(Scored out of 10; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = OK, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
“This will begin to make things right.” Spoken by a mysterious rebel agent, truer words have never been spoken. After the mess that was the prequel trilogy, Disney and JJ Abrams faced the monumental task of not only crafting an engaging and fun film but also righting the ship that is the largest franchise in cinematic history. Kudos to both parties as the film is pretty damn great, a few gripes not withstanding. Also, SPOILERS!
32 years since Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens reintroduces audiences to the heroes of the original films while ushering in the newer generation of characters for a brand new audience. Leaving the George Lucas era of Star Wars behind us, Disney and JJ Abrams have captured the magic of what legions of fans consider to be some of the greatest films in history. To create something that lives up to such expectations seems like a near impossible feat, to do so successfully is nothing short of genius. That isn’t to say The Force Awakens is perfect, it’s not, but you would be hard pressed to find a film more fun and filled with fan service in 2015.
When it comes to critiquing a Star Wars film there are two types of issues you may run into: every day film issues (problems any film runs into such as off character moments or strange editing decisions) and Star Wars issues (Jar Jar, boring and ultimately superfluous garbage about trade embargoes). Having seen the film twice at this point I can safely say that The Force Awakens is the return to form fans have been so eagerly waiting for, not a Star Wars issue in sight.
After gorging myself on every scrap of Star Wars information I could get my hands on and literal years of unquestioning optimism I found myself beginning to wonder if the film would let me down. What if I didn’t like Finn, Rey or BB-8? Can Hamill, Fisher and Ford really bring back what made Luke, Leia and Han so likable? Is Kylo Ren a cheap knock off of Darth Vader? Thankfully, most of my fears were for naught. The new cast instantly won me over and Han Solo is as good as ever!
Before getting into the many things I loved about the film, allow me to go over the one issue I think most audiences (especially older fans) will have with The Force Awakens; the story. Episodes IV & V are largely considered the best of the franchise and with A New Hope doing such a wonderful job ushering in such an insane fandom JJ Abrams and company found it fitting to borrow it’s story when developing this new chapter. The Force Awakens plays beat for beat like A New Hope until its climactic finale. There is a new “Death Star” (trench and all), precious information is secreted away in a droid and the main protagonist is a wide-eyed dreamer stuck on a forsaken desert planet. Just imagine a slightly remixed Ep. IV (Sub Poe Dameron and BB-8 for Leia and R2-D2). That being said, it’s an extremely well done remix. While not a massive gripe some may be turned off by the familiarity.
Copping the story structure of A New Hope is a safe move on the part of Disney and Abrams but probably the smartest way to go about reintroducing this mega franchise. It floods long time fans with waves of nostalgia while simultaneously giving them myriad new elements to love. At the same time it brings new fans in with the modern bombast of a blockbuster while weaving in the heart that made the original films so magical.
Sitting down for my initial viewing of The Force Awakens the last thing I expected was to be so taken with the new cast members. While not quite at the level of my Han Solo and Chewie fandom, Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo have “Forced” their way into my heart and it seems like they’re there to stay.
Beginning the film as a nameless Storm Trooper, FN-2187 witnesses the horror that is The First Order and vows to no longer contribute to the sinister machine. Helping the dashing Poe Dameron escape from First Order captivity, the pair steals a modified TIE Fighter and makes their way back to Jakku where the next phase of the Star Wars saga begins. Right from the outset we get a sense of who these characters are. Oscar Isaac Imbues Poe (who ultimately receives little screen time after his intro) with an inherent charm, loyalty and goodness that begs you to find something negative about the character.
Finn (the aforementioned FN-2187) is equally as likeable but infinitely more nuanced. Ever since Star Wars became a thing Storm troopers have been the cannon fodder of the universe, missing their every shot and pushing forward in endless waves only to get mowed down by the first competent marksman to cross their path. Finn is the first Trooper we get to know outside of the helmet and he is fantastic. Heroic to a fault if the object of oppression is within view but reluctant to fight for a cause bigger than himself. John Boyega is fantastic in the role and has managed to build a character I hope to love as much, if not more, than some of the originals.
Daisy Ridley, in her first feature length role, will soon be a household name. As Rey she does an incredible job. She isn’t nearly as witty or fun as Poe or Finn but she is most definitely the new face of the franchise. Rey fits the same mold as Luke Skywalker, the big dreams small means future hero audiences eat up. Her past is left purposely mysterious but her inherent likability (which seems to be a thing with almost all of the new protagonists) is more than enough to make her a bonafide classic.
The final new protagonist we meet on this new journey is the sole droid at the party; BB-8. Dare I say he is more fun than the ever-lovable R2? I do dare. Without saying a word everyone will know exactly what BB-8 is thinking at any given time. He is also incredibly funny and acts as the main catalyst for pushing the story forward. The entire human cast is great but BB-8 will have the most longevity of the bunch.
As good as all of our new heroes are, any film lives or dies by its antagonists. Kylo Ren is perhaps the most developed of the new characters and the most intriguing. The long lost son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, Kylo (formerly Ben Solo) is a basket case. One second he is completely menacing, freezing energy beams in mid air, choking out guards and mercilessly killing rebel sympathizers. The next he can be found talking to broken Sith relics about how he had such a terrible childhood. You don’t know what to expect from him and that is what makes him so endearing. His waffling between the light side and the dark is a trait found in basically any living person which makes him instantly relatable yet his crazy awesome force powers make him the badass villain we all hoped he would be. Adam Driver was perfect casting and his journey throughout the rest of this franchise, however long that may be, will surely be one to watch.
With all of that praise being handed out, there are a couple more issues worth mentioning. The biggest of which is Han Solo, or more specifically, his death. Taking place in real time, 32 years have past since we last saw our trio of heroes singing Yub Nub on Endor. In that time a ton of things have happened, most of which we aren’t in the know. That in itself poses a problem, but when you base your biggest emotional moment on the assumption that your audience is invested in a relationship you are bound to run into some naysayers. This is all a round about way of saying Han Solo’s death at the hands of his son was poorly handled. We never get to see Han and Ben interact before the big moment and it lessens what could have been a massive moment in franchise history. Sure, we will always feel the emotional gut punch that is losing Han Solo, but it could have been so much more. Hopefully we get more detail about their relationship (preferably in a film but if not a novel or show would work) in the future that can fill the void that is that not so poignant scene.
The film moves along at break neck speed, a departure from typical Star Wars storytelling but a necessary change given the new audience. That isn’t necessarily an issue but something that takes some getting used to. With the new focus on speed some of the plot points are based in coincidence as opposed to solid narrative explanation. But other than that, The Force Awakens is a blast from start to finish with an insanely lovable cast of characters and enough mystery to keep fans begging for more.
JJ Abrams has brought Star Wars back. It may not be the exact same Star Wars some are used to but it is one I am sure all fans can come to appreciate.
Overall The Force Awakens gets an 8.5/10.
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