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Star Wars Films

The Force Awakens (Star Wars - Episode VII) - Movies

Title: The Force Awakens

Director: J.J. Abrams

Release Date: December 18, 2015

Timeline: 66 years after The Phantom Menace; 30 years after Return of the Jedi

Additional Reference: 34 years after A New Hope

Runtime: 136 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Mike Taber; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

This is a full review. Spoiler warning applies...

Review | Talking Points | Discussion

Every generation has a story.

Review

 "That's not how the Force works." SPOILERS.

The Force Awakens is far from a perfect movie, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a blast watching it. Driven by an impeccable cast, The Force Awakens offered a fun, compelling adventure in a galaxy far, far away. With that being said, The Force Awakens is also a film that has several glaring flaws. Most of my major issues with The Force Awakens can be traced back to the script written by JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan. With the prequels, we generally knew how it was going to end. The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars movie since 1983 where we really had no clue what to expect next. Yet, Abrams and Kasdan wrote a story that is essentially a remake of A New Hope. I understand why this direction was taken. It was a safe direction, but a disappointing one for those of us who have been fans of Star Wars for so long. I will say that the movie theater I went to was filled with kids whose eyes were glued to screen at all times. Not one of them made a noise during the movie. I'm sure Disney has succeeded in igniting a whole new generation of fans. Having the story in this film mirror that of A New Hope so closely isn't a brave or creative choice, but I understand that it was most likely done to capture a new generation of fans. I was able to easily recognize that story was essentially an updated version of A New Hope, but the characters, performances, and sense of fun kept me enthralled throughout most of the movie. The forced fan service like including the Dejarik table and overt A New Hope rehashing like the assault on Starkiller base were too distracting to overlook though. Starkiller base and the trench run style attack on it are the best examples of obvious A New Hope rehashing. My eyes glazed over during the aerial assault on Starkiller base. Having the final act revolve around destroying what is essentially the Death Star part three was very disappointing. Say what you want about the prequels, but at least Lucas didn't just try to tell the same story over again. The plot also depended on several contrivances and forced the audience to make assumptions to fill in the blanks. I like the idea that this movie is about the search for Luke Skywalker, but having the plot revolve around a map to his secret location didn't really make sense. Why would Luke leave a map to his location if he went into hiding? Also, why did Max Von Sydow's character have part of the map? Who was he and why was he so trusted? A few lines of dialogue about his background would've gone a long way. Again, the search for Luke is a compelling story on paper but it seems out of character that he would go into hiding after Kylo "Ben" Ren fell to the darkside and destroyed his fledging Jedi Order. I just don't see the Luke we knew in the original trilogy leaving the galaxy and his friends behind because he failed to train Ben. Coincidence has always been a part of Star Wars, but the plot of The Force Awakens leaned on that idea a little too heavily. After Rey discovered Luke/Anakin's lightsaber in Maz Kanata's castle, I was waiting for the reveal Han took her there because he knew Maz had the lightsaber but apparently he was as shocked as Rey was. Another area where the script struggled was world building. The relationship between the Republic and Resistance and how the First Order was able to amass so much power never became clear. In addition, I was disappointed that Ackbar and Nien Nunb were the only existing aliens we saw in The Force Awakens. I understand the desire to create new, iconic creatures but having a Rodian or Weequay in the background would've gone a long way to help make this feel like a more cohesive universe.

   

The underdeveloped story was disappointing, but I was even more by disappointed John Williams' score. It pains me to write that. John Williams has always been an essential part of Star Wars. I've always felt that his music was so important that it felt like a character in of itself, and I barely recognized that character in The Force Awakens. His score was almost nonexistent at times. I heard no new, iconic themes. When I noticed the score, it was usually when I heard recycled themes from the original trilogy. The prequels have their issues, but Williams' delivered fantastic scores in those films. The score may not have delivered, but this movie looked wonderful. The cinematography was sublime. The mix of practical effects and CGI produced a wonderful looking film that didn't feel hollow or fake. As I discussed, JJ Abrams' script had several issues but he's a talented director. Something I think The Force Awakens did really well was capturing the feelings of fun, wonder, and adventure that are essential in Star Wars movies. To me this felt like Star Wars. When watching the movie I felt the sense of wonder you should get watching a Star Wars movie. Perhaps, most importantly it was fun. The action was fun and well directed, and the characters were so likable that I was willing to follow them on this adventure to the end. An aspect of Star Wars that is sometimes underappreciated is the humor. It was an important part of the original trilogy. The humor in The Force Awakens fell short a few times, but overall I thought this was a very funny movie.

   

