Well, everyone. This is it. The big one. The movie review that everyone has been waiting all year for and it’s a movie that I have been promoting throughout 2015. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
But first, let’s talk about Star Wars. To sum it up, the Star Wars franchise is my Twilight, my Harry Potter, my Hunger Games franchise. The first Star Wars movie I did not see in theaters because it came out nine months before I was born. The first time I saw Star Wars was on Videodisc in the early 80’s. Then as my long-term viewers know, my earliest childhood memory was seeing Empire Strikes Back at the drive-in in Hudson, New York when I was 2 years old. I distinctly remember seeing Yoda on the big screen. Then three years later I saw Return of the Jedi at the drive-in in Hyde Park. And when the Special Edition movies were released in theaters, I didn’t have enough money to see the special editions of the original and Empire Strikes Back but as a reward from managing Girls’ basketball at Red Hook High School I got a movie pass to the movies in Red Hook where I used the pass for several movies and the first one I used the pass on was the special edition of Return of the Jedi (and that was before George Lucas got the idea to digitally insert Hayden Christensen at the end.)
And yeah, there were the prequels. I saw Phantom Menace in theaters as well as Attack of the Clones and yes, I felt let down like everyone else. And I didn’t see Episode 3 until it came out on DVD because I didn’t have the money. And I thought that Episode 3 was the best of the prequels despite the cheesy Hayden Christensen dialogue and a cheesy “Noooo!” when he finally turns into Darth Vader. And I did not see the Clone Wars cartoon or movie but I’ll take your word for it that they suck and I haven’t seen that Rebels cartoon either.
But when I heard that JJ Abrams who is a devout Star Wars fan was going to direct The Force Awakens and after watching each of the trailers that were released since last November I got more excited but I think everyone really got stoked for when they saw Han and Chewie at the end of the second trailer. At that point I realized that this was going to be really special. And when I saw it in theaters opening night, I was not disappointed.
And since there may still be people who have not seen the brilliance of The Force Awakens yet, I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible which means I will not give away the three major spoilers (and there are three major spoilers) and they are the true identity of Kylo Ren, who dies in the movie, and probably the most important one of all: Where the hell is Luke Skywalker? In fact, the first line in the opening crawl is “Luke Skywalker has vanished,” which sets up that Luke is kind of the goal of the movie and that’s all I can tell you. Everything else, you have to see the movie. But I’ll give out one little spoiler: One of the most quoted Star Wars lines that appeared in every movie is here too and everyone knows what that line is: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
From the get-go, you can tell that this film is sort of a love letter to the original trilogy as in there is a lot of parallels to A New Hope as well as a couple little nods to The Empire Strikes Back. You get that Rey is actually being set up to be the new Luke Skywalker which is actually a big deal because she is a woman who just happens to handle herself really well despite the fact that she is introduced as this person who has pretty much been on her own all of her life. She is played by Daisy Ridley who has been compared by critics to Keira Knightley and not just because they’re both British. And the comparisons are sort of ironic because one of Keira’s earliest roles was in Star Wars (she was Natalie Portman’s double in The Phantom Menace.) And also Daisy Ridley is kind of a cross between Carrie Fisher in the original trilogy’s heyday and Natalie Portman in the prequels.
Anyway, after the iconic opening crawl sequence and the movie begins, we are introduced to the remains of the Empire, now calling themselves The First Order and they are actually more evil than even the Empire was in the original trilogy and their goal as established in the crawl is to find Luke Skywalker and wipe him off the face of the earth because he is the last Jedi Knight. On the other end, there is the Resistance which is an evolved form of the Rebel Alliance that is led by General Leia (played once again by Carrie Fisher who actually gets only several minutes of screen time.) The First Order also has a Death Star-style weapon which they’re calling the Starkiller Base (which I’m guessing is kind of a nod to Luke Skywalker’s original name when George Lucas was writing the original Star Wars) which has the power to annihilate whole galaxies as opposed to a single planet (or in the case of the second Death Star in Jedi two giant Rebel starships.)
