WARNING: This is a spoiler-filled review. Beware! I spoil everything!
It all began in 1977. It struck back in 1980. It returned in 1983. It phantom menaced (!?) in 1999. The clones attacked in 2002. And it got its revenge in 2005. Fast forward to 2015 and it all awakens again. Yes my fellow nerds, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is finally here to set the tone for yet another trilogy in that galaxy far far away. I can spend hours explaining to you why I love the original trilogy, and I can spend just as much time defending the prequels as I feel they get picked on a little too much. But I’m not going to do that because we are here to talk about THE FORCE AWAKENS.
Director J.J. Abrams had a daunting task placed before him after George Lucas severed all his ties with the franchise and sold the rights to Disney. Not only did he have to respect and restore the magic of the original trilogy, but he also had to propel the franchise forward with a new story and fresh characters. It’s almost as if their model was to ignore the prequels and just pay homage to the original source material. As a fan of the prequels, I believe this to be a pretty large misstep because the result turned out to be more of a homage to the original trilogy rather than something completely original. A remix tape if you will. Just think about it for a moment and you will realize the comparisons to A NEW HOPE are staggering. A droid gets important information that must be delivered to an important person (R2-D2 and now BB-8). A lonely soul lives on the outskirts of a desert planet who then gets thrust into adventure realizing he/she is strong in the force (Luke on Tatooine and now Rey on Jakku). A mysterious hero from the past speaks of a time long ago that most have forgotten, convinces everyone it’s real, and then dies in the last act (Old Ben blabs about the Clone Wars and Old Solo blabs about the Jedi and then they both die). A huge circular space station must be blown away by a small band of beat-up ships (The Death Star and now Starkiller Base). And those are just a few I could think of off the top of my head. My point here is that Disney and Abrams decided to play it super safe, remind us why we are fans, and not rock the boat in any kind of Jar Jar like way. Ok, I suppose I can respect that to a degree, but I just think they could have challenged themselves a bit more and created something more unique. So if it isn’t obvious, my biggest gripe is how similar the formula is to A NEW HOPE. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story. Quite the opposite. It’s like going to a really good party twice. It’s still really good.
Something I absolutely cannot gripe about is the main cast of characters. Daisy Ridley’s Rey gave audiences a strong and charismatic female lead who is full of mystery and trepidation creating a multi-layered character that is a joy to watch. Is Rey a Skywalker? A Solo? None of the above? I’m not quite sure just yet, but I do know she has some strong ties to Master Luke in one way or another. John Boyega’s Finn is conflicted and a little frantic yet maintains a level of humor and lightheartedness that I appreciate amid all the doom and gloom. I love that he was a Stormtrooper with a conscience and made the right decision to give it all up. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is a dashing X-Wing pilot who has that classic hero vibe going on. While I believe he was a little underutilized, he stole the show whenever he was on screen. And his trusty sidekick BB-8 was way more endearing than I imagined. The level of emotion on a practical effect ball with half a ball for a head was astounding. BB-8 is a lot like a loyal pet and to say he is just as cool as R2 and 3PO should mean a lot. And Adam Driver’s villainous Kylo Ren chews up the screen whenever possible all while maintaining a wonderful hairdo under that claustrophobic helmet. He’s the son of Han and Leia who got trained by Luke only to turn against him and lead a band of would-be Jedi to the darkside, eventually gutting his own father in front of poor Chewy, and then throwing him down one of those classic STAR WARS endless pits…you know what I’m talking about Darth Maul and Emperor Palpatine. Oh and he’s completely obsessed with his Grandpa Darth Vader and is attempting to pick up where he left off. Ren is overly emotional, makes horrible decisions, and is consumed by the darkside much like Anakin before him. Ren is by far the most dynamic character here with the most mystery and the strongest screen presence.
Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux does not get a lot of screen time but you can tell he is dead set on restoring justice to the galaxy in the form of The First Order who’s main goal is to crush the New Republic at all costs! He’s kind of like Hitler when you think about it. He dresses all clean, commands thousands of soldiers to do his bidding, has fancy pantsy speeches, and is pretty damn ruthless. He lives in fear by pushing it against others. He seems to take orders from the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke played by Andy Serkis using motion-capture. Snoke is only seen in larger-than-life hologram form. He is pale, scarred (kind of like Anakin!? Or maybe Darth Plagueis!?), and seems to be the top dawg much like the Emperor before him (another NEW HOPE comparison perhaps?). My only issue with Snoke is that he wasn’t all that intimidating. Maybe because he is all CGI or only shown in hologram form? I don’t know. I want to see that dude in action and I’m sure we will in due time. Another CGI mo-cap character is Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata who is a 1000+ year old alien creature with ties to Han Solo and somehow has Anakin’s lightsaber which was passed down to Luke and lost on Bespin. How did she get this? Who knows. But it’s damn cool and it speaks to Rey! Maz isn’t a major character, but an important one nonetheless. And my biggest character letdown has to be Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, Captain of the Stormtroopers. With a title like that, one would assume she would be a complete bad ass. Not so. Her design is extremely cool but she really does next to nothing in this film which is very disappointing. Kind of like Boba Fett in the original trilogy. Basically she gets tackled by Chewbacca, end of story. Why oh why couldn’t they at least of had her battle Finn when he has the lightsaber instead of that random ass token Stormtroooper. Phasma was a missed opportunity for sure.
