Home at last
It’s been 10 years since the last iteration of the Star Wars franchise, and we are all familiar with how disappointing it and its two predecessors were. If your job is to tell the origin story of one of the greatest movie villains of all time (Darth Vader) and you manage to somehow make him appear less menacing, then you know you’ve done something terribly wrong. So fans (myself included) were both excited and wary at the announcement of The Force Awakens. Could it live up to the original trilogy?
I have to be honest with all of you. I was never really big into Star Wars. Yes, I saw all of the films, but I never fell in love with them as much as I did other franchises such as The Lord of the Rings. On top of that, when it comes to film, I am a hard man to please (just ask my friends and family). My standards are set extremely high, so much so that there are only a few movies that come out every so often that I have to own. It would say a lot then that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is easily my favorite film of 2015, and possibly one of the best sci-fi flicks I’ve seen in a very long time. From the moment that classic title crawl appeared, I was grinning from ear to ear.
For those of you who don’t want any spoilers, I’ve left them at the very end for those who have seen the film, and they’ll be clearly marked, so don’t worry about that.
What do you mean George Lucas wasn’t directing?
When it was first announced that J.J. Abrams would be directing this film, I was a bit mixed. Yes, he is well known for rebooting the Star Trek films, and they’re not terrible, but they’re not perfect either- certainly not as memorable as the original movies. Not to mention there’s all of that lens flare.
However, I’m not sure what he did differently with The Force Awakens, but whatever he did, he needs keep doing it. He gets rid of all of the melodrama that was so present in the Star Trek films and instead creates something worthy of the Star Wars name. Abrams knew that if he screwed this film up, the fans would be out for his blood for all of eternity. The man had a lot resting on his shoulders, and a lot of expectations to meet. And I’m happy to say that he did all of that and more.
Practicality above all else
My biggest issue with the Star Wars prequels is not the story, the council drama, or even the abysmal acting. Rather, it was the over-reliance on special effects. Every time you turn your head, there was something made out of CGI and it shows. Go and watch those films, and you’ll find that they are incredibly dated because of it. The Force Awakens, to avoid this, relied more on practical effects, just like Lucas did back in the day for the original trilogy (apart from a few characters). The result is one of the most beautiful, well-shot films to date. It’ll be a long time before this movie looks old. Even little BB-8 was constructed in real life so that it woudn’t be a CGI fest. It’s one of the best decisions made regarding the movie.
Old Faces, New Faces, and Droids
Being set decades after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens kept a lot of the familiar faces, while at the same time introducing some new characters to give the story some fresh moments. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher all reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and
Princess General Leia. Now here is where there could have been a huge problem. Take for example the Star Trek reboots. Leonard Nemoyd reprises his role as Spock, but he’s really only there for fan service, and serves little to no purpose for the story at hand. This is not so with Luke, Han, and Leia. Without going into detail, they each have their parts to play, and it fits well so that you’ll be giggling with delight if you’re familiar with Episodes IV, V, and VI, but you won’t be left scratching your head if you haven’t.
With that, there are also new additions to the fray. Oscar Isaac, Jon Boyega, and Daisy Ridley come as Poe Dameron, Finn, and Rey. Not only do each of these actors do a great job at portraying these characters, they also blend extremely well with the older cast (Isaac’s and Boyega’s character are especially fun to watch on screen together). Apart from a few scenes where it felt as if they were overacting, each of the characters felt three-dimensional, real, and different. Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey is especially fun to watch, seeing as this is the first time we’ve had a main female protagonist in the Star Wars saga. Sure there was Leia, but Rey is even more so. Also, there is a consistent issue with having big female roles in film, as they’re either portrayed as too weak, or way to feministic. Rey is a perfect balance between the two, remaining independent and strong, but also willing to cooperate with others.
I’d also like to take a bit of time to talk about the droid BB-8. When I first saw promotional images of this little mutated soccer ball, I was unexcited to say the least. To me, it just seemed a little gimmicky. After seeing the movie however, my mind was completely changed. BB-8 is one of the most endearing droids ever to be seen, easily fitting amongst the ranks of R2-D2 and C3PO. BB-8’s best merit is easily how it emotes so clearly. In every moment, it’s incredibly easy to tell how BB-8 is feeling, and I loved him all the more for it.
The Post Empire
The evil organization in this movie comes in the form of the First Order. They are remnants of the Galactic Empire that have formed to finish with Darth Vader and The Emperor began all those years ago. While it’s not quite as terrifying as the Galactic Empire was, the First Order is still a… force, if you will… to be reckoned with, complete with new stormtrooper designs and equipment, as well as some new aircraft. Some troopers even carry weapons that can combat a lightsaber, and that’s one of the coolest things this movie has to offer.
