It’s been well over a decade since the last Star Wars film “graced” the screen. I use quotes because Revenge of The Sith doesn’t quite grace you with its presence rather than it assaults. However, it presents a somewhat interesting parallel between the “story” it tells and the story of the Star Wars saga in and of itself. It left things in ruins, with a dark shadow permeating everything with little to no hope in sight.
But then, a new hope appeared.
That hope is The Force Awakens.
After what seemed like an eternity, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has finally arrived. And does it manage to rise above the dark shroud left in the wake of the prequel trilogy? Does it recapture the magic of the original films? Is it, in fact, a good film?
I can happily tell you that The Force Awakens is not only a good film, it is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a true Star Wars experience. The moment the opening text crawl came on screen I was immediately connected to the little boy who used to watch the original trilogy (in its unaltered state via ancient VHS tapes I should add) while swinging a toy lightsaber with a blanket wrapped around me like a cape.
However, I was forced to push aside that nostalgia, because as an adult, film nerd, and critic I had to watch this film and see it for what it was without seeing it through nostalgia goggles. A hard feat to manage, because it is so damn easy to slip into this movie and revel in the spectacle and magic.
What could so easily have been a heaping mess of special effects and nods to the original films is instead a well crafted film that respects the films that came before it, while taking things to a new level. J.J. Abrams was a perfect fit for this film and was capable of shaping it into what it needed to be. He manages to bring back the things that make Star Wars… well Star Wars, while also making it work within the trappings of a modern blockbuster.
The film does have Abrams’s film style, with sweeping camera movements and tons of wild and fun angles and shots that are constantly on the move it seems. However, you will not see any lens flares here, thank god. Instead, it injects a lot of life into the film. The pace of which is breakneck for most of the run time.
As mentioned in the title, there will be no spoilers. I tend to give a film at least a week before talking about spoilers, and this goes doubly so for this film. This is a film that deserves to be seen without spoilers. So don’t worry, I will not be talking about spoilers here. Though I will talk about the story.
For the most part, The Force Awakens is a fun romp with some great characters. However I found the story to be merely “good” for most of the run time. Chalk it up to my own overblown sense of how a movie should flow, but I felt like the first act of the film moved too quickly. Introducing characters left and right without telling us their names until several scenes later, which hurt the film somewhat in my opinion. However, I should add that the film does manage to expertly show us their characteristics in a succinct and clear manner. For example, when John Boyega’s Finn first shows up, the film manages to immediately paint him as a character who feels like he’s way in over his head, which eventually prompts him to defect (not a spoiler, we all knew he defected from the First Order). So it’s more of a minor issue, but I felt the film could’ve spent more time with the characters before the film really got moving.
The cast of characters here are all fun and interesting, which manages to be both a strength and a detriment to the film. Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey is excellent, as she brings plenty of heart and soul to the character, while also being a kick ass scavenger. Boyega is fun and sympathetic, with quite a few of the more funnier scenes coming from him. Both of them work well with Harrison Ford, whose return as Han Solo is a million times better than his reprisal of Indiana Jones. Both he and Carrie Fisher still have the same chemistry that made Han and Leia’s romance so wonderful, while there are certainly some miles on the relationship you can still feel the love between them, which I feel is quite remarkable.
On the dark side you have Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, who manages to be a rather imposing character without feeling like Vader 2.0. Every time he appears there is a level of menace injected into the scene. As a villain, he is imposing, and somewhat frightening. By the end of the film, you will come to fear, and loathe him.
Then you have characters like Poe Dameron and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma. Characters that were terribly underutilized. Oscar Isaac is immediately lovable as Dameron, but his screentime is so minimal that I was very pissed he wasn’t in the film more. Though it isn’t as bad as Phasma who literally does nothing throughout the film, and I practically forgot about her until she popped up again near the end. She should’ve had more to do, because she seemed like a fun villain.
Action scenes are fun and bombastic, with plenty of great space battles and chases. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the effects in the film, of which there is an impressive level of practical effects and puppet work, along with some solid CGI work to complement it. Whether it’s the adorable BB-8 or a cantina full of aliens, most of them are puppetry and they are so friggin’ amazing! However, the decision to use motion capture technology for Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata and Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke stood out as some of the worse effects in the film. Contrasted against the other practical creatures in the film, both simply looked underwhelming. Honestly, I think Maz Kanata could’ve been a puppet, and Snoke was… well confusing. He appears to be gigantic, but he’s also a hologram for the whole film (again I don’t consider this a spoiler) which made me question his real stature. There were also some dubious CGI creatures that stood out as well, but ultimately were negligible.
As I mentioned before, the story felt like it was missing something for most of the picture. It was good, but I felt it was lacking something that made it feel like a true Star Wars film. However, there is a point when the film achieved that level, and became not just a “good Star Wars film” but a “true Star Wars film.” I won’t reveal to you all what this was, but needless to say, when it happens, the film is elevated significantly.
By the time I walked out of the theater, I was blown away. The characters, action, effects, and soundtrack mange to recapture some of that magic we all know and love from the original films. The film is a great return to form for the franchise, and I am already hungry for more.