Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Now, there is an unprecedented amount of hype following this movie. It’s broken records already and it’s just been released. This hype is amplified because it’s been 16 years since we were last burned by The Phantom Menace, so people are even more hungry for a decent new Star Wars movie. With the original cast and some cool-looking new characters, can The Force Awakens give us what we really want?
It’s about 30+ years since the events of Return of the Jedi. Those heroes, such as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), have gone through some stuff. When the movie starts, we get a quick look at the state of the galaxy but we’re really thrown into the lives of our new characters. We meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is a scavenger on a desert planet where large ships crashed during the last war. We also meet Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Issac) but their origins and backstory aren’t really explored in the trailers, so I don’t want to give it away.
We also meet some new villains, such as the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), head of the Stormtroopers Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), human leader of the evil forces General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and the motion-captured absolute leader, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
You can breathe. You probably skipped to the score and came back here, so you know things are good. We can rest easy.
I’m gonna address what worked in a few different ways.
As a fan of what’s come before, this movie did everything I wanted. It echoed what made the original trilogy great and gave us some great moments of fan service, that were done tactfully. We got moments from most of our returning cast that reminded us of why we fell in love with this franchise. It didn’t hit us over the head with what has happened over the last 30 years but it gave us enough glimpses to either be satisfied or to be curious, both which work.
And looking forward, this movie set some amazing groundwork for the franchise. Our new talent here is incredible. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Issac are each likable in their own ways and get moments to shine. I think everyone leaving the theater was excited about the future of those characters, which is a great step. The returning cast aren’t here to carry the movie so it was vastly important for these new characters to be interesting. And they totally are.
In terms of the returning cast, Harrison Ford gets the most screentime and completely delivers. I was worried that he’d be checked out, likely just doing this movie for the money, but he gives a performance that is much more three-dimensional than I was expecting. Stellar work here.
In terms of tone, the movie also strikes a beautiful balance between a serious space adventure and a comedy. Chewbacca and the new droid BB-8 get most of the laughs but neither are overdone. BB-8 could’ve been the new Jar Jar Binks of the Star Wars universe but instead he is lovable and interesting.
Visually, the movie also takes some great steps in the right direction. Almost all the characters are practical, which is a nice shift after the prequels. Two main characters are fully CGI (Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o) and they definitely stand out amidst all the other practical effects but I didn’t mind. The fight scenes were gorgeous and the flying battles were a thrill to watch.
Let’s get into the villains. Darth Vader is one of the most-loved villains in all cinema history. Kylo Ren, who appears to be a Vader-wannabe, has a lot to live up to. And I’m pleased to say that I loved this new villain. He’s much more complicated and strangely empathetic than I expected. I can’t say much without spoiling it but he had some moments that I actually began to tear up. They created a badass villain that makes an amazing action figure but backed it up with a great character arc and some amazing work done by Adam Driver.
I also was really pleased with the music, which was such an important part of the original films. Even non-fans can probably hum at least one of the classic Star Wars tunes. Here, we do get moments of the old stuff, but we also get some really cool new music for our new characters and locations. When the opening crawl began with the familiar tune, I almost started crying. Perfection.
Did anything not work?
My only complaints are just missed opportunities, which might be amended in episodes 8 and 9 to come. Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was marketed as a badass villain but her only screentime was a disappointment, so hopefully that’s rectified.
These films are also known for incredible lightsaber battles but we don’t get much here. We get some battles, yes, but the people doing the battling aren’t trained enough to be kicking ass in the way that we wanted. Something again to hopefully look forward to in episodes 8 and 9.
You probably skipped to this section first. Welcome. Luckily, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a magical experience. Through the lens of a lifelong fan, it is everything I wanted and succeeds on nearly every level. As a standalone film, it is also really great. It looks fantastic, features stellar performances by our new heroes, and delivers one of the most unhinged and dangerous villains we’ve seen on-screen in a long time. Even though I went in cautious and tried to watch this critically, I can find very little fault, and this has become not only one of my favorite films of the year but one of my favorite Star Wars films of all-time.