Does Episode VII meet our lofty expectations?
I can’t say much more about Star Wars that hasn’t already been said.
It’s a cultural phenomenon. These movies have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences to imagine, and create.
However, many felt this series was tainted after the dull and lifeless trilogy of prequel films.
Now, after 10 years, and under new ownership via Disney, can the seventh installment redeem one of the most influential film series of all time?
The Force Awakens is much more than a return to form for the beloved franchise; it’s a spectacular film that captures the spirit of the original trilogy, and feels fresh and new.
Star Wars The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The film follows two new protagonists, Rey and Finn, as they are swept up in conflict between the remnants of the Galactic Empire, the First Order, and the Resistance, a military group supported by the Republic. The pair encounters familiar faces, as well as a dangerous new threat connected to the dark side of the Force.
A more detailed synopsis will enter spoiler territory, so we’ll leave it at that.
The biggest strength of The Force Awakens is its characters. It’s a difficult task to create a likeable and relatable protagonist, but Episode VII does this twice.
Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley) is eager, feisty, and capable; she’s never whiny, and doesn’t complain about sand.
John Boyega’s Finn is unlike any other Star Wars character we’ve seen before. He’s charismatic, genuinely funny, and we understand his internal conflict and plight.
Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley)
The main heroes aren’t the only standouts though. Nearly every major character is fleshed out and lively. Oscar Isaac’s ace pilot Poe Dameron is a charming leader, and the villainous Kylo Ren is multifaceted and intriguing.
The characters of The Force Awakens are three-dimensional people because the movie takes the time to develop each of them; and this is flawlessly done through the action scenes.
The film is jam-packed with a number of action set pieces throughout, but each one serves a purpose within the context of the story; they’re not just mindless spectacle.
For example, there are two battle sequences involving the protagonists working together to pilot a ship. In less qualified hands, these scenes could have been run-of-the-mill sequences, but director J.J. Abrams uses these scenes to develop the characters; showing them work together and learn from each other.
In a more general sense, the action scenes are all fast-paced and carry Abrams signature energetic style. The camera will often freely swing around during space dogfights or daring chases.
However, this is never distracting because of the sense of realism. The Force Awakens utilizes the rare, but intelligent blending of practical and CGI effects. Computer wizardry is used when necessary, but most of the film has a tangible sense of realism thanks to the extensive practical effects. Awesome animatronic creatures roam in real, and breathtaking set locations. While a once standard practice, the grit and realism of the action scenes, characters, and locations, make The Force Awakens one of the most refreshing films in years.
The film’s story is simple, yet effective. Rarely will you feel confused or cheated while the events unfold in front of you.
It’s also very familiar, perhaps too familiar. Without spoiling anything, many of the story beats of A New Hope are echoed and reused to a staggering effect. In particular (again, no spoilers) the ultimate threat is something we’ve seen done more than once. At best, this feels like the necessary opposition to rally all the heroes together, at its worst, it feels like a recycled plot device.
While certain familiar elements like the Force, lightsabers, and the dark side need to be included, as they make up the identity of Star Wars, other elements that feel redundant should have been rethought for something new.
The Force Awakens isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. It succeeds by breathing new life into an aging franchise through the introduction of excellent characters and intelligent action. The story occasionally feels too familiar, but the film as a whole feels like Star Wars. You become invested in what is happening on-screen because everything is working in unison to create that sense of adventure, drama, and imagination that started it all.
It’s not lifeless; it’s not dull. It’s Star Wars; I can’t say much more.