As if the new main cast of characters wasn’t enough, we slowly get re-introduced to the iconic heroes of the original trilogy over the course of THE FORCE AWAKENS. By far, Han Solo gets the most screen time out of these characters. Some may even say half this movie is a Han Solo adventure. The gruff smuggler is up to his old ways with his pal Chewy. This is great because I feel as if we get to spend a lot of time with Han doing what Han loves best. He owes space gangs money, he captures insane-looking creatures for profit only to have them break loose, and he spends some quality time blasting fools with Chewy. What a great swan song for one of cinemas greatest heroes. Seeing him in the Millennium Falcon one last time was priceless. His death at the hands of his son Ben (Kylo Ren) was predictable but heartbreaking. Chewy screams, our new heroes Rey and Finn bear witness, and Leia feels his death through The Force. It was powerful and devastating. And while General Leia isn’t in the film all that much, her somber scenes with Han reflect a relationship gone bad and rings a little too realistic when most assumed they lived happily ever after. And while I would have loved to see Luke a lot more this go around, I think that final scene was just perfect. He said everything without saying anything. I’m telling you, he’s Rey’s papa! And of course seeing Chewy, R2-D2, and C-3PO was a blast. We even got a little Admiral Akbar and Nien Nunb action! Cool!
Everything mentioned above is complimented by a beautifully shot film by Abrams and crew, some astounding visual effects that balance CGI and practical effects seamlessly, and an amazing audio experience including an instantly classic musical score by John Williams. Make no mistake, THE FORCE AWAKENS is a gorgeous film with not as many lens flares as you would imagine. Dusty planets. Snowy planets. Jungly planets. Space! Ship interiors. The inside of Starkiller. And so much more. The set design and costumes are top notch, the vehicle designs all beg to be made into Lego sets, and there are weird creatures around every corner that we have never seen before. The best part is, there is such a seamless marriage between CGI and practical effects that nothing pops out as too glaring and it will all likely stand the test of time. I still can’t believe BB-8 is a practical effect! And if you close your eyes, all you hear are classic sounds fans are all too familiar with. Droids beeping and bopping. Tie Fighter screams. X-Wings blasts. Lightsabers igniting. Blaster shots. Chewy’s howl. And that music! It’s an audio visual masterpiece.
Before I conclude I’d like to vomit some observations, rants, nitpicks, and questions just because. Consider it therapeutic. here goes: BB-8 is cute in the same way dogs are cute. I didn’t mention Max Von Sydow’s character because I don’t know why he was in this movie or who his character is suppose to be (yet!?). Poe Dameron is a dashing bad ass. I really hate that there is yet another Deathstar-like base, so unnecessary. Was that Coruscant that blew up? Why oh why couldn’t Captain Phasma have been cooler!? Wake up R2! I actually don’t care why C-3PO’s arm is red. I hope Rey isn’t a Skywalker or a Solo, too obvious. Kylo Ren is a big emotional baby and that is very dangerous. Why is Kylo Ren so piss poor at wielding a lightsaber? I mean two complete lightsaber novices owned him. I shed a tear when Chewy howled at Kylo Ren after killing his best buddy in the galaxy. That was sad as shit, and Han’s hand on Ren’s face. How in the hell did Maz get Luke/Anakin’s old lightsaber? Does Bespin have land? Speaking of Bespin, where the hell was Lando!? Snoke better get cooler. Was it just me or did you think Snoke was a giant at first? Maybe he’s teeny weeny and overcompensating? Is Finn force sensitive? Han’s death could be seen a mile away the way they set up that shot. Where are the Knights of Ren? I don’t think Kylo Ren is Sith, just evil and confused. I’m telling you, Snoke’s scars look like Anakin’s, but my money is on Plagueis. Could it be a twisted clone!? Did you feel a little love connection between Rey and Finn? Damn Luke looked like a bad ass. I am saddened that we won’t ever see Luke, Leia, and Han on the big screen together again. Ok, that’s out of my system for now.
Sure I may nitpick at the staggering amount of similarities between THE FORCE AWAKENS and A NEW HOPE, but once the credits rolled, all I could think of was how excited I was about the future of STAR WARS. THE FORCE AWAKENS was full of so much mystery and I have so many questions that need to be answered. A lot can happen in 32 years and my inner nerd needs to know right now how all those smiling faces at the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI landed where they did years later. Such tragedy. The absolutely wonderful cast of characters, newcomers and icons alike, really made this film shine. There wasn’t a weak link anywhere in sight, the new kids on the block completely nailed it creating some instantly classic characters, and seeing all those old faces melted my heart. Everything looked and sounded just right, and the feeling of awe and wonder was almost overwhelming. STAR WARS is back in the spotlight and I couldn’t be happier. Bring on Episode 8.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10