Star Wars: The Force Awakens (REVIEW)
Written by Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
It's finally here. After 10 years away, Star Wars is back. I was so overwhelmed going into this movie I just about cried when I saw the logo appear and had to quickly adjust to pay attention to the words scrolling into oblivion. Once my composure had returned it was time to pick this movie to pieces, or so I thought. The story we got was one that follows a similar formula but expands the universe in new and interesting ways, with new characters that are compelling and fun to watch and old characters that guide the way and pass the baton in some respects. If that's what you wanted to know from me then that's fine, go see it, but try to keep your head from swimming with excitement like I did, I have a feeling it's worth seeing again (something I plan to do tomorrow most likely) without the hype of "new Star Wars" looming over it. For those who want more of a taste, while remaining spoiler free, read on.
The first thing I noticed about this movie is how much it looks like a JJ Abrams movie and not classic Star Wars, which is to be expected if a little jarring when you are used to the originals aesthetic. That said, it's beautifully shot with modern movie flourishes and JJ-isms but rest assured, lens flares aren't ones that rear its head too often and I wouldn't notice them at all if I didn't know it was "his thing".
I think the biggest question on everyone's mind is, "is it better than the prequels?" and hopefully, "Is it better than Revenge of the Sith?" Totally! "Is it better than the originals?" That's a tough one. I personally was more of a fan of the universe and characters than the actual stories they chose to tell. I was also so infused with the story before watching them, it was hard to watch them "fresh and new" so despite being extremely excited to see this latest one, the stories have never blown me away. Although Revenge of The Sith, despite it's mediocre acting, had a really cool story that was well told and brought a conclusion to it's coolest, most bad ass character.
Now that I know the universe and its characters, all that it has going for it, is that story. So how does it fair? Surprisingly well, and I say that in the sense that it's clearly a first chapter of a story that has more to tell. It has its own contained story arc but this awakening is certainly a smaller part of a larger story that won't pay off until later. It is also a movie that stands on its own from the originals. Someone who is a Star Wars novice can go in and while they may have questions in a similar way to watching the first Star Wars, they will not get lost due to lack of knowledge.
There are plenty of well executed action scenes that had me smiling, including some very intense lightsaber duels. They are more aggressive hack and slash fights than the prequels majestic dances. That however stays true to the nature of the untrained Jedi era, compared to the extremely well trained era the prequels inhabit. Despite some expansion on the universe, the worlds themselves seemed recycled from the original trilogy. If you have seen the originals there are no real surprises in terms of the type of planet you'll see, which is kind of a let down. However that is made up for with what happens on the planets themselves. I'd take action on the planets be interesting over just a cool new planet any day.
The new characters are for the most part exciting additions to the universe. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a genuinely fearsome Sith Lord. His overly buzzy sounding voice in his mask is a bit much, it sounds like he turned the grunge knob up on his helmet. He, like Vader before him, is more of an evil commander while someone else is in charge of ordering and training the Stormtroopers. That falls under the leadership of General Hux (Domnhaal Gleeson), who unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb. He has some truly campy moments that suck you right out of it almost every time he appears. Thankfully he plays a relatively minor role in the story so we don't have to put up with it much. Instead of getting the second coming of Grand Moff Tarkin we receive an almost laughable caricature of a villain. Ren, thankfully is a much better character and a worthy successor to Vader in representing the new Sith in the current Jedi/Sith climate. I'd argue he is much more of a force to be reckoned with than Vader was. We saw Vader in the prequels as a young Jedi Knight full of rage and as a much older, but still powerful, shell of his former self in the originals. Kylo Ren feels like Darth Vader in his prime. He is ruled by his emotions but also skilled in combat and in peak physical condition, making for a truly deadly combination. I had chills at times watching him in action and felt as though we saw what a young Vader would have been capable of.
The other big bad, at least going by the trailers was the chrome plated Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) . While a nice addition to the style of the film, she has a very minor role which I found disappointing given how imposing and important she seemed in the marketing. I'm hoping she gets used more in future movies because it would be a shame to have such a cool looking character that has the potential to also be awesome not get to strut her evil stuff.
Now for the good guys. Our main duo consists of Rey and Finn. Rey is clearly the hero of the film and is played wonderfully by Daisy Ridley. Her character arc is by far the most intriguing one in the film. Finn is a close second played by John Boyega. He has some moments early on with Rey during a fantastic sequence on Jakku that get a bit bogged down by him asking if she was ok, and treating her like a sort of helpless girl. They pushed that button a few too many times in such a short span for my liking. Once that was over with he made for a decent companion to Rey and had some cool moments throughout.
The next character on the list is also most likely to be the hottest toy this Christmas for kids and adults, BB-8. This little guy is the cutest and coolest droid you're likely to meet. It is the next R2-D2 and may very well replace good ol' R2, at least for a while, staring in awe at the technology it's utilizes. And who wouldn't want to spend time with an adorable robot soccer ball? BB-8 is sassy but not nearly as grumpy or eccentric as R2. It's also more subdued in it's reactions than R2, which is OK in my book. R2 could get a bit obnoxious with all the random 'beeps' and 'boops' it would sputter off. No wonder C-3PO was so grumpy all the time.
The final person of note for the new cast is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). He serves as the Resistance's ace pilot, leading his rogue squadron on various missions set out by General Leia, hoping to further push back against those who wish to crush the galaxy in their mighty grip.
I know a lot of what I'm saying is nit picky, but that's the kind of stuff I notice, personal quirks and mannerisms are things that can really annoy me if they persist so if it feels like I'm being too harsh, it is really my own personal sensitivity to those things, General Hux aside, he was just... oof.
As for the original cast of characters, Han and Chewy are back, kicking butt and being the scoundrels we first met almost 40 years ago. Leia returned in similar though more subdued fashion, something that expectedly comes with age. She isn't the plucky 20 year old calling Han a "scruffy looking Nerfherder," she's faced her share of troubles as have Han and Chewy, however they still seem to enjoy the chase to some degree. Now everyone has been asking, "Where is Luke? Why haven't we seen him yet? "and I will echo what JJ himself has said. It's for a good reason, and when you see the movie you'll know why.
Story wise, they inject some interesting lore and set up the events to come without it feeling like you are watching a big teaser for the next one. The main plot, while pretty similar to the originals in the broad sense, has a lot more going for it than some give it credit for. There are plenty of differences to keep it fresh and engaging while nodding to the past here and there without constantly winking at the audience every chance it gets.
That said, as the next films in the series come along, I look forward to seeing how they expand on the questions they raise in Awakens and dig into some of the more meaty mysteries yet to be solved. Questions that are actually earned I might add. There are no weird conspiracies like "we're behind everything all along" or mysteries for mystery sake. It's all unresolved character based motivations that seem genuinely interesting and I'd like to know the answers just as much as the characters do.
So how does Star Wars The Force Awakens fair? If you were dreading a Phantom Menace, rest easy. If you were expecting something that was as revolutionary and quotable as the originals, you won't find it here but as a story set in the Star Wars universe that has two more chapters to go, it's a good start to what will hopefully be a great finish.