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Movie Review - Star Wars The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the newest entry in the legendary Star Wars movie franchise. It is directed by J J Abrams, and stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, as well as cameos from Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill.
The film opens with a sudden attack on a rebel camp on a desert planet called Jakku. The First Order, a massive military group aimed at destroying the Republic, invades the camp looking for a mysterious map held by one of the rebel soldiers. This map, which may hold directions for finding famed Jedi Luke Skywalker, is given to a BB-8 droid by it's owner, pilot Po Dameron. BB-8 escapes, but Po is taken captive and tortured by the Kylo Ren, a student of the dark side and one of the leaders of the First Order.
Po is set free when a young Stormtrooper named Finn orchestrates an escape plan, eager to get away from the cruelty and destruction of the First Order he has been enslaved to for most of his life. Meanwhile, BB-8 has been befriended by Rey, a human orphan who spends her days scavenging parts from wrecked imperial cruisers left behind from decades old battles. The three of them end up stealing the derelict Millennium Falcon and are quickly apprehended by its owner, the one and only Han Solo!
They meet up with the rest of the rebels, led by General Leia, and the plot turns to an attempt to shut down a massive planet sized weapon operated by the First Order. Finn and Rey, who now has a light saber and an inkling of her Force sensitivity, face Kylo Ren and defeat him along with the Starkiller.
The lifeblood of any film is the characters, and these new players don't disappoint! Rey is a great protagonist; she is smart, strong, and capable, but has a gentle side that longs for her missing family. Finn the Stormtrooper is a kind man who refuses to kill and desperately wants to escape the cruel military he's forced to be a part of. BB-8, a little round rolling snowman droid, is like a mixture of R2-D2 and Wall-e. Though he never says a word, his sound effects and body language make him an adorable droid sidekick.
The bad guys don't fare quite as well, however. I found Kylo Ren to be a bit boring, and he loses a lot of the intimidation factor once he removes his helmet and we see the young boy underneath. The only other major baddies are a young First Order general named Hux, who doesn't stand out as anything other than your typical Nazi-like military guy, and Snoke, a strange alien lord who gives orders via a hologram. I did like chrome-armored Captain Phasma, though we saw very little of her.
There are several returning characters as well. Han Solo, now older and grizzled, returns with his pal Chewbacca. Princess Leia, who prefers the title of general, is back too, and we get a tiny glimpse of Luke at the very end.
The story wasn't amazingly new or different, and many aspects of it followed the original trilogy a bit too much. Rey takes the part of Luke Skywalker, a young nobody with enormous potential who struggles to learn about her power. The plot of a huge, evil army against a small rebel force, as well as the creation of a huge planet-killing weapon, are lifted right out of the older movies. There's even a father/son conflict on a high catwalk, and a scene where a handful of X wing fighters have to hit a small target on the Death Star - oops, I mean Starkiller.
The most original part of the story was the character of Finn. Until now, the movies haven't shown us much of who the Stormtroopers are under the helmets. The CG animated Clone Wars series showed the old clone versions, but most of them were copies who simply did exactly what they were told. With Finn, we get to see that not everyone on the bad side is actually bad, especially when he reveals that he didn't join by choice, but was forcibly conscripted as a young child. His character is a refreshing take on a part of this universe that we haven't seen on the big screen.
One of the most welcome new changes is the attention to diversity in the cast and extras. There are lots of new faces in The Force awakens, representing lots of different types of people. The two main characters, Rey and Finn, are a woman and a black man, and both are presented as good people searching for their place in the universe. Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, is a high ranking female stormtrooper. We don't see much of her in this film (she doesn't even take her helmet off), but I'm hoping there will be lots more of her in later movies.
I'm actually a bit disappointed that Lupita Nyong'o was in the film only as the voice of a CG character. I would have liked to have seen her as a cool Jedi or some other type of sci fi fighter!
Overall, I liked The Force Awakens. It will take time to determine what ranking it has against the other six films, but for now I think it's a worthwhile entry into the franchise. My only real complaint is the excessive amounts of nostalgia bait - plot similarities, repeated lines and callbacks from the original trilogy are far too frequent and dull the excitement a little. I'm hoping that future installments will have a bit more originality, and not just regurgitate concepts from the past.
I give this film 4 stars out of 5. I enjoyed this peek into the future of Star Wars, and I'm curious to see what Luke adds to the mix later on. I can't wait for the next film!