Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
As you read this, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is breaking all kinds of box office records. It’s already shattered the Thursday night and opening day records, and is quickly climbing to the highest grossing movie ever. Is it really that good, or is this just a case of it reaping the benefits of everyone waiting for a new Star Wars film, like Episode I did? Well, let’s take a look.
When I first heard that JJ Abrams was tapped to direct the new episode, I was simultaneously happy and worried. I liked the fact that he was a Star Wars fan, and that he had a ton of love and respect for the material. But I was worried that he would carry out a bit of the same tonal changes he did for Star Trek. Maybe it was just my Post Traumatic George Syndrome kicking in. I don’t know. But my concerns were eventually alleviated by news that he was teaming up with Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi writer Lawrence Kasdan, and that George Lucas would have little to nothing to do with this. And after seeing the film, it’s clear that my concerns were in vain.
With JJ behind the camera, this film has all the nostalgic feeling of the original trilogy. And with his focus being more on practical effects than CGI, Abrams manages to bring back the realistic feel of the original trilogy, making even some of the scenes and settings we’ve never laid eyes on in past films seem distantly familiar. He also keeps the film moving along in a fairly brisk manner, with only one bit that I felt that might be unnecessary, yet it includes a cameo of two of my favorite martial arts action stars – and if you are fan of Gareth Evans’ action films, you will definitely notice them.
The writing here is the best out of the entire franchise. As I said above, Lawrence Kasdan returns to co-write the film with JJ Abrams from an early draft by Michael Arndt. The dialogue is great, slipping in bits of levity unexpectedly that often had the theater laughing loud enough for me to miss the next few lines. It also feels far more natural than the last installments. The story is nuanced and complex, with a lot being shrouded in mystery. It is given plenty of time to develop, and isn’t rushing to give us unnecessary fan service, or get to the next big action scene. It takes its time to further immerse us in the world with new and old characters before getting into the heavier bits of the story – yet it doesn’t drag. Also, the editing is nice and tight, and at 2 hours and 15 minutes, it’s a film that feels perfectly paced, yet over all too quickly. Though that may just be the fan in me. Also, the old familiar wipe transitions are back, and aren’t overdone with every scene change.
John Williams is back once again to compose the score for this latest installment, and he does such an amazing job of making his music feel like it could fit right in with the original trilogy, and still feel like it only belongs paired with The Force Awakens. As well, cinematographer Dan Mindel, who worked with JJ Abrams on Mission: Impossible III and both Star Trek films, does great work here. I hope he returns to work with Rian Johnson for Episode VIII, though I’m sure JJ might have another project for him, and Johnson might have his own cinematographer.
As for the cast, every one here is does very well. John Boyega is great as Finn, the Storm Trooper with a conscience who goes AWOL. Though he is a bit manic, he tends to make for some funny moments, and he plays off his co-stars quite well. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is fun to watch, as he is a very charismatic character that makes you miss him a bit when he’s not on screen. His bits with Boyega’s Finn are some of the funniest in the film. Adam Driver is Kylo Ren, the unstable and dangerous weilder of the cross-guard lightsaber. Though not a one note cartoon villain, he also isn’t explored as much as I would have liked, but given how the story plays out, and his relationship to with both Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), I fully expect that there will be more about his character covered in Episode VIII.
However, the real star of this show is Daisy Ridley as Rey. Working on the desert planet Jakku as a scavenger, awaiting the return of her family, she gets swept up in this adventure by Boyega’s Finn. There are a couple of things I thoroughly enjoy about Daisy in this film: For one, her character is not a damsel in distress. She’s a self-sufficient woman, who isn’t afraid to punch above her weight at a moments notice, and the script has deft little cues to highlight this cool quality of her character. As for Daisy herself, she does an excellent job. She outshines her co-stars with an emotional depth and charm that kind of surprised me. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing her in an Oscar winning role at some point in the not too distant future.
And in a final note about the cast, I have to say that it’s great to see the old crew back together again. I grew up with the original trilogy as a kid, so seeing the old cast together again – everyone from C-3PO to Han Solo – did bring a bit of a tear to the eye of my five year old inside. And I feel like I have to say something of the fan service of this film: It was done perfectly. We don’t get the muddled attempt to throw everything that the filmmakers know we like into the film as soon as possible. Instead, we get a steady trickle of it, and it fits into the story perfectly!
So, to sum up, just about everything about this latest Star Wars installment is near perfect. We finally get the Star Wars film we deserve, and then some – because, let’s be honest, after the prequel trilogy, the stakes for getting the next films right rose even higher. JJ Abrams and company have definitely risen to the challenge and exceeded expectations!
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