Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 2015. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Abrams/Michael Arndt/Lawrence Kasdan.
Starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, and Mark Hamill. Lucasfilm Ltd./Bad Robot/Truenorth Productions. Rated PG. 135 minutes.
I’ve always been a big Star Wars fan. The originals, Episodes IV-VI obviously are the ones I love. Not going to waste time hating the others, there were some good ideas, but mostly it was a failure, all three; other than acting and some of the writing, in terms of plot, everything else was dismal, to me anyways. But A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and yes Return of the Jedi though it’s not as great as the other two, they’re amazingly solid works of cinema. With bits of everything from action to fantasy bred with science fiction, George Lucas really had something going in that initial trilogy. Obviously. If not, we’d never make it to this moment.
Three decades since Return of the Jedi, finally one of the greatest franchises to ever grace the screen comes back. J.J. Abrams, of whom I’m personally a fan and have been since Lost, along with the help of many others including Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back+ a bunch of other awesome things), an amazing crew including the young stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the returning John Williams with iconic and new music, as well as people like cinematographer Daniel Mindel (whose credits as D.P. include Enemy of the State, The Skeleton Key, MI:III, & Abrams’ Star Trek 2009 reboot) and a boat load of special effects wizards to long to name individually.
Did they deliver? I’m inclined to believe they did, and then some. Seeing The Force Awakens brought me back to being a kid and seeing the original three films. Only thirty, but I’ve been an avid film fan since an early age, so it’s probably been 22 years since I first watched them. Well sitting in the theatre – which for a cinephile I actually hate because of my anxiety – watching this movie in 3D – another thing I’m not huge on – I was beyond blown away. The effects, the dialogue, the blend of fun new things and a healthy dose of tribute to the old, it all made the wait worth it. Maybe others feel differently, I’m positive they do. But me? I could’ve sat down and watched The Force Awakens a second time, back-to-back.
I don’t personally want to spoil anything, so I’ll only say a little about the plot. Little as possible, spoiler-free.
Initially, I went in sceptical about this film. Excited as anyone, I worried the writers might not use this opportunity to introduce some new blood into the plot and overall story of the Star Wars universe. Episodes I-III had good stories, or good bits of story in them at least, but it felt there was too much rattling around; parts that should’ve been added were there, alongside others things that felt disconnected with Episodes IV-VI. But Lawrence Kasdan came back to help Abrams and Michael Arndt craft a script that felt organic coming out of the three originally released films. For instance, I thought Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was an amazing character. The story behind him, which I won’t reveal obviously, is very intriguing. We get lots about his backstory, though, it doesn’t come through a ton of exposition right away. Slowly we piece together bits and pieces. Driver makes Ren a foreboding presence in almost every single scene in which he’s captured. Then there’s Rey (Daisy Ridley): an excellent addition. Not only is she a solid female character, she’s just solid all around. The whole introduction her character was great fun and immediately I knew I’d like her. More than that, Rey and Finn (John Boyega) had good chemistry. NOTE: some reviews, albeit amateur ones, claim there’s a forced romantic angle in this film, but certainly not between Rey and Finn; while it may be hinted at slightly, there’s nothing overt. Mostly they seem like friends, bound together because of life threatening circumstances.
Not only the leads are incredible. Domhnall Gleeson does a fine job with his brief scenes as General Hux. Under cover of CGI and motion capture, as usual, Andy Serkis was killer as Supreme Leader Snoke, whose menace and intimidating features + stature are impressive. And there are more; lots of tight roles played even tighter by the actors. Oscar Isaac is another classic, a talented actor who brings his talents to this film with a solid performance.
Even more than that, the aesthetic of the original movies wasn’t present in the prequels, which is what hurt them in part. Here, The Force Awakens preserves some of the gritty, grimy feel of A New Hope/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi. The special effects are beyond impressive: I saw it in 3D, and I don’t even like 3D, yet it made everything that much more wild. But it’s the way things look dirty and worn: the design of the sets especially on Jakku and then later in the big place where Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) lives, and so on. Even the Millenium Falcon – it was fairly rough back in Episodes IV, V, and VI, so here they made it even better, more rundown and dusty, rusty, et cetera. This just connects the films more closely, it doesn’t put a big disparity between the look and feel of the three episodes right before it. Part of why I didn’t like the prequels is the look – I know that things on other planets are different, yadda yadda, and then all the destruction the Empire brought upon so many different places, but the look of the first three episodes ended up feeling SO FAR from where we pick up in A New Hope, that it all throws me off. I understand there’s reasoning for it, I just find the whole aesthetic problem troubling. With a massive team, Abrams makes The Force Awakens feel like “coming home”, as a friend of mine said after seeing it twice.
Without spoiling any plot, the big shock nearing the end was incredible. Fits perfect into the story. Not just that, the entire world of the characters is shaken up. Some say they saw it coming. Others were pissed about it. But why? I saw it coming a little while before the event in question happened, and still found it powerful. Everyone in my theatre, including myself and my partner, sort of gasped. Very good move.
Aside from the big things, I thought Rey and Finn coming together randomly, with BB-8 at the center of it all, was lots of fun. It gave things action and adventure from the start. In the opening Stormtroopers sequence, including Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the ever epic Max Von Sydow, John Boyega did so well with his character. Even underneath all the Stormtrooper gear. But the shots of the troopers together on their way down to the planet, the white helmets and the bits of black here and there rocking from side to side, then the KICKER which gets things moving fast plot-wise: a perfect way to begin the film. From there, Rey and Finn end up in the same place eventually making things very action oriented. And later the return of Han Solo and Chewbacca brings more adventure their way. In fact, the combination of these four is something to behold. A ton of chemistry, lots of wit. To say anything further would do an injustice to anyone reading, and the film itself. See it.
All in all, I have to give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5-star rating. Not a moment went by I wasn’t fixated on the screen. It even made me love the whole thing in 3D, that’s saying something. But above all else, I found the writing fun, exciting, and it brought the new together with the old, fusing them in the right places. Plus, it also sets things up nicely for Episode VIII from Rian Johnson, which I am looking forward to like you wouldn’t believe.
Here, you’ll find lots of action, tons of adventure, and that wonderful fantasy/science fiction hybrid the Star Wars universe provides. Maybe you can pick apart bits and pieces. Me, I dig every last frame, every bit of dialogue. I’m not even the most hardcore fan out there, not by a long shot. Yet this new film does justice to the originals. It also carves out a new niche for talented directors of this day and age to explore territory so many of them grew up admiring, daydreaming in and imagining themselves as characters in. Abrams did a great job in my mind and I think he should walk away satisfied with his contribution. Get out and watch this in the theatre because it’s a truly special experience, a one in a lifetime thing. Plus, you’ll probably have a ridiuclous amount of fun.