Tweetable Takeaway: The Force Awakens is a space adventure that will exhilarate both old fans and new. Tweet
Few movies could withstand the pressure that STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS takes on. To hold up to a beloved franchise that accompanied so many childhoods is no easy feat. Yet The Force Awakens meets those expectations head on and wildly succeeds as a terrific space adventure that revisits old characters while introducing new ones. This movie accomplishes a whole heck of a lot, but if nothing else, Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows us how much fun we can have at the movies. And what more can a moviegoer want from one of the biggest movie series of all time than simply to have a blast?
The Force Awakens kicks things off in familiar ways. A droid is entrusted with plans that will help the Rebels. Excuse me, ‘The Resistance’. There’s plenty here that hearkens back to the original trilogy. You’ve got your character stuck on a sand planet who dreams of more. There’s a certain Milennium Falcon pilot and his trusty Wookie pal. We got a bad guy shrouded in black with a voice-altering mask (thankfully no breathing apparatus; didn’t cut it that close). The list goes on for a couple dozen more plot points or characters. Sure, it’s derivative, that feeling of déjà vu is just a little too strong, but there’s enough new flourishes to let the film stand on its own. And with such a rabid fan base, such a legacy to live up to, it’s understandable that director JJ Abrams and gang would play it safe rather than risk another disappointing Phantom Menace treatment.
Not to say there aren’t plenty of new characters and surprises in store. Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) all carry the torch into a brave new world of Star Wars films. At least two give us a glimpse at a perspective the saga hasn’t yet taken a look at. Finn is a Stormtrooper who leaves his post. Until now we’ve known Stormtroopers as either clones or simply mysterious, always-masked men. And Poe, with the touch of swagger that makes Han Solo so cool, is one of the Resistance’s fighter pilots who do not exist simply to be blown up. One particular long take that’s an exhilarating highlight of the film shows us a little of his piloting in action. And though Finn’s story raises more questions than it perhaps answers, the implications of his backstory are intriguing throughout.
Enjoyably, The Force Awakens gets in touch with its scruffy and scoundrel side of things first and foremost. And that’s always been the guilty pleasure of the Star Wars universe. Sure, lightsabers and the Force and space battles are hallmarks of the series, but it’s the hives of scum hidden away in cantinas and Han Solo’s arrogant wisecracks that make the films shine. Seeing more of that smuggling world is a delight, and allows for some world-building.
So what doesn’t work? Abrams made it clear from the start he was going to use as much practical effects as he could to keep the series in line with the original trilogy, and for the most part he sticks to that promise. The puppetry and characters that one can see on screen and tell are actual, real materials are absolutely wonderful. And then a computer-generated character will come along, sticking out in truly bad fashion. Especially in contrast to the real characters filling up the screen, both big and small, it’s tough to not instantly be taken out of the film when one of these digital creations shows up. This will depend on your tolerance for CGI, of course, but it’s disappointing that the digital characters could not have been either better animated or eschewed altogether. The aforementioned callbacks to the original trilogy get a little too close for comfort, however, that again may be a strength or drawback depending on the viewer. The Force Awakens could certainly have been much bolder in forging a new path and would have been a stronger movie for it.
Still, it’s undeniable how much pleasure one gets seeing Han and Chewie on the Millennium Falcon again, new characters wielding lightsabers, and the breakneck pace of the adventure the movie takes us on. Those new to the franchise might wonder why fans next to them are grinning so much at C-3P0’s entrance, but won’t enjoy the movie less for it. This is the rare film that meets the tremendous, overbearing hype surrounding it. May the Force Awakens be with you.
I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens 4.5 Wookie sidekicks out of 5.
Wil Loper | Contributor