My Rating: [usr 3.5]
**Dear fellow Star Wars fans and readers of this review: This is a NON-SPOILER review. Promise you I do.***
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
Words can’t really describe how giddy with excitement I was on the way to a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. Not only was it cool to be seeing it before it’s Friday release date, but I also channeled the 9 year old kid in me that used to play Star Wars with his friends all the time. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing indeed, however, it’s usually not enough to make up totally for a film’s deficiencies. This is something Star Wars creator George Lucas didn’t get with his last prequel trilogy released from 1999-2005.
Lucas was finally able to let go of his beloved creation 3 years ago, selling the rights to Disney, because hey they already own Marvel, why not Star Wars also? Well, I’m happy to report that the first film in what’s being called the Star Wars sequel trilogy, helmed by J. J. Abrams, is a miraculous breath of fresh air and Star Wars fans should welcome this film with open arms.
The Force Awakens both reminds us how getting back to the nostalgia of Star Wars franchise basics — i.e. practical sets over green screen, character and dialogue being given equal weight to the action sequences — in combination with a younger filmmaker willing to try some new approaches — can work out spectacularly well. Episode 7 is like every Star Wars film you’ve ever seen and yet it’s also quite a bit different in how it gets there.
The Force Awakens is set approximately 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and follows new leads Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron alongside characters returning from previous Star Wars films.
Sure, it’s awesome seeing our old friends like Han, Leia, Chewy, and Luke (?) again, but it’s the newcomer trio of Finn, Rey, and Poe Dameron that ignite some very much needed freshness into a film franchise that had become stale. They are portrayed incredibly well by actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac.
What else makes The Force Awakens different from past Star Wars films? Quite a few things actually. From a visual standpoint, Abrams is a much more visceral director than Lucas, and the violence in the film, while never approaching anything completely harrowing as you might find in an R rated film, is handled quite seriously….
One particular memorable image is our first introduction to Finn, who is a stormtrooper, and not in your father’s Empire either….being visibly shaken by another stormtroopers death in his arms….the fellow stormtrooper reaches for Finn and ends up smearing a few lines of blood on Finn’s stormtrooper helmet. Just the fact that a stormtrooper (or at least one in particular) is treated as a human being with feelings and emotions is another thing about Abrams vision of Star Wars that’s incredibly effective. It’s like looking at a universe you thought you were familiar with through the lens of a new pair of glasses.
J. J. Abrams possesses the skill to delight both fans and critics. What’s also much welcomed is the amount of humor injected into the screenplay by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt. By humor I don’t mean like Jar Jar Binks makes a poopy, I mean by having dialogue that’s witty, funny, and sarcastic. Every line delivered perfectly by this game cast of veterans and newcomers.
Flaws? Well, I’ll admit, there were aspects of the story that I’m still trying to wrap my head around/ still may have a problem with. Because I risk spoilers by elaborating on this, I will refrain from doing so before the film is released. Also, while I appreciate what Adam Driver is going for with his portrayal of Kylo Ren, the film doesn’t really have that legendary evil figure like a Darth Vader or Palpatine. Now, there is a major plot spoiler that might shine some light on those criticisms, but more ruthless than Ren, arguably, are Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Ren is more prone to outrageous temper tantrums wearing a mask, which unlike Darth Vader (Ren’s idol), he doesn’t need. This is something the film actually uses to great humorous effect.
Also, because 30 years has also passed in the setting of The Force Awakens as well as the making, some ideas and revelations about who characters really are, is kind of rushed upon us without that much time to really emotionally process it. So, some details and ideas regarding the newer characters might seem a bit forced and rushed, but at the same time, Abrams doesn’t waste time trying to make sure every little detail of George Lucas’s fucked up character timeline is fully explained.
Still, overall the criticisms are quite minor indeed. At 135 minutes, this film literally flies by in one intense flash, I don’t think there’s more than a five minute stretch where the movie isn’t in some sort of action related scene.
Structure wise, the film clearly owes a debt to A New Hope, and like the 4th episode of the franchise, the main action is set in course through a droid character. Here is another area where The Force Awakens excels as well, because arguably the breakout character is a droid referred to as BB-8. Like R2-D2 in A New Hope, you’re going to instantly fall in love with Finn, Rey, and Poe’s little round buddy.
The bottom line is that The Force Awakens excels at satisfying Star Wars fan nostalgia, while carving a new path of it’s own that’s also excitingly refreshing to see. It was quite an emotional experience actually to be back with the Star Wars characters we all grew up with interact with new heroes that have the chops to be their own forces (if you will).
Finally, as was alluded to by actor Patton Oswalt after he saw the film last night, The Force Awakens features a dynamite last sequence/shot that will long be etched in your minds well after the credits role.
As a fellow Star Wars fan, it’s nice to be able to report that you will leave the theater on such an emotional and visceral high. This is exactly what Star Wars fans would like to see when they pack the theaters for The Force Awakens this weekend, and I can’t wait to experience it again. So whether you’re an old timer Star Wars fan, or brand new to the franchise, bring the family, bring the kids (up to a certain age, it might not be completely appropriate for kids under 8), bring everyone…and experience truly a Star Wars film that is not to be missed.