Thirty years after the original Star Wars, we find ourselves back in the galaxy far, far, away.
The last time we revisited the Star Wars universe with the prequels, we were treated to tense political maneuvering instead of action and adventure. We were promised feats of Jedi badassery, only to watch otherwise capable actors wildly flailing away with their lightsabers hoping to hit something, anything. We wanted to see the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, but we ended up with someone whose acting was so wooden that C3PO was actually more expressive. And let’s not even get started on Jar Jar Binks.
All I’m saying is that we’ve been burned thrice by the prequels and that we all know that The Force Awakens has the potential to be as terrible, or even worse. Even though JJ Abrams and the rest of Lucasfilm and Disney might reassure us that they will be faithful to the spirit of the originals, the thought that we might end up with a new set of prequels was still a real fear when I walked into the theater.
Thankfully, The Force Awakens, while imperfect, managed to live up to the hype and leaves us wanting more.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS AHEAD.
We find ourselves with the new cast pretty quickly – John Boyega’s Finn, a Stormtrooper who finds that he cannot be part of the First Order’s murderous rampage, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, a scavenger from the scrapyard planet of Jakku who was abandoned by her family and has to rely on nothing but her wits and gumption to survive the harsh environment, and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, The Resistance’s best pilot, and pretty chill dude. They encounter The First Order and Kylo Ren, a fallen Jedi who has turned over to the Dark Side.
An amazing cast
Let me start off by saying that each and every one of the new characters were great. Poe Dameron is a skilled pilot who makes everyone around him feel important. He was criminally underused in my opinion, but Isaac managed to use whatever limited screen time he has to rely on sheer charisma to make his character someone you would want to hang out with.
Finn, a Stormtrooper who knows nothing but the military life, finds himself way in over his head most of the time, but the character’s strong sense of right and wrong, his naiveté, and his sheer bravery easily makes him the heart of the movie. He doubts and second guesses himself all of the time, but the moment his help is needed, he jumps into the fray without a second thought. Boyega plays his role with an enthusiasm that only someone who grew up on Star Wars can bring to the role, and his comedic timing is impeccable – his performance can sometimes teeter dangerously close to slapstick, but he somehow lands every single joke that he makes.
Now let’s talk about the two MVPs of this movie.
Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a revelation. They have taken the usual Star Wars trope of the hero being tempted by the Dark Side, and have turned it on its head. Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, Han and Lei’s son, a Jedi trained by Luke Skywalker, fallen to the Dark Side and joined the First Order under Supreme Leader Snoke. He is, however, plagued by a vulnerability and self-doubt that has never been seen in a Star Wars villain before. He is a powerful Force user, no doubt – he can stop blaster bolts mid-air – but at the same time he lacks the skill to wield it properly. Plus, it’s refreshing to see a Dark Side Force user who is being tempted to join the Light Side.
Now let’s get to Daisy Ridley’s Rey. She was fantastic. She was plucked from relative obscurity, thrust as the lead of one of the biggest franchises of all time, and she owns it. You know what I love about Rey? Lesser filmmakers would slap on boobs on a stereotypical male character, call her a strong female character, and call it a day. Rey, however, is totally, unapologetically, female, with all the vulnerability that comes with it. She just happens to be a badass. Ridley will leave Star Wars a goddamn superstar, and she deserves every bit of her fame.
It’s not perfect.
If there’s anything to not like about The Force Awakens, it would be the plot. I understand that to create a connection to the original trilogy, you have to pepper the movie with the right amount of callbacks. JJ Abrams, as he has proven with Super 8 and his two Star Trek movies, is the master of recontextualizing elements as homages. It sometimes works, and with the case of Star Trek Into Darkness, it sometimes ends up disastrously – but even though The Force Awakens felt dangerously so close to becoming a retread of A New Hope, it was imbued with enough fresh ideas to stand on its own. I just wish it wasn’t so laden with callbacks, though.
My other problem: a lot of the moments to set the plot in motion are based entirely on coincidence. So the Millennium Falcon just happened to be there? And Han Solo and Chewbacca just happened to be near Jakku? Luke’s lightsaber just happened to be in the bar that Han took Rey and Finn to? Sure, the prequels went out of their way to explain everything up to the point where nothing was fun anymore, but maybe handwaving away five consecutive coincidences might be a tad too much, JJ?
I still love it, though.
However, I wouldn’t even say that these flaws take away from how good this movie is. The entire movie, every bit of it, was made with so much love and earnestness that you can just feel it out of every moment, every callback, and even the actors’ performances.
I just had to stop every now and then and remind myself that this is a movie seeping with enthusiasm and hope made in the age of the cynical blockbuster, where James Bond was deconstructed over the course of four films, where Superman was a sad loner who had to resort to murder to save the world, and where the Fantastic Four just had everything wonderful taken away from them to become a dull sordid affair. To be able to make a movie that is in its essence a love letter to the originals without being bogged down by its legacy is an achievement by itself.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens had every chance to be a dark and cynical movie, but instead doubled down on the light. Sure, it had pretty dark moments, but it had earnestness and hope from start to finish. It is imperfect, but we can safely say that Star Wars is back. It’s really back. And I am looking forward to where Rey and the rest of the new cast will take us.
- So far the biggest complaints I’ve heard about this movie is how Kylo Ren was easily defeated by Rey. The movie went out of its way to show that Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He may be powerful, but he does not have any mastery over the Force yet. He took a direct hit with a bowcaster that usually takes down four Stormtroopers at a time. He was injured by Finn. And it was pretty obvious that Rey had fighting skills, was more powerful with the Force, and has a mastery of the Force that she never even realized she had until Maz Kanata points it out to her. I mean, come on. Of all the complaints about the movie, this is one that can be easily explained away.
- A moment of silence for Han Solo, one of the most iconic science fiction characters of all time. The loving look he gave his son just as he was dying was heartbreaking.
- I don’t know about you, but Luke’s 30 seconds in the movie was perfect. You could see the heartbreak in his eyes when Rey hands over the lightsaber. I was watching with my mouth agape the whole time. I want Episode VIII to come out right now because that is how you do a cliffhanger.
- Kylo Ren and Rey’s lightsaber duel was filled from start to finish with emotion. They weren’t wildly flailing away like the Jedi Knights from the prequels – they were fighting to kill. I’d confidently place this duel second place in the entire saga just below Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui Gon Jinn, and Darth Maul’s three-way duel in The Phantom Menace. Say what you want about the prequels and the lightsaber duels, but that one still holds up.
- If The Force Awakens wasn’t intent on making every other scene a callback to A New Hope, I’d say it would probably be on par with Empire Strikes Back.
- Yeah, Starkiller Base is pretty forgettable, even though it was seven times bigger than the Death Star.
- Funniest scene in the movie: BB-8 giving Finn a thumbs up. Or was it flipping Finn off?
- Here’s how I would rank all seven current Star Wars films:
- The Empire Strikes Back
- A New Hope
- The Force Awakens
- Return of the Jedi
- Revenge of the Sith
- Attack of the Clones
- The Phantom Menace
There’s just so many things about this movie to pick apart and I can’t cover it all. So what do you think of The Force Awakens? What was your favorite scene? Let me know what you think and leave your own review below!
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