Movie Review: The Force Awakens
So a new Star Wars movie was recently released. Did you hear about that? It snuck up on me. I guess I better talk about it.
Since the events of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has gone missing. Between films, Luke was trying to restore the Jedi. However, one of his trainees - Kylo Ren - was lured in by the Dark Side, in an attempt to emulate Darth Vader. Kylo Ren and his regime The New Order are searching for a map that reveals Luke's whereabouts. To hide it, a resistance member stashes it in a droid which winds up in the hands of Ren, mysterious fighter with no family and Finn, a defected stormtrooper. Attempting to return the droid - and thus the map - to the resistance, Finn and Rey align themselves with Han Solo and Chewbacca.
I better start out with the elephant in the room. Not only is it the biggest flaw of the film, but it is also something that might turn off a lot of fans. The Force Awakens... borrows a bit from A New Hope. I seriously had to pick my brain to write a synopsis that did not sound too much like Episode IV. I should probably elaborate that I am NOT one of those Cinema Sins-types who looks for itches to scratch because it gets me more hits. I go to movies to enjoy them. However, some of these moments were so blatant that I was thinking "Are you kidding?"
To this film's credit, some of these "been-there-done-that" moments usually at least have a unique take. In fact, a few of them even top their predecessor. There is a scene that is the equivalent to the Aldernan-destruction from Episode IV that outdoes that scene. The scene in A New Hope was a great moment that demonstrated the power of the Death Star and the ruthlessness of the villains. In The Force Awakens, not only is that demonstrated, but we see so much more. The film takes its time: We see the planet-destroying laser fly across space long enough for the heroes to react. The film shows the residents of the planet before their demise, adding impact to their destruction. Another minor flaw is one scene with some ugly CGI effects. Most of the special effects look amazing, but there is one scene with some absolutely hideous CGI monsters. I bring up these flaws because despite these issues, The Force Awakens works.
I may have harped on the plot being a little too similar to A New Hope, but story is not always the most important aspect. After all, I would have a hard time summarizing ANY of the Star Wars movies in one sentence - unless I used a whole lot of commas. For me, the original trilogy's story picked up around The Empire Strikes Back, and A New Hope was more of an experience where we were introduced to the worlds, the characters and absorbed in the atmosphere. The Force Awakens is very much the same way. This film is a genius balance between action and mood. J.J. Abrams has already shown he can direct superb action scenes in the newer Star Trek films, and he brings that flair to the space battles and lightsaber duels fans have been dying to see.
However, there are still plenty of quiet moments. When the film introduces Rey, it is through a series of shots with no dialogue, only visually striking scenes accompanied by John Williams's masterful score. Even the scene where Finn defects from The New Order is brilliantly done. As a stormtrooper, we can't even see Finn's face so every emotion is communicated through body language only. New ideas and scenes are brought to the table as well. After years of characters who were experienced in star battles and using the force, seeing characters who have no idea what they are doing, and have to learn how to fly these ships and use the trademark weapons is a fresh change. Although I used the phrase "space battles" earlier, the film has a lot of battles on or near land, including seeing the Millenium Falcon fly close to land.
Speaking of Finn and Rey, they are the new heroes at the party, and they are welcome guests. Finn switches to the good side after losing his nerve and seeing the evil ways of the New Order. He is kind of a dork who wants to be a hero and is all talk but learns to be brave (sort of the Star Wars equivalent of Flynn from Tangled). Rey is a more conventional hero. She is tough and survives on her own. There are some surreal and even cerebral moments when the film shows her past and coping with learning the force. Rey is tough enough to be a good hero, but soft enough to be likable.
One of the great things about the two leads is that they feel balanced. In some scenes, Rey is the strong one who has to rescue Finn. In other scenes, Rey is weak and Finn needs to save the day. Also, joining the series is Oscar Issac as Poe, a rogue pilot. He does not have a ton of screen time, but he is entertaining. I hope the sequels see more screen time with him and Finn. In the few scenes they had together, they developed a rapport and had some chemistry.
Kylo Ren is a mixed bag as a villain. At first he comes off like a poor man's Darth Vader - the man he wants to emulate. However, as we see more of his actions and the film delves into more of his psychology, Ren develops his own personality and stands as a solid villain. Incidentally, between Finn's awkwardness and Ren's desire to emulate Vader, the film almost feels like a tribute to the fans. Think about it: Finn is a dork who is in over his head and pretends to be one of his heroes. Ren wants to copy an iconic man of lore. Sound familiar?
Even after the trailers, I was worried that the three leads would only be glorified cameos and get top billing for name recognition. (Okay, that is accurate for one character. Look, the plot is about the search for Luke. It's NOT a spoiler that he doesn't have a ton of screen time.) Harrison Ford is in much of the movie as Han Solo. Solo has the perfect balance of acknowledging Ford's age while still having a lot of the roguish nature that defined the character. Naturally, Chewie is still along. Having more screen time and chances to be themselves, Chewie and Han show their chemistry and joke around, almost coming off like a space Abbot and Costello.
The time gap between the movies adds to the experience. When Han and Leia see each other for the first time in this film, we know the years apart are real. We feel their separation. Ford and Fisher communicate their rocky relationship not just with their words, but also their tones and body language. The time gap between this film and Return of the Jedi is so wide that the characters have become myths and legends in their own universe. And don't worry, Admiral Ackbar makes a comeback. However, he never says "It's a trap!" To be honest, I am not upset. Much like Creed, I was worried that this film would have a ton of obnoxious in-jokes and references only die hard fans would get. Fortunately, like Creed, this never happened. The film has humor and it does work... most of the time.
This review is meant to be as spoiler free as possible, but I would like to talk about the ending. All I will say is it left me speechless. It is this absolutely beautiful crescendo of music, suspense and visuals that - no joke - gave me goosebumps (one of the few endings to do that since Tim Burton's Batman). It is the perfect ending that decidedly pumps me and certainly millions of others for Episode VIII.
In conclusion... Eh, who needs a conclusion. This film is brilliant. As of this writing, The Force Awakens has already made bank. Millions of people have seen it, millions of people will see it, and most people will probably read this review just to compare notes.
Favorite Star Wars Film
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