A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (or more accurately on May 25, 1977), the world was introduced to “Star Wars.” To put things lightly, nothing would ever be the same. “Star Wars” (also known as “Episode IV: A New Hope”) completely revolutionized and forever changed the way we think about storytelling, the use of special effects, and the film industry in general, inspiring and capturing the imaginations of filmmakers everywhere and leaving a lasting impact on pop culture.
It spawned an almost 40 year old franchise that includes the legendary original trilogy: the original film along with “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983) and a rather disappointing but nonetheless financially successful prequel trilogy during the late 90s and early 2000s that includes “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002), and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005). It has also spawned a holiday special, several TV series, novels, comics, video games, toys, and merchandise as well as plenty of parodies, spoofs, rip offs, and homages.
We use quotes from the films in everyday life from “Use the force” to “Do or do not. There is no try” and hum the breathtaking John Williams score even when we don’t realize it. The “Star Wars” franchise has gone through several ups and downs in its history, but there is no doubt that the impact and effect these movies have left on us will stay strong forever.
So obviously, with a franchise as revered and beloved as “Star Wars,” any new film added to the series would create quite a lot of hype. And this year, we got just that when director J.J Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Super 8,” “Mission Impossible III”) released the newest addition to the iconic saga, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” which is not only the 7th film in the franchise, but also the first entry of a new sequel trilogy that follows the events of “Return of the Jedi.”
To say the least, the world went nuts. Fan theories came out, trailers were analyzed to the smallest detail, merchandise was sold, tickets were bought, and we all crossed our fingers and prayed that this film would live up to its expectations. Fans everywhere had this same amount of insane hype many years ago in 1999 when “Phantom Menace” came out, only to have the hype build up to a movie with annoying comic relief characters, grotesque CGI, bland-as-bread performances, and a story that was both too complex and too boring. So what about this newcomer to the franchise? Would it prove itself as a worthy follow up to the legendary original trilogy or feel more like a lightsaber slice to the face like its prequel counterparts? Well, very fortunately, I can say as “Star Wars” fanboy and film enthusiast that the wait was most definitely worth it.
The general plot takes place roughly around 30 years after “Jedi” and is about a young woman named Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), a poor scavenger on the planet Jakku, who meets a former Stormtrooper named Finn (played by John Boyega) and a droid named BB-8. The droid is holding precious information for a new rebellion called the Resistance, a team that is battling against The First Order, a new evil force with plans to kill Luke Skywalker, led by the despicable Kylo Ren. So Rey, Finn, BB-8, and some familiar faces, must make their way to assist with the Resistance and do battle with Kylo Ren and The First Order, as well as find out things about themselves that they never knew. The movie was very well done in many regards and has many key points that will appeal to both old and new fans alike.
The best thing about this film are the characters, both old and new. Rey takes lead as a tough and no-nonsense girl who is slowly learning more and more about herself throughout the course of the movie yet also comes off as supportive, optimistic and very funny. Adam Driver brings plenty of depth and emotion to the character Kylo Ren, with a fierce demeanor and rather calculating attitude that are enough to match those of the legendary Darth Vader from the original films, but still brings new traits to the table by making Ren much more unpredictable and more likely to rush to destroy an enemy, making him a rather enjoyable villain.
Other new characters such as the outrageously adorable BB-8 droid, the wise Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nypong’o), and the comedic and heroic Poe Bameron (played by Oscar Issac), only add to the already memorable cast that are likely to make as much as a name for themselves in the “Star Wars” library as Boba Fett, Yoda, or Jabba the Hutt. Speaking of old favorites, older characters make a comeback as well, including R2-D2, C3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar, and, most prominently, Han Solo, and all are handled with plenty of love and respect while also adding new depth and challenges for them to go through, developing them further as characters.
But probably the most standout character in the film, for me at least, is Finn. He is truly like no “Star Wars” character we have seen before as his backstory gives us a more in-depth look at the characters on the evil side of the story. The character himself is extremely hilarious, courageous and willing to change to do the right thing and John Boyega succeeds in making Finn one of the most relatable and stand out characters from any of the “Star Wars” films.
The film is also written and directed beautifully. Abrams’ direction allows for many stunning wide shots of the environment so we can get an idea of just how expansive this galaxy is and give us a better feel of the mood a scene is setting, whether it is a tense and suspenseful one-on-one interaction between characters, a mad battle sequence with chaos running rampant in every corner or just a more peaceful environment that has beautiful depth and composition throughout it. We also have many shots, camera angles, and compositions that have never been attempted in a “Star Wars” film.
The writing is also top-notch, with many opportunities for dialogue that allows for clever exposition, emotional moments, and comedy as well as plenty “show-don’t-tell” moments that were not present from the prequel films. The special effects are, as always, pretty spectacular, with a nice balance of both practical effects (puppets, costumes, and even a little stop motion animation) and computer generated imagery that seems to work very well together and creates a stunning illusion that the original films accomplished so well and was also notoriously absent from the prequel trilogy. John Williams returns to perform the score, and while the film may not have as much recognizable Star Wars music as the trailers might’ve implied, his new score meshes very well with his old work and still is beautiful to hear.
Despite all the wonderful factors the film has, it does have some drawbacks. The biggest one, as many critics and fans have realized, is that many of the basic plot concepts of the very first “Star Wars” film, “A New Hope,” are used very heavily here. It becomes rather repetitive and makes some parts very predictable. It is more than likely there to appeal to fans of the original trilogy, but it would be nice to see something a little more fresh.
Also, the character, Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren’s master (and likely the equivalent to Emperor Palpatine from the original movies), is a rather bland and not very creatively designed character, becoming rather forgettable in a group of very promising newcomers. Fortunately, however, not too much focus is put on him, so it is more of a minor issue.
Newcomers to the franchise who have not seen the previous entries in the series may also come out a bit confused about the relationships between some of the characters and their purposes in the past that are referenced from time to time, so it may be a good idea to watch the original trilogy at least before diving into “Force Awakens.”
While it’s not perfect, with some flaws in its concept, some characters, and its execution, “Force Awakens” is an overall fantastic, energetic, and wild ride deeper into the “Star Wars” saga that deserves to be seen to be believed. In short, the force is strong with this one.