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Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens - Review
First Order of Business
First of all let me offer a brief SPOILER FREE review of the film before I delve a little bit deeper into it.
As a lifelong Star Wars fan I can recall walking out of Revenge of the Sith with very mixed emotions. On the one hand the third prequel film was better than the previous two installments and thus it was tempting to hail it as the prequel that finally got it right. Of course as time went on Revenge seemed less and less impressive until it was finally just, "the prequel that wasn't as bad as the other two".
I have to make sure that this review is taken, at least in part, with a grain of salt because the movie has only just come out and I've only seen it once so far.
With that said The Force Awakens is... pretty damn good, but not great. It's thrilling, exciting, it has a ton of energy and life to it and it genuinely feels like we are back in the Star Wars Universe we are familiar with, and not just a cheap cartoony CG world like in the prequels. Things seem to have depth and weight, CG is used only when necessary and the acting isn't negatively impacted by overuse of a blue/green screen.
Han Solo, man is it great to have that character back, and see Harrison Ford actually giving a damn again. Ford has not missed a beat, he falls right back into the character and is just as charming as he ever was. He steals the movie as far as I'm concerned.
Our new characters are also pretty great and, thankfully, our villains are actually interesting this time around, unlike in the prequels where we had Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grevious, none of whom had back stories or interesting drama with the other characters, here we have Kylo Ren, who has a SERIOUS connection to our other characters.
The movie is pretty funny though not all of the humor lands. Obviously there is plenty of fan service in seeing all the old faces again but it doesn't feel forced or overly pandering. There wasn't a moment where I felt they were pushing hard for me to FEEL a certain way with the music/visuals, rather all the emotion, excitement and laughs seemed to come organically from the story and characters (as it should be).
All in all a pretty good time though it doesn't quite, for me at least, live up the original trilogy it may be that this is a new Star Wars for a new generation that will, in twenty years time, be as meaningful for that generation as the originals were for me growing up.
8 out of 10
SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON
I went into the movie with fairly high expectations expecting to see lot's of forced fan service and expect the score by John Williams, to be used in a such a way to force emotional reactions. Instead the fan service felt appropriate when used and the score, as usual, was excellent but wasn't simply pandering.
If I have a major complaint with the film it is the re-use of the Death Star. Now for those who have seen the movie you know that, as far as story beats are concerned, Force Awakens is essentially a remake, or what is called a SOFT REBOOT in the movie business, of the original Star Wars (A New Hope). Every last story beat that is recycled here, however, seemed appropriate, EXCEPT the reuse of the super-weapon countdown to total doom while a band of rag tag rebels fights back.
In fact it didn't make much sense to me at all that the Rebel Alliance, now called the Resistance, should be called the Resistance when they are no doubt closely allied to the New Republic. I am guessing that there is some hidden politics we aren't told about that caused the New Republic to distance itself from the Rebellion, perhaps they rose to power without the help of the Rebellion and thus were actually political opponents of the Rebels.
One of the things I've seen a lot of reviews of the movie ask is how the First Order maintained so much power but I think this is easily explained. When the Empire was falling in Return of the Jedi and the events after it's easy to see how a faction might have broken off and re-branded themselves even as the old Empire was being crushed in the Battle of Jakku.
I really liked the character of Kylo Ren.
I've seen some people complaining that Kylo Ren is a low-rent Darth Vader knock-off and a whiny petulant brat but they seem to miss that that is exactly the point. Ren is not a SITH LORD but is a former Jedi who fell to the Dark Side but still very much struggles with his emotions. As such he's not meant to be as fallen as Darth Vader but is, rather, exactly the sort of thing Anakin should have been in the prequels, a Jedi who lost control of his emotions and turned to the Dark Side but who is essentially a rogue Jedi NOT yet fully a Sith.
Personally this gives Kylo Ren something that Vader didn't have in a New Hope, that is actual character depth and a way to grow. Personally I was reminded of the character of Zuko in the execellent animated series Last Airbender. Essentially an angsty teen with Daddy issues Zuko was a villain in the first season of the show who later gets more and more depth added before finally turning to the good side. Now that Ren is scarred and humiliated there is the chance for him to become a more disciplined and terrifying villain in the next movie, before ultimately either facing redemption OR being killed in the third movie.
Also, the part where he stops a laser blast in mid-air is easily one of the coolest Star Wars things I've ever seen and I am so happy to see that THE FORCE is no longer about midichlorians and works the way it did in the original trilogy.
I really like that rather than keep his ties to the Skywalker lineage a secret they are up front about it, before the movie is even half over we know he is the son of Han Solo and Leia.
If Rey has any faults it's that her character is TOO amazing. Not only is she a good tinkerer and mechanic due to all the time she's spent collecting junk and dissecting ships but she proves herself a competent pilot and decent lightsaber duelist with little or no training required.
Of course some of this is all tied to the way the Force has AWAKENED within her but it essentially means she has the skills of Luke and Han rolled into one amazing character with few if any real faults showing themselves during the movie.
The one questionable move she makes is in being too afraid to face her destiny, which is, of course, part of the Monomyth of the Heroes Journey, known as the Refusal of the Call. I am very interested in exploring this character more in future movies.
I worried that Finn would not be properly utilized but his character is both interesting and new within the Star Wars canon. Up until this point Storm Troopers are generally useless and faceless, now here's one with a face who isn't all that bad at aiming to shoot stuff. He is competent in certain areas but unsure of his skills.
This also dispels the idea that the Empire and First Order use only clones as Storm Troopers as Finn was stolen from his family at birth and raised to be a Storm Trooper. His name even comes from his designation, because he was never given a true name.
His interactions with Rey and Poe and there is real chemistry between the actors. His fate is left uncertain at the end of the movie, leaving plenty of room for the story to grow.
Poe Dameron is by far the most underutilized character in the film. Ace X-Wing pilot and all around bad-ass it is Poe who is entrusted with the map to Luke and spends the rest of the movie trying to get it back.
His interactions with Finn in the beginning are great.
One of the best and funniest characters in the movie, the scene where he rolls down the stairs one stair at a time is priceless.
All in all the movie is pretty good. The Plot to Star Wars movies has never really been all that great or in-depth rather Star Wars is a homage to old Space Opera serials where the viewer would fall in love with the characters and the world around them and have to tune in next week to see the exciting conclusion.
JJ Abrams, the cast, crew, writing staff, etc have recaptured what Star Wars is all about, fun, excitement, space adventure, and characters worth rooting for or against. It's not a perfect movie and for many it probably can't live up to the originals but I liked it and I think most Star Wars fans will at least admit that it was far better than the prequels and re-establishes the Star Wars Universe for a new generation of movie-goers.