8 out of 10
Daisy Ridley as Rey
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun return to form for the series. The new cast is absolutely fantastic and fun to watch as they merge well with the original characters and situations. Though the film is far from perfect, it should generally please fans.
This is a spoiler-free review, but proceed at your own risk. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the sequel to the 1983 film Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. But you knew that already.
Thirty-two years after the death of Emperor Palpatine, the remnants of the Empire have regrouped and formed the First Order. Led by Supreme Leader Snoke, they have new recruits, a new superweapon, and a new Force-powered warrior named Kylo Ren.
The First Order faces off against the Resistance, who are now led by General Leia and a band of familiar heroes. Unfortunately in the intervening years, Luke Skywalker has vanished. Now in a desperate position, Leia attempts to find Luke Skywalker to help them again. She sends their top pilot, Poe Dameron, on a mission to find a vital clue to his whereabouts. However, Poe’s journey will lead him to cross paths with a Stormtrooper with a newfound conscience and a desert scavenger longing to find her place in the galaxy.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Let me put things in context here – I am a Star Wars nut. I grew up on the films and the originals are some of my all-time favorite movies. I co-founded TheForce.Net and helped spoil the prequels (sorry, George!). I’ve raised my kids on it, dressed them as the characters on Halloween, and have a room of my house full of the merchandise. So my opinion here might be a tad bit biased.
That being said, as the logo hit the screen and the classic John Williams theme started, I grinned like an idiot. And as the opening scroll rolled up the screen, I found myself nodding in approval. “Yep, yep, good.” Then as the first image appeared, I had a big, stupid grin on my face that didn’t leave for around 45 minutes.
I can say this for J.J. Abrams – he nailed the feel of a classic Star Wars movie. From the ships to the environments to the creatures to the costumes, this feels more like Star Wars than the prequels. It has just the right mix of the familiar as well as new. We see crashed Star Destroyers alongside new speeders. We see strange new aliens as well as Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb. We see C-3PO alongside BB-8. All of it feels like a familiar home, but we get to explore new corners of it.
I also have to give praise to Abrams for some of the shots from the film. We see the Millennium Falcon traveling through hyperspace with the camera alongside it. We see a first-person view from the cockpit of an X-Wing. We see the Falcon hovering over water and the spray coming off of the surface. We see the colors from the lightsaber blades shining on the faces of the characters and on the environment around them. In general, we see a lot of the familiar things we know and love from Star Wars, but in a new angle or a new light.
I can’t say enough good things about the new cast members. They all hit it out of the park. Daisy Ridley as Rey is just perfect. She has the right mix of fierceness and wonderment, confidence and doubt, and street-smarts and innocence. Grown-ups and kids alike will find themselves drawn to her. And as the poster girl for girl-power, she delivers in a way that feels genuine. She is well paired with John Boyega as Finn. He plays a Stormtrooper plagued with a conscience as well as fear. He is also, surprisingly, a big part of the comedy relief. He’s a lot of fun to watch and in a lot of ways he’s the one the audience will identify with most. Oscar Isaac joins the cast as Poe Dameron. He, too, is a lot of fun, but he doesn’t have as much screentime as you might hope. He’s cocky, bold, and a hotshot pilot. He’ll be a lot of fun to watch in the future. Finally, there’s Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He’s a great villain with a lot of depth. Plus we see him exercise some new Dark Side powers that we haven’t necessarily seen in the previous films. I can’t say a lot about him without getting into spoilers, but the scenes with him are some of the most interesting of the entire film. Scenes between Kylo and Rey are also some of the best in the entire Star Wars saga. In fact, I’d say that the scenes that feature only the new cast are the best in “The Force Awakens.”
That being said, it is fun to see some old favorites. Harrison Ford is in top form as Han Solo. He and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca breathe new life into the story as soon as they appear on screen. Solo is a bit wearier and has been around the block for a while, but the same rogue can be seen under the surface. His interaction with Finn is a lot of fun, especially as they wing it in their attack plans. And the jokes between Han and Chewie are some of the most fun in the movies. Carrie Fisher also comes off well as General Leia. Her few scenes with Han Solo are short, sweet, and to the point. Knowing how crazy Carrie is in real life, I wasn’t sure how she’d look here. She ended up doing a fine job. Anthony Daniels briefly appears as C-3PO and gets in the way, as usual. And let’s face it, the Millennium Falcon is a character as well. As soon as it appears on the screen for the first time, it’s a fantastic moment and it’s like seeing an old friend again. The Falcon’s first scene is one of the best scenes in the whole movie.
The action is solid. If you’ve seen the commercials or trailers, you know there’s a spectacular chase with the Falcon and some pursuing TIE Fighters. The lightsaber battles are also impressive. And, surprisingly, the Stormtroopers are more lethal this time around. They actually shoot straight and they are none too happy that one of their own defected. Abrams even manages to give them some personality which is fun to see and great for some action moments as well as comedic moments. The 501st will be proud.
John Williams returns for the score and it’s a solid one. It lacks any memorable themes like “The Imperial March” or “Duel of the Fates,” but it adds the perfect feel to the quiet scenes as well as the action.
What Didn’t Work:
J.J. Abrams was very protective of his “Mystery Box” with this film. He did not want anyone to know the plot twists, and I absolutely agreed with him. Having spoiled the prequels for myself, I didn’t want to know anything going into this movie. However, everything I guessed about the plot twists came true. Everything I thought would happen did happen. And I was also shocked to discover that the trailers and TV commercials revealed 85% of this film. It felt like there was very, very little new in the movie. By only watching what Disney released, I thought I’d still have a lot to discover. That wasn’t the case at all. It was a bit disappointing.
If you were to say that a lot of “The Force Awakens” was a retread of “A New Hope,” I’d reluctantly have to agree with you. Both start on a desert planet. Both have a droid on a mission. Both have reluctant heroes from backwater planets. Both have superweapons that must be destroyed. You get the idea. Even when you see the holochess table on the Millennium Falcon, you feel a tad like it’s a forced reference (no pun intended). It’s so much the case that the best parts of the film end up being the parts with new situations, new cast, and new developments with the characters. I think J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan needed to take a step back and jettison some of the more familiar plot points.
There were also other questionable choices in the film. Captain Phasma, who has the potential to be a great villainess, is barely in the movie. Meanwhile, Poe Dameron is woefully underused as well. In another scene, the action stars from “The Raid” appear and you start thinking you’re about to be treated to the mother of all fight scenes. That doesn’t end up happening. Then Finn, who appropriately is used for some comedic relief, actually goes over the top once or twice. Abrams probably should have reined him in a tad or cut the scene differently. There were also some odd choices on the look of Supreme Leader Snoke, but I won’t spoil that here. And then the familiar sound of the laser blasters has been substituted for an updated sound that seems like it comes from “Transformers” or “Star Trek,” not “Star Wars.” But I’ll admit that is a nitpick.
But I think the biggest gripe that fans will have is that “The Force Awakens” ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. This movie very obviously sets up Episode VIII and leaves almost as many questions to be answered as were answered. Rian Johnson is well teed up to do some cool stuff, but “The Force Awakens” is going to leave fans wanting more and maybe not in a good way.
The Bottom Line:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun film and well worth checking out on the big screen. It’s also the right course correction for the series as they move away from the prequels. But, if I had to rank the films at this exact moment, I’d go:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
But ask me again in a couple of years and we’ll see how that ranking changes.[Gallery not found]