A Solid Reentry into the Star Wars Saga
This is a spoiler free review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I do realize how late this is, but I have a one year old. I vowed never to be that parent that takes their baby to a movie. The Force Awakens is a solid reentry into the series and manages to live up to the outrageous hype. However, it is let down by its many similarities to A New Hope and sometimes feels like a rehash of something we loved.
The Force Awakens does an excellent job of tugging at your nostalgia heartstrings. There was a swelling in my chest when Han and Chewie enter the Millenium Falcon for the first time. It was a joy to see the Falcon glide through the air evading TIE Fighters and to watch legions of Stormtroopers somehow manage to miss all their targets.
The film also benefits from having relatable and well rounded characters. The two main characters are Finn, a former Stormtrooper trying to escape the evil First Order, and Rey, a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku who just wants to be a pilot. These two characters have a great chemistry, especially Rey who delivers one liners with a perfect combination of timing and zest. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Han Solo and manages to combine his famous charm with a grim world weariness of an old man who’s seen and lost too much. Oscar Issac infuses a great deal of charisma in a small role as the ace pilot of the Resistance. Andy Serkis provides plenty of menace as Supreme Leader Snoke, this trilogy’s version of Emperor Palpatine.
However, the true burden lies on the shoulders of Adam Driver, who plays the film’s main villain, Kylo Ren. As we all know, the primary reason for the success of the original Star Wars trilogy was its villain Darth Vader. Darth Vader is a classic villain famous for his imposing voice and love of force choking both friend and foe alike. So my main question entering the film was will this film deliver a villain nearly as captivating and intimidating as Darth Vader?
Somewhat. Kylo Ren is a much less imposing physical force than Darth Vader was. While Darth Vader towered over his enemies and looked like he could pick them up and throw them across the room. Kylo Ren does not. Kylo Ren is more like a cornerback and Darth Vader a big middle linebacker. Despite that, Kylo Ren manages to be dangerous and the focus of every scene he is in. While having a slight frame, he reminded me of a coiled cobra, ready to lethally strike at any second. Also, his crossguard lightsaber is as awesome as I thought I would be. However, as the film moves along, Kylo Ren becomes more and more petulant and fearful. Although the film adequately explains this, it makes him less threatening. Part of the allure of Vader was his mysteriousness and unflinching devotion to the Dark Side. Even though, Kylo Ren’s fears and hesitancy are understandable, they make him a less compelling villain.
The action sequences are well done. Dog fights between TIE fighters and the Resistance X-Wings are exhilarating and breathtaking. The lightsaber battles strike a fine balance between the over-the-top choreography of the prequels and the slow moving duels of the original trilogy.
The film suffers from its slight aping of the first film, Star Wars IV: A New Hope. I’m fine with a few throwbacks, like the battle chess or the classic brag about the Kessler run. But you can’t base the structure of the film around it or have a nostalgic nod every five minutes. I understand J.J. Abrams wants to reassure us that this is in no way shape or form like the prequels, but there’s no need to hammer it home so much. The opening shot is of a gigantic ship, the plot centers around delivering a droid containing vital information, there’s a desert planet remarkably similar to Tatooine, etc. I can’t list anymore without possible spoilers but trust me when I say there are too many nods.
I absolutely recommend Star Wars: The Force Awakens to both old Star Wars fans and those who are just beginning their entry into the saga. It has tight well constructed plot, compelling characters, fantastic action sequences, and firmly sets itself as part of the universe I’d loved since I first watched the films when I was eight years old. The ending nicely sets it up for the future sequels. It is not a cliffhanger ending, but there are a lot of questions that you can discuss with friends and be happily wrong about when the next film comes out. The only flaw, and it is a minor one, is that it sometimes feels like J.J. Abrams is remixing A New Hope.
Battle Sequences 10/10
Climax and Conclusion: 9/10