites because of all the great and passionate discussions about it.

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      • Totally see your points, and for other movies, I couldn’t agree more. I myself was actually hoping it wouldn’t be too left open. It was, but it was done in a way that resonated with me pretty well.
        Glad you can find something to appreciate with the prequels! I’m the same way. I don’t love and adore them or anything, but I don’t view them as being piles of poop like the rest of the Internet. haha
        This is what makes film fun though, seeing how a certain movie resonates with people in different ways.
        I’m just glad you’re not like some of the people on comment sections that are trying so hard to make their negative opinions on this movie fact to draw attention. This was a very real review. You knew something was missing, and you did your best to explain what it was for you, all while appreciating the idea that it resonated better with others. I definitely respect your writing, and wish others would take this route a bit more when talking about movies, instead of just being trolls.
        Aside from all that, I agree. I’m so passionate about discussing Star Wars. It’s actually a problem. My big question at the moment is who Rey is. I read a Kenobi theory yesterday that was extremely well done. I think it’d be cool f she turns out to be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter. There are definitely a lot of parallels between the two.

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        • It’s something I like to practice called “not being an asshole.” That’s why I created this blog, to have discussions like this, not tear each other down. I love hearing others’ opinions, especially when they are different than mine. Everyone relates or appreciates something different in movies. It’s one of the reasons they are such a popular medium and brings people together.

          I’m actually kind of hoping Rey doesn’t have any special heritage and that she just happens to be force sensitive. With Disney keeping her last name hush hush, that probably isn’t the case. The person I am most interested to learn more about Snoke. If the Sith have been gone for thirty years, who showed him the ways of the dark side? Did he find a holocron? Was he an Emperor’s Hand (if those still exists in continuity)? Was he around before the Emperor even took over? Is he a true Sith or just a force user who uses the dark side? So many questions! A recent theory I read was that he is Palpatine using techniques learned from Darth Plagueis to inhabit Vader’s body. I don’t know if that’s true but he is the most mysterious new character.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I think he could be Plagueis for sure. They might play it off like they did with Voldemort in Harry Potter, where he’s always been alive as spirit, and “Snoke” is his new physical form.
          And I agree, the discussions I have on this blog and reddit, are far better than the ones I could be having on Facebook and YouTube. Those places are a living hell for internet comment sections.

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        • I don’t bother commenting on either of those places. I’ll read them for a good laugh. They aren’t real discussions, just trolls trying to get a reaction. It’s pretty funny but not worth the effort to comment.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Oh definitely. I don’t normally comment on them myself either. But every once and a great while I see something that gives me the urge to, while forgetting what kind of site I’m on, and then I’m filled with regret.They are fun to read sometimes though, you’re right.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review! I think I ended up loving this more than you did 🙂 but you definitely raise some valid points. I love the new characters and can’t wait to see what happens in Episode VIII. I think this is where the story will really start to go in a new direction.

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  6. Great review. You sum so much of this up perfectly. I had noticed the parallels with A New Hope and your point about it being a middle movie is the best comparison. Add to that the fact there are so many unanswered questions that you kind of feel aren’t going to get the proper resolution. Still loved it though!

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    • Thanks. There were always going to be some questions left open since this is the start but I don’t think they should have laid everything (or at least seemingly most of it) down at once. I still enjoyed it too! The positives outweigh the negatives. Plus: REY!!

      Like

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