“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Spoiler-Free Review

Out of the four Star Wars movies that I have been alive for, I have now seen two of them on opening day. Episode II was my first, and today I saw Episode VII. If this movie can keep up the momentum, than I think I will be seeing VIII and IX on opening day as well.

If you have already seen the movie and want to read the spoiler-filled review, head to this link here instead. If you have not, and are trying very hard to live under a rock until the storm of spoilers passes over you, this is the review fo ryou.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. Does Episode VII make up for the prequels? Absolutely. Everything that was wrong with them is gone, and in their place is something that feels much more like Star Wars. The lackluster elements of the prequels will be a discussion for another day, but the big thing that I can say about those movies versus the newest one is that it feels like it is in the same timeline as the original trilogy was. The prequels feel out of date when you watch them and did not age well for a number of reasons. Watching “The Force Awakens” is like you picked up right where you left off and is a much more natural fit.

If the prequels were a sign of the times of when they were made, Episode VII is a throwback in all of the right ways to make a timeless sci-fi epic. From the physical effects married perfectly with the CGI, to the dialogue and characters acting the way they should that makes sense to them, and the worlds feeling believable and real, this is the true return of the franchise that should not disappoint fans.

The story is a good mix of classic Star Wars with an Abrams twist. It was hard not to draw parallels to what he did with “Star Trek” while watching Episode VII, but I mean that in a positive way. Abrams understands a team dynamic and how to balance multiple actors and stories on screen at once, something that the original trilogy did very well. He gives segments time to breathe and live alongside each other, but they never lose their tension and only gain it in the interim when we visit a different part of the story. Everyone gets their screen time and an equal share of the drama, the heroism, or the sadness.

I loved that, much like the original trilogy, most of the actors were not too well known, but they will certainly be after this. John Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey are great together, and play off each other very well. On the same sentiment as the paragraph above, they each have their stories that we are able to understand in a few sentences, and are seeking things that they are able to get from each other. Really, the characters are very independent from sci-fi tropes and even what many may have expected from a franchise that set up a lot of the clichés used in this genre, and that is a very positive thing to accomplish.

The supporting cast is all great, and while I can not say too much without spoiling things, the characters are almost all very well-developed and interesting. While certain characters do not get as much screen time as I would have wanted, there is still plenty of info to whet your appetites and prepare for more of them in the next movie.

Episode VII is not without its flaws, and one of those is certainly the predictability of things. There are really not too many surprises here. Everything important was foreshadowed very strongly, almost pandering to make sure that you did not miss the info that would be important later.

Abrams camerawork is always something that can be troublesome. The best comparison to draw from is once again Star Trek, which had a lot of fast pans and quick camera movements, along with an overdose of lens flare. While there is practically none of that, the signature camera shaking syndrome is still there, and it visually feels like an Abrams movie. I would have loved more steady shots and less reliance on a camera in constant motion. The blurs are too quick and I left the theatre with a vicious headache. It’s not nearly as shaky as most other action movies are these days, so don’t get me wrong, but I believe Star Wars is known for wide shots that suck you into the world. None of the locations were too awe-inspiring or made my imagination start running, and that may have been because of how self-contained everything felt and how small things were because of the constant motion. It was useful as a storytelling device, especially in the dogfights with the TIE fighters and X-Wings, but too much of it makes it hard to get invested and looks too much like a video game.

Like all of the Star Wars films, there are a few plot holes here and there, but they are nothing that stopped me in my tracks. That might be attributed to how fast-paced JJ Abrams works so that you don’t have time to nitpick at first glance, but with a few more viewings even the most unobservant person should pick up on them. Do they ruin the film? Not at all, just little minor annoyances that are quickly forgiven.

SEMI-SPOILER about plot elements, read at your own danger: The big issue I have seen many people debate is how much of a rehash this film is to “Episode IV: A New Hope”. There are plenty of similarities. Are they copying the original, or following a pattern? Too early to tell, but my belief is that while there were certainly elements that are undeniably familiar, the story is far enough removed and goes to vastly different places that it is its own movie.

Is Episode VII a complete story, meaning that it does not need a sequel and can stand on its own? Yes and no. Being a Star Wars film means that it will obviously have a sequel attached to, especially since this is the start of the trilogy. Does this movie have its own definitive end-point. Yes, however, plenty happens and doesn’t happen that leave it for sequel fodder. Star Wars movies have typically ended on their own, even though you know there is something else coming. With this one, it was too much of a “To Be Continued” moment and felt more like a TV show season-finale instead of a movie ending.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had too much on the line to be bad. It had to be good, and it was. It’s a step in the right direction, and is a movie filled with optimism, intrigue, and wonder. It lacks the whimsy of the original, but feels like a natural continuation and captures the essence of what the series is about. The series is in good hands, but I can see it being derailed by the dark side if they do not make some improvements from this one to make it more mysterious and give it the uniqueness that it deserves to have.

Welcome back, Star Wars. It’s good to have you again, and I look forward to seeing more.

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