30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
One of my earliest memories is going to see Return of the Jedi in the theater, I was about four years old. The film made a lasting impression, as it’s one of the earliest memories I have, particularly a scene in the throne room featuring to guard dressed in red just standing at attention next to a door. I remember the experience as magical, and 32 years later I walked out of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens with that same magical feeling.
For the running time of a little over 2 hours, from the first Lucasfilm logo to the last, I felt something I haven’t felt in a theater in a log time, like a kid. I felt joy, and watched a film that hit me in a way I haven’t experienced in a film in years. And I’ll admit, I teared up quite a few times with an overwhelming feeling of joy. And this is from someone who is not a Star Wars fanboy. I own very little paraphernalia, but I can watch the original films (and even the three prequels) over and over.
The Force Awakens is nowhere perfect. Some plot lines aren’t explained, and some scenes could have been done without, but overall, the movie captures the feel of the original trilogy the second completely missed. The plot is almost a rehash of A New Hope mixed with some Empire. And that combination still feels like something new and fun.
It’s hard to write a solid review without spoilers, but here I go.
The Force Awakens does an amazing job of mixing characters old and new, and it truly feels like a passing of a torch in many ways. Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, and BB-8, all are new characters but they seamlessly blend with Han, Leia, Chewy, and the Millennium Falcon (a character on its own). But, what’s fantastic is the series gives us so much in those characters that are new. Rey is a female lead who can stand on her own. Finn is a conflicted Stormtrooper who plays a more traditional gender role, highlighting Rey’s independence. Poe, the badass pilot. And new roles for old characters as well, Leia, now a General. These are faces that emphasize anyone can be a hero no matter your gender, size, or skin color. And, it’s done in a way that’s subtle, creating a modern Star Wars, a more inclusive world (weird to say about a film that had lots of aliens milling about with each other with no issues). The acting as a whole is what I’d expect for a Star Wars film, more on par with the original trilogy, than the substandard acting of the prequels.
The smartest move was the return to practical special-fx, moving away from digital, something that hurt the prequels. This created a sense of more realism and creatures and items you could touch. That adds to the magical feeling missing from the prequels.
The film too is nearly all action, taking some of the best moments of the six films, and just going with that, giving us dogfights and aerial maneuvers that take you for a ride, especially in 3D. And there’s more of that. A lot more of that.
The film isn’t perfect. The First Order isn’t explained. The Resistance/Republic relationship isn’t explained. How others can wield lightsabers so easy isn’t explained, or a Stormtrooper can parry one with their own sword like item. Poe getting back to base is left open. The Force is now more like a mutant power, emerging when angry or under stress. There’s a few sequences I’d have cut out, and the film hit some nostalgia so close, they might as well instead have done a shot for shot remake. Phasma was woefully underused in the film. And the score isn’t nearly as memorable.
But, what’s new, how it’s packaged and flows is what’s amazing. I really felt like I was at an experience, and I was getting to see old friends on the big screen again. The film is pure joy for its entire 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn near close. For a film to make me feel like I was 4 years old back watching Return of the Jedi in the theater, that’s magic.
Overall Rating: 9.5
Director – J.J. Abrams
Starring – Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Rated – PG-13
Run Time – 135 minutes