It’s 1:30 in the morning and I quite literally just arrived home from my screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other than a slight temperance of expectations after having been let down by the prequels, my excitement for this movie had reached a fever pitch in the last few days. I began to let go of any disappointment I was planning for and allowed myself to let the giddiness completely take over. I’ve been basking in the glow of the Star Wars empire for weeks on end leading up to release and there was no way this flick was going to let me down. So full disclosure, take it as you will, but there’s absolutely no way to review this movie from a completely objective point of view. Part of the excitement of getting a brand new Star Wars movie is due in large by coasting on the nostalgia of the original films. I can’t imagine anyone going into this movie not having at least been impacted by the OG flicks in some small way. As I sat down in my seat with my large popcorn adorning my 3-D glasses, I felt like I was coming home. Being reintroduced to this universe that has ostensibly been dormant since Return of the Jedi (in terms of actual continuity) felt like a family reunion that has been a long time coming. This wasn’t a prequel, a hardcore reboot or any sort of retreading (at least not on the surface) of previous stories already covered, we’re finally getting a whole new story set in a universe millions of fans the world over have been longing for. This is a direct continuation of where we last left Luke, Han and Leia at the end of ROTJ. New and old faces were set to mix and mingle and set off a chain reaction the likes of which we’ve never seen. So yes… I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan. I love everything branded with the Star Wars name. If you want to discount my opinion objectively because it would seem that I was pre-destined to love the film then go ahead. I’m about to gush and squee with amazing delight over this new flick. Long story short…. it’s an amazing fucking movie that not only excellently carries on the Star Wars legacy but is also an engaging film from start to finish on its own merit.
I could spend a portion of this review giving a brief synopsis of the story, but chances are if you frequent this site then that would be somewhat redundant of me. Plus, I really want to try and avoid any massive spoilers for those who haven’t seen the movie yet or those who plan to wait out the insane crowds. So let’s jump right in.
One of my main gripes with the prequel trilogy was how fake and processed everything felt. Re-watching those films as a lead up to this one I noticed that most of them felt like 2 hour green screen bonanzas. There was a severe lack of tangibility in Episodes 1-3 that added to the already mounting problems contained there within. Thankfully, Force Awakens does away with all of that and feels as organic and real as any of the original trilogy. The film is beautifully shot and used practical effects and actual locations 90% of the running time. Even with the 3-D, I felt like I was a part of everything that was happening on screen. Every swing of the lightsaber, every roaring swoosh of Tie Fighter on X Wing aerial warfare only drew me in closer and closer every passing minute. As a film, TFA is a lived in masterpiece that engages you in complete sensory overload. Nothing here feels fake or a by-product of a production team huddled around an SFX program on a computer.
One thing I picked up on was the expert balancing of nods and homages to previous films interwoven with the setting up of the future of the franchise. From the inclusion of the original cast to minor winks to previous entries, this is a Star Wars movie that feels inclusive to hardcore nerds and general fans alike. While the main focus of the plot does require a familiarity of episodes 4-6, it’s not so alienating that someone who’s never seen a Wars film would feel left out. Hardcore nerds will definitely have more to pick apart and dissect that general fans might not notice, but it’s never at the sacrifice of making sure everyone has something to enjoy. Plus the movie has such a propulsive quality to it that you’re not really allowed to slow down and stop to think about what is you’re missing out on if you don’t have previous knowledge of the series at large. Scenes linger at just the right moments but never overstay their welcome in an effort to drag out any sort of overly maudlin drama. We hit just the right story elements at just the right moments before we’re whisked away into yet another tightly edited scene of science fiction bad assery. It all flows in such a smooth and satisfying way that it really makes you wonder why we couldn’t get this level of attention and care for the story in Episodes 1-3. There, we had a predestined outcome that we were building towards and as such the whole thing became more about hitting certain deadlines and story beats just so they could tie everything together with a neat little bow. I get that this is an inherent flaw in prequel making at large, but it was all the more glaring when so few chances were taken to do something exciting and different. The Force Awakens jumps at every possible chance to show us a new side to this universe no one has ever seen before and it’s wholly refreshing.
The acting was also top notch perfection across the board. The newcomers mixed with the seasoned Star Wars vets presented a wide palette of emotion that all came together harmoniously enough without ever any feet getting tripped over or stumbled upon. Daisy Ridley as Rey is an absolute revelation and nimbly carries this picture on her shoulders. She’s a positive role model for the forwarding of gender equality of women in a scene predominated by men. She’s not some one note militant hero tough chick stereotype. Ridley infuses her character with a sense of honesty about the predicament she finds herself in when we first cross paths. She’s also not the reluctant hero type either. Rey embraces who she is and the talents she’s been given without ever griping about the responsibility of power. This is a woman who is absolutely going to be a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with as the new trilogy creeps forward. John Boyega as Finn comes packed with a charisma and excitement for the chance to be included on this epic saga that hasn’t been seen since Ford first popped up as Han Solo way back in A New Hope. His journey from Storm trooper to rebel alliance fighter never feels telegraphed or anything other than a natural evolution of a character through a rather trying series of events. I loved the Finn character because I can see myself reacting the exact same way in many of his big emotional moments. He acts as the audience conduit into a world filled with spectacular alien life and robot creatures peppered throughout. He’s instantly relatable and I foresee big things coming for him down the pike.