Now that I've talked about the story and the more technical aspects of the film, I want to talk about the characters. New and old. The best place to start is with our new main character, Rey. Daisy Ridley is a revelation. She's a phenomenal actress. I can't say enough about the work she did in this movie. I really like her character, particularly in the first half of the film, but I did feel the emergence of her Force abilities was incredibly rushed. I'm actually okay with Rey being able to defeat a severely injured Kylo Ren but having her use a Jedi mind trick with zero training and not even knowing what the Force is was ridiculous. I really like Rey, but I wish Abrams hadn't taken a shortcut in her development. Her abilities didn't feel earned. However, I feel very confident having Daisy Ridley's Rey at the center of this new trilogy. Her Force abilities felt rushed in this movie, but Rey is a compelling, likable character and Daisy Ridley is an amazing actress. I can't wait to see what she brings to the role in Episode VIII. John Boyega's Finn is a character I liked more than I thought I would. His character fell flat a few times, but this was a promising start. You could tell John Boyega was having the time of his life. I thought Finn's storyline was well handled throughout the film. His journey from cowardly Stormtrooper to heroic resistance fighter was a compelling one. I also enjoyed his brotherly relationship with Poe Dameron. Unfortunately, Poe Dameron wasn't given very much to do in the film. Oscar Isaac made the most of his screen time though. I had seen some of Isaac's work prior to this so I knew he was a very talented actor, but the fact that he was able to make Poe such a likable character with the screen time he was given is a testament to his skill. As expected, Poe's droid BB-8 was a scene stealer. BB-8 could've very easily been an annoying character but you couldn't help but fall in love with him. I'm glad Kylo Ren wasn't just a carbon copy of Darth Vader, who he is obsessed with. Kylo Ren is different kind of Star Wars villain. He's unstable, obsessive, paranoid, vulnerable, and conflicted. One of my biggest reliefs in watching the film was that they didn't wait to reveal Kylo Ren was Han and Leia's son until the confrontation on the bridge. I thought Abrams and company handled that very well and Adam Driver absolutely killed it. His acting in the scene with Han on bridge was some of the finest acting I've seen in any Star Wars movie. The Kylo Ren character could've been a disaster, but Adam Driver and Abrams have created a very intriguing character. However, some new characters didn't fare as well. What a waste of screen time Captain Phasma was. I never expected Phasma to have a large role, but she was useless and incompetent in her four minutes of fame. When she immediately shut down the shields at Starkiller base to save herself, she transformed from underdeveloped character into an awful character. It completely took me out of the movie. Gwendoline Christie, much like Max Von Sydow, was wasted in The Force Awakens. General Hux also disappointed. He was more of a caricature than a character. I'm also not sure how I feel about Supreme Leader Snoke. We really don't learn very much about him and his design just felt off to me. Maz Katana is an intriguing character and I liked Lupita Nyong'o's performance, but she's another character that felt short-changed. I want to know more about her. Moving to some legacy characters, I loved Chewbacca in this movie. Age hasn't slowed him down at all, Chewie was as likable as ever. In many ways, this movie understood how to use Chewbacca. He was funny, lovable, and his relationship with Han was as entertaining and endearing as it's always been. R2-D2 was a glorified cameo, but C-3PO fared better. His reintroduction to Han made me laugh harder than any other moment in the film. It also reminded me why I liked his character. I thought Threepio was poorly used in the prequels, but his appearance in The Force Awakens brought back the clueless character I liked in the original trilogy. Leia wasn't given that much to do but her reunion with Han was my favorite part of the movie. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford still have amazing chemistry. I also have to commend Carrie Fisher's wonderfully understated performance. You could see the pain in her eyes.

   

In many ways this was Han Solo's movie. He was still the lovable rogue we knew in the original trilogy, but you could see the pain of losing his son just below the surface. There were so many great Han Solo moments like when he finally got to use Chewie's bowcaster or when upon seeing Leia he simply said, "Your hair is different." And Harrison Ford was exceptional through it all. This was Harrison's best work since The Empire Strikes Back. As soon as he walked out on that catwalk, I knew what was going to happen. I didn't want it to happen, but I knew. Yes, the big moment in The Force Awakens was the death of Han Solo. I was obviously very sad to see one of my favorite characters go, but I actually think it was handled well. Harrison Ford and Adam Driver were both so good in that scene. Maybe even more than his actual death, Han yelling Ben gutted me. Think about how much that line says. When Han met Ben Kenobi, he dismissed him as a crazy old man, a wizard. And yet, he named his son after him. As I mentioned earlier, the story in this movie lifts heavily from A New Hope so it would be easy to draw comparisons between the deaths of Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, I think a better comparison lies in Return of the Jedi. I saw Han's death at the hands of his son as the inverse of Luke refusing to kill his father in Return of the Jedi. Luke fought back the darkness and refused to kill his father. Kylo Ren fought back the light and killed his father. Obviously, Han Solo and Harrison Ford will be missed, but I thought their departure was handled very well. But what about Luke Skywalker? The movie ended with Rey returning Luke's lightsaber to him. Mark Hamill didn't even say a word in The Force Awakens, but he didn't have to. Mark Hamill's performance said it all in that scene. This may be a controversial opinion, but I kind of liked that we didn't see Luke until the end of the movie.

   

It's hard to articulate how I feel about The Force Awakens. The entire cast, new and old, is wonderful. I had a great time watching it in the theater, but this movie has glaring flaws. I love parts of it and am disappointed by others. Perhaps The Force Awakens' greatest accomplishment is that despite its flaws, it gives me hope. It gives me hope that a truly great Star Wars movie is still on the horizon. It gives me hope that this cast will propel the franchise forward in exciting, new directions.

What Worked

  • Compelling, likable new cast of characters
  • Harrison Ford’s best work since The Empire Strikes Back
  • Daisy Ridley is a revelation
  • Captured the sense of wonder and fun that is essential in a Star Wars movie
  • Mix of practical effects and CGI, cinematography

What Didn’t Work

  • Underdeveloped story that was essentially a rehash of A New Hope, riddled with coincidences
  • As painful as it is to say, John Williams’ score
  • Rey’s rushed Force abilities
Back To TopPromotional Material

    

        

Back To TopPoints of Discussion
  • Underdeveloped plot that was essentially an A New Hope remake
  • The death of Han Solo and Harrison Ford's performance
  • Where in the world is Luke Skywalker?
  • Did Rey's rushed Force abilities detract from Daisy Ridley's phenomenal performance?
  • What kind of impression did the new cast members leave?
  • John Williams' underwhelming score
  • Did you have fun watching The Force Awakens and did it feel like Star Wars?
External Links:
Added: December 20, 2015
Category: Theatrical Releases
Reviewer: Mike Taber
Score:
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