After what feels like an eternity of waiting, Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens is now in theaters. As we all know this is the film that reunites the original cast of heroes in a new adventure taking place roughly 30 years after the end of Return of the Jedi. With the amount of marketing behind this movie, I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who is not aware of it’s existence.
It’s easy for people to say “Star Wars is back!” but for me, Star Wars never left. I’m a fan of the prequel trilogy and I’ve been on a pretty constant Star Wars high for nearly 20 years now. Star Wars has been at the forefront of my world since the re-release of the original trilogy began back in 1994.
The Force Awakens is a very appropriate title for this film. Star Wars as a movie franchise had been on the decline since the release of Revenge of the Sith in 2005. At the time, we were told over and over again that this was the final installment of the live action film saga. The franchise would continue on in multimedia projects but that there would be no more films. I was not happy about it, but I accepted it. It was George Lucas’ story and he had finished telling it. Of course, that all changed after Lucas sold his company and the franchise rights to Disney. After the purchase they immediately put Episode VII into production, you don’t spend $4 billion if you’re not going to make more movies.
Now the movie is upon us and everyone wants to know, is it any good? In short, yes, it’s very good. It’s immediately apparent that this is an extremely well made sci-fi action movie. It has great action scenes, exciting chases, evil villains and a thrilling climax. But, Star Wars is something different. There is a unique blend and feel to Star Wars. Star Wars is not your typical blockbuster. After my first viewing, it was clear that this was a great action movie, but I wasn’t sure about how it stood up as a Star Wars film. I’ve now seen the film 3 times, and with each viewing, it feels more and more like a Star Wars movie. You really need to see this movie more than once. It’s jam packed story wise and it’s easy for things to get lost in the shuffle.
The story is a similar to the original Star Wars A New Hope. Rey is the average person who gets pulled into the adventure and goes on the hero’s journey. Hers is not the only journey, but it is the central one to the plot. Daisy Ridley plays Rey. Ridley is a relative unknown with only a few minor TV credits. She is great and carries much of the film. It seems that her real life story mirrors her character’s story as she plucked from obscurity and thrust into the middle of this whirlwind.
Joining Rey is the droid BB-8, who is as adorable on screen as we all expected him to be, and Finn. BB-8 is the R2-D2 of the story, the droid who carries the McGuffin of the film, a map leading to Luke Skywalker’s location. Finn is a Stormtrooper who realizes on his first mission that he is part of the bad guys. John Boyega has a lot of fun with the character and he gets quite a few laughs. Finn starts out as a coward but slowly becomes a hero. I wonder how different his character will be in Episode VIII as he, quite literally, will have grown a backbone.
Trying to stop our heroes is the First Order. They have grown out of the ashes of the Empire. They are led by Supreme Leader Snoke, who we see only as a 25 ft tall hologram, his apprentice Kylo Ren, and General Hux. Kylo Ren is an interesting villain. He is powerful in the Force but acts more like a petulant child than the Sith Lords we have been accustomed to. General Hux is great as the quintessential Star Wars British bad guy. Domnhall Gleason gives Hux a fevered megalomania mixed with that kind of subdued British attitude that we Americans expect all British people to have. Snoke gives off a very Wizard of Oz vibe, I’m sure that the character is hiding something. Only someone who is trying to overcompensate projects themselves as a massive artificial figure.
Along the way, our new heroes and villains encounter our old heroes, Han, Chewie, and Leia. Luke is mentioned often but is only actually seen twice. Han and Chewie play the biggest parts as they help Rey, Finn, and BB-8 with their mission. Han and Leia get several great scenes as they try to repair their broken family. I was glad to see that the new filmmakers carried forward the ideas of family and redemption that were so important to the original films.
There is a lot to enjoy in this movie, but not everything worked for me. The biggest sticking point for me was the First Order’s Starkiller Base. Much like the Death Star, it’s a weapon capable of massive destruction. We are told that it will drain the sun’s energy until it “disappears” and then is capable of firing a blast that can travel across the galaxy to destroy a planet. We see it destroy the New Republic capital, it’s unclear if this is Coruscant or not, but I think it’s supposed to be a new planet. It’s never fully explained if the weapon drains the same sun multiple times or if it moves to a new star system each time or if the base can move at all. When we see the weapon fire the blast moves slowly across the screen. From what we see, it looks like the weapon was in the same system as the planet destroyed, but I don’t think that is the intention. I don’t expect real life accurate physics, but we do need to understand the rules and limitations of how these items work.
Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren is one that I can’t decide if I liked it or not. His Kylo Ren is very cold and flat for most of the time. It seems like an intentional choice to play him very stoic but then have his emotions explode out when he loses control. Kylo Ren seems to have more in common with the Jedi of old than the Sith. Coming off of the villains of the original films where both Darth Vader and Palpatine were very emotional and expressive it can at times feel very odd.
The filmmakers have created a fun, action movie that delivers on everything we expect from a Star Wars film. It would’ve been so easy for them to just give us nothing but fan service, and there is a lot of fan service in the film, but they show restraint and focus on building a new chapter that fits with the existing stories. I’m excited to see where they take this story in Episodes VIII & IX.