Directed by J.J. Abrams. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, and Kathleen Kennedy. Written by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan. Release date: December 18, 2015.
You can calm down. J.J. Abrams and Disney did not ruin Star Wars. They didn’t improve it much, either – although anything’s going to be an improvement over the prequel trilogy. Actually, come to think of it, they didn’t change much at all. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is pretty much just the original film again, although it’s been given a glossier coat of paint and more references to past works than a “career achievement” reel at a big awards show. To ensure that nobody leaves unhappy, the filmmakers have taken the safest direction possible at almost every turn. The result is something that feels incredibly familiar, but also works very well. The tried and true is tried and true for a reason.
I know a lot of people are avoiding spoilers like the bubonic plague, so I won’t get into the plot very much. But considering the first four words of the opening crawl are “Luke Skywalker is missing,” I feel pretty safe revealing that. Skywalker (portrayed in the original three films by Mark Hamill), is, indeed, missing. The film’s plot involves a bunch of people trying to protect a droid with a map to his whereabouts, all while stopping the new bad guys, the First Order, who want the droid and its map because Skywalker is the First Order’s biggest opposition even after he goes AWOL.
The primary good characters are: Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who becomes disenchanted with the First Order’s practices and abandons them; Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who meets both Finn and the aforementioned droid and as such becomes tangled up in the whole mess; Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a pilot for the Resistance whom Finn breaks free after he’s captured by the First Order; as well as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), two smugglers whose identities you should already know. The First Order is represented by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Darth Vader wannabe, and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), who runs the main First Order base. Anything more? You’re on your own.
Save for a couple of big reveals, and a touch of subversion here or there, we’re just doing Star Wars again. I’d like to reiterate that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The franchise hasn’t been good in decades, so going back to the basics isn’t a bad way to start – especially since this is the beginning of a planned new trilogy. The story isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t have to be. The good guys and bad guys are fighting over the fate of the galaxy, and there are key players on each side that can sway the course of the battle. Take out all the oddly named planets and various CGI aliens, and that’s what you’ve got here.
Thanks to a surprisingly funny script, solid action, interesting characters performed well, and great practical and computer-generated effects, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that will please both fans and newcomers alike.
The only points when that does become a problem is when the film constantly points out that, yes, the older films exist, and isn’t it so cool that they’ve included Character X from them? At times, it feels like it’s pandering to nostalgia, hoping to get “oohs” and claps from the audience because it referenced something that happened a long time ago. Doing this once or twice isn’t an issue; when it happens three times in the span of fifteen minutes, that’s when it starts to become a detriment.
Still, though, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from start to finish, is quite an enjoyable ride. The filmmakers know what the fans want, and they provide the audience with a thrilling tale. There’s solid action, great effects – both practical and computer-generated – interesting characters, pretty gorgeous cinematography, and just enough of a tease for future installments. You once again feel in awe of the Star Wars universe – a feeling I know I haven’t felt since the original trilogy. You want to spend as much time here as possible, and it’s because of that sentiment that you don’t even start to question why the film is 135 minutes long – it really shouldn’t be – or why we’re taking far longer than we should to accomplish a rather simple task. You just bask in the glory that is this universe and soak it in for as long as the filmmakers let you.
John Boyega is an actor you’ve seen in maybe one other movie before but becomes an instant star as the co-lead of The Force Awakens. It’s not a particularly deep part, especially since his character – particularly at the start – is less of a hero and more of a buffoon, but he settles in rather nicely. His comedic timing – the film’s quite funny – with both Oscar Isaac and Daisy Ridley is fantastic. Ridley gets most of the action, and she, too, is instantly a star – another fantastic action-oriented female character from 2015. Oscar Isaac, in far fewer scenes than either of them, is just so good, and you almost wish that there were three co-leads, not just Boyega and Ridley. Adam Driver suffers from having to act mostly from underneath a mask, while Domhnall Gleeson feels like second fiddle most of the time. The returning cast members are all perfectly adequate, although the only one who shows much in terms of acting is Harrison Ford – likely because he’s the only one with more than a few scenes.
It’s easy to get swept up in the Star Wars phenomenon – the movie’s going to break records, after all – and it’s incredibly exciting that we’ve got a very good entry with The Force Awakens. Thanks to a surprisingly funny script, solid action, interesting characters performed well, and great practical and computer-generated effects, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that will please both fans and newcomers alike. It only suffers from its derivative screenplay, which copies the original film in enough ways as to be noticeable, and its constant nostalgia showcasing. It overcomes both of those and becomes a very fun journey from start to finish, and will leave audiences waiting with bated breath for where the Star Wars franchise will take us next.
Bottom Line: A really enjoyable movie, derivative as it may be, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sets the franchise back on the right course.
Recommendation: You’re going to see it anyway, but if you were on the fence, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very much worth the watch.[rating=4]