This brings me to the villain- Kylo Ren. From the opening scene, he definitely sends chills down your spine. This Sith can use the force in ways that have never been seen on the big screen before, and let me tell you, it was quite terrifying to witness. Ren was a compelling villain for the most part, but again, he never reached Vader levels of fright, but in his defense, Vader sets a pretty high standard. There were some moments when Kylo fell a little short though.
Never slowing down
Pacing is key when you’re making a film, and it definitely sets the tone for the entire experience. Take one of the most successful movies of all time, The Avengers, for example. While it was a decent film, it suffered from some odd pacing issues, slowing to almost a crawl before the final scene. The prequels also suffered from this issue, spending more time in political conversations and meetings with the jedi council rather than the delightful action that Star Wars is known for. J.J. Abrams must have been aware of this, because never for a second does The Force Awakens slow down. From the first scene, we are taken from place to place, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Not once did I get bored. I was so engrossed in the experience, in fact, that when it was finally over, I was shocked because I thought there was going to be more. Then I looked at my watch and realized over two hours had gone by.
A New New Hope
The Force Awakens clearly takes most of its inspiration from A New Hope, treading some familiar territory as far as plot and climax goes. However, that ultimately works for the film’s benefit, because J.J. Abrams shakes it up enough that it doesn’t feel like a rehash, rather a revival of what made the original films so great. Playful dialogue is present, making me laugh much more than I thought I would (mostly between Han and Chewie, but that’s to be expected). But it never felt overbearing with quips like in the MCU.
Star Wars The Force Awakens Spoilers
Warning: this is the part where I will discuss SPOILERS of the film. If you do not want to see them, just skip to the bottom for my overall thoughts on the film.
The search – Plot
The plot of The Force Awakens is one of the best I’ve seen in a Star Wars film. Decades after Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker went missing to parts unknown. Now the First Order and the Resistance (led by Leia) are racing to find any clue about the elderly jedi’s whereabouts. The film handles this quite well, always reminding us that is the focus of the story, while juggling other subplots on top of it. It works quite well, really.
I need to talk a bit about what I think of Kylo Ren as a villain. As I said before, he uses the force in ways we’ve never seen before. He freakin’ stops a blaster shot just by holding out his hand, can pull a person into his grasp, and even pull thoughts out of peoples’ heads simply by using the force. By all rights, he is, for lack of a better term, a bada$$. However, he doesn’t remain that way. However, he doesn’t remain that way. After he removes his helmet and we see his face, he becomes much less terrifying then before, partially because his demeanor changes throughout the course of the film. I mean, the dude throws temper tantrums by violently brandishing his lightsaber. Now I’ll admit, it allowed for some genuinely funny moments, but it wasn’t something I was completely on board with.
Remember how I said The Force Awakens takes a lot of its inspiration from A New Hope? A lot of it has to do with a big case of role reversal. You see, Kylo Ren is actually the son of Han Solo and Leia who was originally trained by Luke to be a jedi, but was corrupted by the Dark Side. It’s a very Vader and Luke-esque moment, except the father is the good guy and the son is the villain. The similarities don’t end there though. The First Order uses a planet-sized death machine called the Starkiller to destroy entire solar systems (kind of like a Death Star on steroids) and the climax of the film closes with the Resistance blowing it to bits. On top of that, just like in A New Hope, there is the death of a beloved character who we followed in previous films. Unfortunately, I am talking about Han Solo. As sad as I was to see him go, I had a feeling something like that was going to happen. I was pleased, however, to see that Abrams didn’t kill off Chewbacca, instead having Rey fill in as a surrogate Han and Chewie going forward with life despite the loss of his best friend.
The parallels were a little uncanny, but again, I never felt like I was watching A New Hope: 2015 Edition. The Force Awakens still felt like it’s own thing with it’s own plot and characters, while still maintaining its position in the Star Wars timeline.
How about that ending?
This is probably my one and only complaint about the entire film. The end shows us Rey finding Luke Skywalker and handing him his lightsaber. Just as we see Mark Hamill’s face and everybody in the crowd starts to go wild, the film is over. I would’ve at least liked to hear some words out of Hamill before having to wait another two years. It left a big cliffhanger, as well as plenty of loose ends. But I suppose you can’t avoid that when the film is the first part of a trilogy.
A true awakening
Star Wars: The Force Awakens reminds me of what made the original trilogy so fantastic, while at the same time providing so many new and interesting things that it’ll sweep over another generation. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you do not want to skip this. But even if you haven’t seen the films, I would still highly recommend it. It’s a wild and fun ride from beginning to end. We don’t do number ratings on this website, but if we did, I would give this movie a 9.4 out of 10.