Also how can we not mention the evil badassness of Kylo Ren? I really can’t go into his character with any sort of depth as to not spoil several major revelations in the movie. However, I will say that he is an absolutely cracking cauldron of fiery and unpredictable emotion. What makes him so formidable and much more threatening than the calculated nature of Vader, Dooku and previous Sith lords is his unpredictability. You get the sense early on that his is a character that is racked with doubt over his place in the First Order. Even though he’s a villain and his allegiances seem pretty clear, you get the sense that he’s feeling the pull of both the light and the dark side. There are several scenes including a big 3rd act “reveal” that are dedicated to showing that maybe he’s not all there to begin with and that this inner struggle is driving him over the edge.
The original cast also all brought their A-game in a pretty profound way. Yes.. Luke Skywalker is in the film, but I really can’t even comment much further than that without spoiling the shit out of things so suffice to say he’s here and Hamill leaves us wanting more. Carrie Fischer is tremendous as General Leia (she’s ascended the ranks between films apparently). While most of her scenes revolve around the war room at the Rebel base, it’s still nice to see her slip into the role so easily after having been away from it for so long. Granted, her scenes are kind of where a lot of the exposition gets dumped, the razor sharp dialogue makes those scenes as exciting as any huge set piece that came before or after. The moment where her and Han embrace after having drifted apart for many years was one of many where I could not fight back the tears in my eyes. A single loving embrace telegraphed a wide range of emotions without a single word of dialogue being uttered. The chemistry between her and Ford was as palpable as it was 30 years ago. Which brings me to my next point… Harrison Ford.
He was most definitely the one I was worried about the most from the original cast. His output as an actor has been extremely hit and miss in recent years. Ford has a reputation lately for not really committing to certain roles and kind of setting himself on cruise control. Also let’s be honest, he’s not exactly what I would call a spring chicken. Even though he was featured prominently in later promotional material for the film, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to gauge. Needless to say I was completely wrong for ever doubting his ability. Harrison acted the shit out of this part, more so than he has in years. Just like Fisher, he seamlessly steps into the part as if no time has passed and this movie started filming right after ROTJ. Now, this isn’t the same Han Solo we left in the original trilogy. Obviously due to his advanced age the story has to take that into account, but that doesn’t mean he really slows down at all. He’s still the same wise cracking charming space pirate we all know and love, yet a little more ornery and a little more world weary. I love that his and Chewie’s relationship has evolved from a more professional one in the OG trilogy to a much more familial bond in this new movie. It was a nice touch to see Han speak to his wookie friend as if they were lifelong blood brothers. I could go on and on about this but again I have to tread lightly on spoiler territory as I don’t want to piss any fans off who haven’t seen it yet.
Writing this from a completely spoiler free perspective has been extremely hard, so I’m going to try and wrap it up here before I get too much further into story details. It’s difficult to not discuss particular scenes and events in the film and their overall impact on the Star Wars universe going forward. I personally don’t mind spoilers as it’s more about the journey for me. I care more about how we get from point A to be as opposed to what point A and B actually are. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a basic plot structure in place that in many ways riffs on the hero’s journey Luke starts his path on in A New Hope. I’ve noticed a multitude of people kind of complaining that this is a remix of that particular film, but I fail to see why that’s a detriment in any way. Every hero has to start somewhere. Every journey has to have some sort of beginning. All of the greatest stories ever told over the course of humanity didn’t just materialize. Our most famous and everlasting heroes weren’t just blinked into existence at the height of their powers. The greatest and longest lasting characters all had to arrive at their peak through an often perilous journey. So pick apart the remixed nature of Force Awakens all you want, I love that JJ decided to go the more refresher route with this one as opposed to just dropping even the hardcore fans into a brand new world cold turkey. There’s so many new and exciting things mixed in with the tried and true that the stuff that is retreaded is barely noticeable or given a new fresh coat of paint that doesn’t make it feel like a boring retelling. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is bombastic populist entertainment at its most potent and exciting. There isn’t a single frame of wasted screen time and everything that happens in this film is in service to a larger story. Every character serves a purpose and we can kind of see the beginning stages of what’s to come in future episodes. It’s not very often that after the credits roll on any movie, my immediate reaction is to go right back out there and buy another ticket and watch the whole thing again. Yes I’m the bag for all of these movies, but aside from it being in the Star Wars Universe, The Force Awakens is a damn entertaining thrill ride that literally has something to offer anyone who sits down to watch it. Even the small nerdy nitpicks highlight how much attention and love was poured into the movie. It’s clear to me that this wasn’t a cash grab and was a movie for the fans by the fans, and to me that makes it a smashing success.