Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force is strong with this one.


By Louis Balzani
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WATCH THIS IF:

  • I mean, let’s be honest – you’re probably going to watch this anyway, right? Why am I even reviewing this?

Truth be told, I’m not that much of a Star Wars fan – or I wasn’t, anyway. My first exposure to the franchise was The Phantom Menace – a bad choice, I know – and I’ve only sporadically dabbled in it since. Given that The Force Awakens has more or less taken over the world in the past few months, I wanted to get in on the hype, so I watched the rest of the first six films that I hadn’t seen and went out to experience this new one for myself. In a turn of events that should surprise absolutely no one, this film is intense, breathtaking, top-shelf action cinema with the heart and humor to put all those explosions in context. A word of caution before we begin: I’m treating this as I would any other review, so though I’ll spare you the big stuff, you should expect some plot and character spoilers. If you want to go into it completely fresh, stop reading now and get your butt to a theater – just know that it’s very good and absolutely worth your time. If you’re already seen it or you don’t care, allow me to give you an average moviegoer’s perspective on something so many people love very, very much.

As the iconic opening crawl will tell you, a lot’s gone down in that galaxy far, far away. Legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker has been missing for some time, his journey now rumors and speculation among the young and uninformed. A new organization called the First Order has risen from the ashes of the evil Galactic Empire, and it seeks to locate and eliminate Luke to further impose itself upon the galaxy. As it does so, it faces off with a new form of the Rebel Alliance called the Resistance, which receives help from some very unlikely heroes: a lowly scavenger named Rey, and a reformed Stormtrooper who comes to be known as Finn. As a few familiar faces join the fray, the Resistance sets out to find Luke and face off against the First Order, no matter what the cost.the_force_awakens_1A new story like this needs solid new characters, and this film brings them out, for lack of a better word, in force. John Boyega is intense and very funny as Finn, and he makes the most of an excellent character arc which sees Finn slowly overcome his caution and cowardice to become a true hero. Oscar Isaac relishes in bringing Poe to life, a charismatic fighter pilot who deserves more screen time than he gets. Adam Driver impresses as Kylo Ren, a powerful First Order warrior with an emotional connection to a past he still struggles with. As a droid for a new generation, BB-8 is straight-up adorable and absolutely bursting with personality. Above all, however, Daisy Ridley absolutely shines as Rey. Abandoned by her family and forced to survive on her own terms, her character is smart, self-sufficient and completely badass; it’s to her great credit that while the film’s characters are surprised at her abilities, we never are.

Though the majority of the film rests on its new leads, expect to see some old friends again. Harrison Ford slips right back into the jacket of Han Solo with the cheeky smuggler quickly becoming central to the plot. Carrie Fisher returns as the newly-positioned General Leia Organa, though it’s a shame that she really only gets to stand around looking weathered and upset. She gets the most mileage out of her handful of scenes with the aged Solo, and I loved watching their dynamic still evolve and persist after all this time. Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker all return as Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2, respectively, so with Luke as the obvious exception, the gang’s all here.the_force_awakens_2This excellent cast soars and succeeds thanks to the strength of the well-paced script and the overall narrative. Thankfully, it’s not all explosions and TIE fighters; director J.J. Abrams and crew lend the story some much-appreciated emotional weight. It roots much of its sentimentality and character development in the idea of family, the ties that bind you to others, and how that can make you vulnerable no matter how strong you are on the surface. Importantly, the story succeeds in satiating diehard fans while still remaining thoroughly accommodating and enjoyable for newcomers and casual indulgers like myself. There are tons of references and in-jokes throughout, so the more invested in the franchise you are, the more you’ll get out of it, but you don’t need to follow it religiously to keep up. Moreover, although it very obviously leaves some plot threads dangling to set up future episodes, its story is complete and satisfying enough to stand on its own, so it gets points for that, too.

If there’s anything to complain about, it’s how heavily it leans on and rehashes elements from previous films; at times, events will align themselves far too closely with iconic moments from the original trilogy. Informative cantina scene where a character arranges for transportation? Sure. Massive, universe-threatening super-weapon? Got it. High-octane trench run to try and blow up said super-weapon? Been there, done that. We’ve seen this happen countless times in other films; you can never really recreate what blew people’s minds the first time around, and its those moments of familiarity that let the film down the most. Of course, it makes sense to root these new entries in that which came before them, but this is self-reference to the point of distraction, and it actually detracts from the overall experience.the_force_awakens_3If nothing else, the film looks and sounds fantastic. The distinct visual style of Abrams shines through from time to time, especially in regards to frame-tilting, but there’s nary a lens flare in sight, and the whole affair really looks and feels like a cleaner, slicker version of the originals more than anything else. Action sequences are fluid, exciting, and well-choreographed, so it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the thrilling chases and shootouts. John Williams returns to provide yet another iconic musical score which, along with the classic sound design, is really most responsible for making these films feel the way they do. Disappointingly, after all that bombast and spectacle, it ends with a staggeringly clumsy final shot that left a surprisingly bad taste in my mouth. I know that’s an insane nitpick, but I firmly believe that your last shot defines much of how an audience immediately feels about your film, and this one simply doesn’t measure up.

Ultimately, though, I’m sure your mind’s already made up about whether you’ll see it and, if you already have, what you thought of it. I doubt I’ll convince you of anything one way or another, and since this film’s intricacies will get picked to death by fans and critics alike, I don’t feel the need to take this much further. Suffice it to say, then, that The Force Awakens represents everything good about modern blockbuster filmmaking and Star Wars in general. It’s got enough fan service to please the diehards, and it’s readily re-ignited my interest in the franchise – you might even say I’m a fan now, too. It easily outpaces pretty much all franchise media since the original trilogy, and if you’re not super-beholden to those three films, it may even surpass them in some respects. What I’m trying to say is that Star Wars is back and here to stay, and really – isn’t that all we’ve ever wanted?

SCORE: 

Comments

  • Interesting notion about the final shot. I’m almost certain that I know what it is (I’ll be seeing it tomorrow), but it sounds like it’s more or less a throwaway shot to not do much more than tease “Episode VIII”.

    And, yes, starting with “The Phantom Menace” was a bad idea. Remember the golden rule: 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. Always.


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