Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler Free)

Forty years ago, at a time when gritty anti-heroes ruled the silver screen, a young director by the name of George Lucas approached Fox with a pitch for a science fiction film that featured space wizards, princesses and the battle between good and evil. Miraculously, the director managed to get $13 million to make his pet project, Star Wars. Even more miraculous, the Sci-Fi shot on a shoestring budget launched a pop culture phenomenon.

After two wildly successful sequels and a 16-year hiatus, the world was given the first prequel to Star Wars. Finally we were going to see Anakin Skywalker’s transformation from noble Jedi Knight to fallen Sith Lord. For many (including myself) the prequel trilogy was massively disappointing. While the prequel films had some impressive visuals, the direction was boring, the dialog was wooden, and the characters were never satisfactorily developed.

So when Disney announced they were purchasing LucasFilm and developing a new trilogy its little wonder that so many fans were careful to not get their hopes too high. When it was announced that Lawrence Kasdan was returning to help pen the script fans became cautiously optimistic, and when J.J. Abrams signed on to direct many fans became even more optimistic, especially after he announced the film’s reliance on practical effects.

Finally, after years of waiting, The Force Awakens has come to theaters, and with it Star Wars-- pure unadulterated, fun, exciting, wonderful Star Wars-- has returned. The banter, the chemistry, the mysticism, and the fantastic creatures that made the original trilogy so wonderful, have finally returned after over 30 years of being M.I.A.

The plot, of which I will only speak in generalities to avoid spoilers, is admittedly derivative of A New Hope. Yes, the main character is stuck on a backwater planet wishing to see the universe, and yes this character is sucked into an adventure much larger than anything they could have imagined while being guided by an older, wiser mentor. There are many who immediately dismiss anything they deem to be too derivative as trash, but there are times when it not only works, but is necessary. This film needed to restore faith in a franchise that had veered so far off its original, phenomenal course. By revisiting familiar story beats, The Force Awakens it manages to remind the veteran Star Wars fans why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place, while introducing newcomers to the wonder found in a galaxy far, far away.

There are plenty of familiar faces returning for the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga. It has been 30 years since the original trio, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill wrapped filming on Return of the Jedi, and yet each one slips into their characters beautifully. I won’t tell you who is featured more prominently than the other in order to avoid spoilers, but I will say that none of them feel like frivolous additions to the plot. It’s fan service to be sure, but fan service that works to move the plot forward in a satisfactory way.

It’s the newcomers that really carry the film on their shoulders. The chemistry between Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and BB-8 (himself) is every bit as engaging as the chemistry of the original ensemble. As a hero, a pure honest-to-goodness paragon of a hero, Rey absolutely shines. The innocence Ridley brings to the part makes Rey instantly lovable, and yet you can sense by the end of the film that she is going to be capable of such incredible things as the trilogy progresses. Finn’s journey in the film is, in many ways similar to the journey Han Solo made in A New Hope and it is every bit as satisfying. Poe and BB-8 provide wonderful comedic relief throughout the film, while avoiding the juvenile, humor that plagued the prequel trilogy.

As far as villains go, there is some good news and some bad news. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is an incredible character. Every bit as powerful as Darth Vader, but much less stable. Driver does an excellent job bringing an intensity and complexity to his character that was noticeably lacking in the villains of the prequel trilogy. Andy Serkis’ character is masterfully played and yet confined to the shadows, much like the Emperor was in the first two installments of the original trilogy. General Hux is sidelined a bit in the film but he is given a scene in which Domhnall Gleeson is eerily reminiscent of Adolf Hitler with goose bump-inducing results.

The bad news is Captain Phasma. Gwendoline Christie is far too talented to be used as little as she is in the film. While I was disappointed with how little screen time Captain Phasma has, I was still impressed with how intimidating she remained. I’m also not faulting the film too much for this since, in a bid to sell more toys, the marketing team really portrayed the Stormtrooper commander as a much more prevalent character than she is. Indeed, the character is much like Boba Fett: They both look really cool and have a commanding presence but neither really does much when all is said and done.

LucasFilm

LucasFilm

The film is absolutely stunning visually. In fact I daresay it is the most visually stunning film in the saga. The post-crawl shot in The Force Awakens rivals A New Hope’s blockade runner being overrun by an Imperial Star Destroyer in terms of how arresting it is. And opting for real sets and filming on location has yielded some of the most beautiful and fantastic settings ever to be featured in a Star Wars film.

Of course what’s a sci-fi/fantasy film without special effects? The ratio of practical to CGI effects is absolutely perfect. The unbelievable creatures in the film have a certain physicality to them that really helps the viewer suspend their disbelief. The flying sequences, whether they feature the Millennium Falcon being chased by TIE Fighters or X-wings engaging in epic dogfights, are exhilarating. And the lightsaber battles? Let’s just say there is a refreshing break from special effects in them. Gone is the superfluous twirling, the flipping and the…whatever the hell this is:

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The lightsabers in this film are ignited with one purpose: to kill. There’s a brutality to the dueling that is reminiscent of the final duel between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi except that it is even more intense.  

While Abrams has managed to create an absolutely beautiful film, it’s his ability to make any shot kinetic that really sets this film apart from other entries in the series. As a rule, Star Wars films employ a very…shall we say classical approach to filming dialog. That is to say the characters talk to one another while the camera cuts back and forth between their faces while remaining completely stationary. Abrams opts instead for a camera that moves with the action, making for a much more exciting experience.

The film’s only weak spot is in its dialog. While I appreciate expository dialog happening alongside action as opposed to taking place in a chancellor’s office or senate hall, some of it felt a little bit forced. It’s as if some of the lines in the film were spoken directly to the viewer to ensure they know what’s going on. Truth be told, I am being a bit nit-picky here. There really are only a couple lines like this and they do little to detract from the fun of the film, and besides there is nothing near as bad as this turd-gem:

The Wrap Up

The Good

+Incredible Visuals

+Fun and satisfying to see the old gang…

+…even more fun and satisfying meeting the new.

+Kylo Ren

+Incredible visuals and special effects (Practical and CGI)

The Bad

-Some forced dialog

Conclusion

9 out of 10 - Impressive. Most Impressive.

I’m not going to mince words. The Force Awakens is absolutely and unequivocally awesome. That’s “awesome” as in it inspires awe. In the end that’s what Star Wars does when it is at its best, and I can honestly say this film left me in awe as I sat watching the credits, wishing I had bought another ticket for the showing after mine. The film is rated PG-13 and while it doesn’t really contain any foul words or sexuality I would say it is about as violent as Revenge of the Sith.


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