Title: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of SF action, violence and destruction)
Genre: Space operatic action and adventure
Runtime: 136 Minutes
Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issacs, Anthony Daniels, and Adam Driver
Two questions which have weighed heavy on the minds of Star Wars fans around the world have finally been answered this weekend: Could the Walt Disney Company recapture the magic Lucasfilm created nearly forty years ago? Or would J.J. Abrams find himself on the hook, and again vilified online, for destroying yet another beloved SF franchise? Thankfully, the answers to be found will leave a smile on the faces of legions of geekdom as Disney has come mighty close to cloning the wonder, joy, and sheer wonder of the initial three entries in the Star Wars canon.
As for Abrams, I feel he’s gotten a rather undeserved rap for his Star Trek reboot. Trekkers don’t seem to understand that it’s very possible time, and the tastes of movie going audiences, have probably passed the well loved franchise’s original theme and tone behind. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m a fan of all things Trek, but it isn’t as if delving deeply into the Gene Roddenberry vision of Star Trek would have led to box office gold. Abrams didn’t “dumb down” Trek since, truthfully, 21st Century audiences just wouldn’t sit through a retelling of Star Trek: The Motion Picture; it was bad enough slogging through the original…
I’ll certainly concede J.J. Abrams may not have “gotten” Trek but, if we’re to take The Force Awakens as any indication, the director undoubtedly “gets” Star Wars!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens harkens back to the first three films (or episodes IV to VI if we want to be precise) in more ways than simply picking up the storyline decades later. Even the structuring of the film draws heavily from A New Hope, as both films introduce casts of characters who seemingly have nothing in common yet events draw them together in a galaxy spanning adventure. In this way Abrams is almost welcoming long time fans back to the franchise as if it were a favorite easy chair. The dark and heavy sense which permeated almost every scene of the prequels is gone, replaced by a much lighter and (dare I say) fun undercurrent which carries the audience from one cheer inducing moment to the next. Or to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, it seems as if The Force Awakens “isn’t as clumsy or random as the prequels but more an elegant movie for a more civilized age.”
A trio of new heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) join favorites we’ve come to know and love: Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), C3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and R2D2. It’s Ford who truly provides the bridge between the past of the franchise and future installments and I can happily say the actor returns to the role with real aplomb.
I have to say I was really surprised by how great the acting is in The Force Awakens. Let’s be brutally honest for a moment. Outside of Sir Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones, it isn’t as if Star Wars films are thought of as acting tours de force (no pun intended) but this latest installment has a ton of exceptionally good performances. Daisy Ridley is especially good and it’s amazing we haven’t seen her in more films before this. Ridley and Boyega have real on screen chemistry and that’ll be important as these new characters will serve as the backbone of episodes to come.
Of course with new heroes comes a new generation of villains and here we’re introduced to four: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren receives the lion’s share of treatment in this installment while the other three are more or less simply introduced to the audience as it’s apparent they’ll have much more involvement in upcoming films. It’s good to see Ren isn’t just a one note baddie either and viewers will be left with plenty to chew over about him after the end credits role.
And I have to point out the newest droid character of BB-8 is a great addition to the canon. I was a bit worried the droid could turn out to be the equivalent of The Force Awakens’ Ewoks/Jar Jar Binks but it turns out those worries were unjustified. BB-8 is a great character who’ll end up giving R2D2 a run for his money as far as beloved robots go. I’m glad the character is an integral part of the story too and not some tacked on cuteness designed to sell toys.
It wouldn’t be Star Wars without stunning special effects and The Force Awakens surely doesn’t disappoint. From planet bound battles, to dog fights in space, to amazing alien vistas, to eye popping creatures there’s a slew of memorable effects to feast upon. Interestingly enough Abrams uses many more practical effects than George Lucas ever did in the prequels and it’s nice to see an SF tale which isn’t made up entirely of CGI. It’s almost as if Abrams is tipping his cap to the first three movies with his choice of effects work. Hmmm… Shot on film… Practical effects… What’s next for Abrams? Black and White?
I’ll mention The Force Awakens does start a bit slow out the gate but once it ramps up you’ll want to strap in for one wild ride. Abrams entry into the franchise has everything people have loved about Star Wars from the beginning. You’ll be treated to action, excitement, humor, knockout special effects, deeds or daring do, as well as bad guys worthy of a hiss or two directed at the screen, Who knows you may even shed a tear or two.
For those of you with small children, keep in mind there’s quite a lot of action film sort of violence. Nothing overly gory or gruesome but some scenes might be a touch too intense for younger viewers. There’s no sex and the harshest language is along the lines of “damn” and “hell.” Obviously, a parent is the best judge of what’s appropriate for their children but The Force Awakens does earn it’s PG-13 rating. On a more positive note, the filmmakers weren’t kidding when they talked about how we’d see more female characters in Star Wars. The women of Star Wars aren’t playing second fiddle any more!
The level of excitement you experience walking out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens might have a lot to do with how you were first introduced to the franchise. I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t much of a fan of episodes I-III simply because I was a kid back in the summer of 1977 and could still remember how my jaw dropped as the Imperial Star Destroyer first came rumbling across the movie screen. As I watched the credits roll for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, I sat thinking to myself that I had just witnessed some things which were the coolest I’d ever seen in my life. Not so much with episodes I-III; I strolled out of the theater feeling those movies were just “okay” but I didn’t have that Star Wars vibe about the proceedings.
Tonight, as the John Williams score swelled and the credits rolled, part of my brain jumped back to that magical summer day in 1977. I was nine years old again.
Ladies and gents… Star Wars is back!