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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