Rest assured Star Wars fans. You won’t have to complain endlessly about how Director J.J. Abrams further ruined your childhood. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will likely leave a new generation obsessed about a franchise from a galaxy far, far away. Longtime fans? Maybe not so much as the film undoes a lot of what made the original trilogy so beloved.
In this instance, it’d be a disservice to reveal too much of the plot details. There’s some major spoilers in the film so it’s best to see Awakens as soon as possible so you don’t read about the big reveals online rather than in the theater.
Thankfully, most of the online speculation and rumors were way off-base. And whoever cut the film’s trailer deserves a raise for whetting fans’ appetite to insatiable levels while preserving the film’s major moments.
Thirty years have passed since the events in Return of the Jedi. The First Order, the remnants of the Galactic Empire, are hunting down Luke Skywalker led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Clad in all black and wielding a red lightsaber, Ren’s similarities to Darth Vader are not a coincidence. Opposing the First Order is the Resistance led by Leia (Carrie Fisher) along with some old friends.
Through a series of random events, Finn (John Boyega) meets Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) before the pair separate and Finn meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desolate planet Jakku. Rey already stumbled onto Poe’s droid BB-8 and the trio attempt to return BB-8 to the Resistance and reveal the important information it carries.
For all the pre-Force Awakens hype, pretty much everyone is going to want a BB-8 of their own [Sphero BB-8 App-Enabled Droid] after seeing the movie. Eventually the trio meet up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca, who have an inside track in getting BB-8 to the Resistance provided they can outwit Kylo Ren and the First Order. Ford hasn’t been this much fun in a movie in years and his chemistry with Boyega and Ridley as the wily mentor is tremendous.
Awakens just feels like Star Wars in a way most of the prequels felt somewhat detached. This is the same lived-in Star Wars world of Tatooine, Hoth and Endor with large scale sets that don’t have that CGI-refined coat of polish from the prequels.
In one especially telling action sequence, the Millennium Falcon’s targeting display retains the same old school grid look from Star Wars.
There’s a lot of humor as well to further endear the characters and recapture that sense of regular folks in a galactic conflict, not like the stuffy Jedi and aristocratic politicians from the prequels.
While Star Wars creator George Lucas lost his way at times introducing new characters, creatures and concepts, Abrams takes a back to basic approach. Alien characters are added to help flesh out the story first and sell action figures second, not vice versa. Most intriguing were Han’s pal Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) and the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The humor isn’t forced and marketing doesn’t seem to influence storytelling decisions.
On the action front, Abrams delivers flawless Star Wars excitement from the space fights to lightsaber duels. While I’m equally excited about Rian Johnson tackling Episode VIII, Abrams shows he could have just as easily handled the entire new trilogy from a technical standpoint.
Force Awakens won’t be winning many points for originality with Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan treating the premise like a cover band’s version of A New Hope. From the main plot point of destroying the enemy planet killing base to the underutilized cool looking henchwoman Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), it feels a bit too familiar. Abrams and Kasdan also ditch some long-established Star Wars lore to establish its new main character, which plays out too much like a cheat without the necessary character development.
One major issue I had, and one I suspect will be shared by other fans who grew up with the franchise, is that Awakens isn’t so much the continuing adventures of Luke and company, but a passing of the torch to the new generation. And there’s also that sense that Luke and company didn’t do as great a job as we were led to believe at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Luke and the gang already had their epic trilogy and Awakens leaves little doubt this is not their story. It helps immeasurably that this new crew is so likable. Abrams gets passionate performances from his cast to help ingratiate them easier.
Finn is a lot of fun getting the bulk of the laughs in some terrific scenes with BB-8 and Chewbacca. Rey is all but guaranteed to become the new icon for young girls and woman of all ages while Ren provides a villain fans will have a tough time embracing — in a good way.
As the film unfolds, there is definitely the sense that we missed one heckuva trilogy detailing the events that led to where Awakens begins. I found myself just as intrigued as learning more of those events as I did the current situation.
There was just one decision I strongly disliked — it’s a spoiler — that I’m curious how it will impact the rest of this trilogy. Unlike both the original trilogy and the prequels, Awakens ends on a significant cliffhanger.
In several ways, Force Awakens felt like the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. It’s not like the fanbase won’t be breathlessly counting down to the next film, but the story isn’t hardly complete.
For now, it’s time to sit back and watch a well done Star Wars that has two more films to truly establish itself.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: 2014 Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures