“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review With Spoilers
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 not seen the movie and want to read the spoiler-free review, head to this link here instead. I won’t be talking about too many plot points in this article since I want to keep this short (by my standards), just giving a verbose overview of my thoughts about the film, and guess what? They are all pretty darn positive.
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 The prequels feel out of date when you watch them and did not age well for a number of reasons.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. They are the Luke and Leia of the story, and not the Han and Leia as far as I am concerned (more on that later). 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.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a very complex character that I want to a call a villain but was humanized so well that it is difficult to label him a generic bad guy. For you “Avatar: The Last Airbender” fans, Kylo might be our Prince Zuko (#HONOR). Whereas Darth Maul or Count Dooku was absolutely evil, Kylo Ren is immediately given a backstory that no other villains in the series have had the pleasure of having that makes you invested in him, and the thoughts of a possible character arc or redemption story. While Vader was an enigma, we know within the first hour who Kylo is, even to the point of unmasking himself with the greatest of ease instead of drawing it out for another movie. He is a character with a heavy heart and a lot of anger, and in many ways is perhaps how Anakin should have been portrayed in episode 2 and 3 rather than the way he is. For the record, my theory of Kylo was that he was a clone of Anakin, and the big reveal in Episode IX would be when he takes off the mask to reveal Hayden Christenson underneath it. Tell me that would not have been awesome?
BB-8 is obnoxiously adorable to the point that I wanted to pick it up and put tiny cat ears and a tail on it and make it my pet. That’s what merchandise is for! The droid is the most expressive we have seen in a Star Wars film, and more emotive than R2-D2 was, which is impressive on its own.
I wish we had more of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and definitely more of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), but I suppose that is what the sequels are for. As of now, Phasma is presumed dead after being thrown into a trash compactor, but there is no way a character that awesome (and who is on all of the merchandise) could be tossed away like rubbish that easily. As for Poe, is anyone else shipping him and Finn together?
Seeing some of the originals again was great, and they were integrated not for the sake of nostalgia but as crucial parts of the story. This is certainly not the last time we will see them (except for Han, of course, but I bet he comes back as a spirit eventually), especially with Luke showing up at the conclusion. I am hoping that Lando Calrissian will make his triumphant comeback in the next one too, along with some more familiar alien species.
Episode VII is not without its flaws, and one of those is certainly the predictability of things. When Han confronted Kylo, everyone in the theater knew he was going to die except for the little kids (most of whom probably did not even know who Han was since no TV channels showed any of the SW films leading up to the release of this, shame on Disney). There are really not too many surprises here, the biggest one being the true identity of Kylo Ren. Everything else 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.
On that note, here is my nerdy complaint. Only X-Wings and TIE Fighters? What happened to the Y-Wing, A-Wing, B-Wing, TIE Bomber, TIE Interceptor, and damn near every other type of ship. Most importantly, my biggest qualm with the plot itself – WHY DID THEY NEED TO KILL THE NEW DEATH STAR ALREADY!!! Seriously, this thing was eight times bigger than the original and able to destroy multiple planets at once, and it gets taken out like a chump in the exact same way the original two Death Stars went down. Did the First Order not learn from the other two huge blunders? It would have been much cooler to save this big Death Star as a tease in this movie and make it into something really big and grand, rather than something that really did not get a lot of screen time or get hyped in a way that made it truly threatening (again, predictability of the movie).
Also, can we start a drinking game for whenever a character says “This map will tell us the location of Luke Skywalker”?
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.
The big issue I have seen many people debate is how much of a rehash this film is to “Episode IV: A New Hope”. Once again, we have a desert planet, a death star, a reluctant hero with family issues and a reason to stay in their sandy home, another Death Star, and plenty of other 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, with the destruction of the new super-duper Death Star. However, with all of the characters going their own way, and with the big reveal at the end, it is sequel fodder. We met everyone, we shot some stuff, blew some things up, and everyone is off adventuring until we see them again in the next film. What they are doing is not even hinted at with the exception of Rey, and that is a pretty big tease.
“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.