I have always been a fan of Star Wars since the days of sitting down with my Dad to watch the original trilogy. I am not, however, one of the members of the angry majority who think the Star Wars prequels are the worst things to ever happen to cinema. There were many things to appreciate about those films (Darth Maul and Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine), but there is no denying that they were missing many of the things (charismatic characters, well placed humor, practical effects) that made the franchise so beloved. For that reason… and also to make an excessive amount of money… Disney felt the need to rekindle the Star Wars saga, picking up where the original trilogy left off.
The Force Awakens picks up a few decades after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Original trilogy hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing, and in his mysterious absence a new oppressive regime known as the First Order has replaced the Empire. To go into further detail would risk accidentally spilling elements of the plot that director J.J. Abrams and Disney have valiantly gone out of their way to keep under wraps. This is a welcomed aspect, especially in a time where many films have too much of their plots given away in the trailers (*cough* Batman v Superman). What I will say about the story, is that it feels much more like the Star Wars films of old, and includes several nods to the original trilogy that are sure to please die hard fans.
Rather than talk about the story, I’ll focus on what really makes this Star Wars film the best since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back… and that is the characters. Old and new, this film is filled with lovable and interesting characters. From Harrison Ford’s Han Solo to Anthony Daniels’ small appearance as C3PO, all of the old faces bring a wonderful nostalgia to this film that gave me a feeling similar to the one I had watching Jurassic World. Ford, who gets the most screen time of the returning cast, fits seamlessly back into his breakthrough role and rekindles his charming chemistry with Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca and Carrie Fisher’s Leia.
But it’s the new faces that not only make The Force Awakens refreshingly fun, but something that makes us look forward to the films to come. It’s hard to pinpoint which new character is the heart and soul of the movie. John Boyega is charmingly funny and endearing as Finn, a First Order Stormtrooper who changes sides. Oscar Isaac brings a cocky suaveness to his role as pilot Poe Dameron. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a female character that is refreshingly intelligent and strong reminiscent of Princess Leia’s appearance in the original Star Wars. Then there’s BB-8, a lovable round robot similar to R2-D2, but with a childlike personality that makes him feel like anything but a retread.
As for the villains, most of them don’t get enough screen time to garner any reactions, positive or negative. The exception being the menacing primary antagonist Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. For me, Kylo Ren steals the show, and Driver gives a layered performance that gives the character more personality than we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars villain. The character is physically intimidating, but has a rawness about him that make him even more intriguing than even Darth Vader was.
This time Star Trek director J.J. Abrams is at the helm to replace series creator George Lucas. And from the moment the opening scene begins, the difference is noticeable. Several shots, like those involving the classic Millennium Falcon, are absolutely breathtaking. That isn’t to say that this movie isn’t without its flaws. One scene in particular, involving Han Solo and some gangsters, is almost completely useless. The movie also takes a predictable turn in its last half hour once most of the secrets have been revealed.
For those that loathe Star Wars and don’t quite grasp the hype, there is nothing here that will change your mind. But for the die hard fan, it is the Star Wars movie you’ve been waiting for. As for the casual fan, or even the newcomer, Star Wars: The Force Awakens provides enough humor, action, and interesting characters to make for one of the most enjoyable movies of the year and easily one of the best in the franchise.
FINAL GRADE: A-