STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Review
Director: J.J. Abrams
Genre: Science Fiction
A few years ago when it was announced that Disney had purchased the rights to STAR WARS from George Lucas and was going to continue the main saga, a lot of mixed reactions were heard. Some were delighted to know that they would soon see their favorite characters grace the silver screen, introducing the beauty of the franchise to a new generation. Others still had a taste in their mouths worse than bantha poodoo as a result of the atrocity that was the prequel trilogy. The selection for J.J. Abrams as director was also a bit of a shock. With two mediocre STAR TREK revival films under his belt, many were wondering what he would do with another staple in sci-fi culture. Thankfully, it is evident that STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has learned from the mistakes of its predecessors and succeeds in being an incredibly fun STAR WARS experience, rivaling the highlights of the original trilogy.
Some thirty years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI, the remnants of the Empire have converged to form “The First Order” and continue to hold a prominent grasp on much of the galaxy. Filling the power vacuum left by Emperor Palpatine’s death, the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke heads a campaign to end the newly established Republic and snuff out the last remaining Jedi known as Luke Skywalker with the help of Sith trainee Kylo Ren. We follow a lowly junk scavenger named Rey and former Stormtrooper Finn on the desert planet of Jakku, not to be confused with Tatooine, as they are tasked with returning a droid knowing Skywalker’s whereabouts to a Republic stronghold, eventually meeting the legends Han Solo and Leia Organa on the way.
Marvel just published a comic about how C-3PO’s arm is now covered in Ewok blood
The big standout here in the new main cast has to be Rey, played magnificently by the virtually unknown Daisy Ridley. Not only does she know a thing or two about how ships work and can hold her own in a fight, she exudes a spunky heroism and charm that even win over Han and Leia. She’s an incredibly endearing, lovable girl who is a fitting addition to STAR WARS’ cast of characters. Finn, though portrayed well by John Boyega of 2011 sleeper hit ATTACK THE BLOCK, is a bit of a mixed bag. His change of heart from First Order pawn to freedom fighter is way too quick and makes the audience consider how easily swayed his intentions are, not to mention his goofiness goes against the Stormtrooper training supposedly originating at childhood. Aside from the first few scenes, Finn’s impact on the story is unfortunately miniscule.
Though having GIRLS’ Adam Driver play Kylo Ren was a bit of a perplexing choice, he clearly gives it his all, making for a flashy and menacing introduction. Even if some parts of the film color him a tantrum-prone baby, his Vader obsession and the secrets to his force sensitivity are what save Ren as a character. Other heaps of talent do their job perfectly well but are criminally downplayed in saving potential screen time for Episode VIII. As fun as he is, there’s not much to the witty X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac of EX MACHINA and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS fame, and there’s even less to GAME OF THRONES’ Gwendoline Christie in Captain Phasma’s platinum Stormtrooper armor. The only real flubbed performance is First Order General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson (also from EX MACHINA). His over-the-top rendition of a military leader simply overdoes his villainous role and contrasts greatly the cool and collected evil that was Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Episode IV. His scenes, however, are incredibly short and therefore easily forgiven.
“Less ‘Wwwweeeeeooo’, more ‘Wwwwaaaaooooo’”
It goes without saying that THE FORCE AWAKENS takes major cues from the original trilogy. Story beats function most similarly to A NEW HOPE; the only difference is that THE FORCE AWAKENS kicks everything up a few notches by drastically ramping up the story’s pace. Audiences are thrown right into the thick of it with action scenes, character moments, and clever nods to the original films, all appearing at light speed. Because of the film’s mirroring of its predecessors, this works in its favor. There is almost never a dull moment and the audience is always interested and invested in what’s going on. It’s sort of the equivalent of watching the first film at five times the speed.
Of course, because this is a STAR WARS film, much of this intrigue is due in part to the franchise’s spectacles and signature visual style. Abrams spares no expense in incorporating what made the previous films such an epic wonder to look at. That’s right, folks. We got more than plenty of those wipe transitions. The preference for practical effects is an absolute godsend after the overload of CGI in the prequel trilogy. Dozens of creatures, both newcomers and returning favorites, are delightfully tangible, verging on the eccentricities of the Mos Eisley Cantina or the original Jabba’s Palace scene.
Computer generated effects are definitely present but reserved mostly for Lupita Nyong’o’s character and high octane TIE Fighter or X-Wing battles, never to cut corners or invasively stroke Industrial Light and Magic’s ego. Even seemingly tiny decisions in this department, like having Kylo Ren’s red lightsaber look more fiery and unstable, make the care put into the film greatly appreciated. A tiny visual gripe may come from the cinematography side of things. While much of the film retains that certain Kurosawa-inspired scope that had an affection for landscapes and painted many shots from the original trilogy so evocative, there are more than a few times where unusual camera movements will be used to heighten drama but just end up being seen as painfully jarring.
Catch a cameo by my lovely parents
It’s one thing to slap a Mandalorian flag here or a Holochess game there, it’s another to recreate the auditory glory Star Wars has always been known for. The legendary John Williams returns to score another masterpiece for the film and, as always, he delivers. Even if this go-around is absent of an unforgettable track like “Duel of the Fates,” Williams’ work is still integral in establishing much of the film’s tone and emotion. That signature Star Wars feel permeates nearly every scene thanks to his music; getting hyped up from that main theme is still as fun as ever. Sound design is still handled by those guys over at Skywalker Sound, so you can bet you’ll hear the TIE fighter screeches and blaster discharges we all know and love. All of these definitely hit above the standard set by previous films in the franchise.
It’s clear that THE FORCE AWAKENS is an adventure that is undeniably STAR WARS. One could let their inner Star Wars fact checker nitpick minor things in the film, but to do so would still leave most all of EPISODE VII ultimately satisfying. It speeds past the prequels faster than any pod racer and may very well fit itself right next to A NEW HOPE or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, edging so very close to surpassing the likes of RETURN OF THE JEDI. Despite a few snags, fans of STAR WARS young and old will definitely enjoy FORCE AWAKENS from beginning to end. And for those who aren’t fans, it’s a perfect time to become one.