We are also first introduced to Finn (played by John Boydega) who is still slightly controversial because of the whole black Stormtrooper thing and in later trailers when he is seen wielding Luke’s and Anakin’s original lightsaber which was lost in Empire Strikes Back and that lightsaber plays a key role in this movie which is good. At first glimpse we assumed that he was an undercover Resistance operative but the truth is he really is a First Order Stormtrooper who winds up defecting to the Resistance because he is sickened by what the First Order stands for and refuses to carry out atrocities in their name (and that is partly the reason for the PG-13 rating and it is the second Star Wars movie to get said rating along with Revenge of the Sith.)
We are also introduced to the movie’s main villain Kylo Ren and his medieval-looking lightsaber who is played by Adam Driver who does a pretty good job and is believable as a villain who worships Darth Vader and follow in his footsteps (hell he even has the melted remains of Darth Vader’s mask on a shrine.) We get to see him use the Force primarily to torture people like when he tortures the X-Wing fighter pilot in the final trailer. And there are a couple instances when he comes off as whiny especially one scene where he takes his triple-bladed lightsaber and goes to town on a computer console when he finds out that our heroes got away. Thankfully, he doesn’t go too far into Hayden Christensen territory whenever he has his temper tantrums.
And speaking of the X-Wing fighter pilot in this movie, his name is Poe Dameron and he is played by Oscar Isaac and you can tell that they’re building him up to be the next Han Solo. His droid co-pilot BB-8 (the R2/Wilson hybrid) contains information vital to the Resistance and they have to get him back to the Resistance so that they can get the plans so they can save the galaxy (sound familiar?) And I actually like BB-8 who I think is actually cuter than R2-D2.
While the first third is introducing us to the new characters, the second act begins after they escape from the planet Jakku and we are reintroduced to Han Solo and Chewbacca and as far as I’m concerned Harrison Ford is easily the best part of the movie. Even though he is playing a 70-year-old Han Solo, you can tell he is still Han Solo and managed to avoid what happened when he made a comeback as Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (speaking of which the new Emperor, a character that is named Supreme Leader Snoke and is played by Andy Serkis actually looks like one of the aliens that appeared at the end of Crystal Skull.) Like I said before when Han is telling Finn and Rey that everything about the Jedi, the Sith and the Force is all true because before that scene, Rey was pretty much convinced that Luke Skywalker wasn’t even real. In short, she is just like the audience. And as I commented in my review of the last trailer when the scene where Han says that the Force and the Jedi are real, I was like, “Han Solo is the last person I would expect to acknowledge the existence of the Force” because when we meet him in New Hope, Han was a non-believer who felt that the only thing he needed was a gun and a lot of luck. So basically what I got out of Han in this movie is that he is basically a hybrid between the Han we all grew up with and Obi-Wan Kenobi because he is older and wiser.
And the effects are pretty awesome. There are some characters who are CGI but JJ said that he wanted to go back to how the original trilogy was done as far as using models as opposed to all CGI like the prequels did. I liked seeing the new X-Wing fighters, the new TIE-fighters and of course the Millennium Falcon and there are a lot of good scenes involving that too. But I gotta warn you there are some JJ-trademarks in the movie including of course lens flares and there are a couple instances of Shakycam which is prominent during the Millennium Falcon chase sequence on Jakku where the TIE-fighters chase the Falcon into the rocket booster of a wrecked Star Destroyer. At first I was worried that I was going to be comparing this to Star Trek 2009 which some accused of being a remake of New Hope but actually the comparisons here are minimal. About the only way I can compare the two movies is the fact that both films have the same approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent. By comparison, both A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back both have a 94 rating.
In short, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Was it worth the wait? Fuck, yes it was! This film is everything the prequels were not. This shows that this was done by someone who cares about Star Wars and about the characters rather than just churning a half-assed product out for a quick buck again like the prequels. And here’s where I will let out a teeny-tiny spoiler: JJ put a scene in where there is obviously a nod to the prequels. You have to watch for it but trust me it’s there.
The Force Awakens is so good that it will leave you saying, “Prequels? What prequels?” It’s a movie that truly is Star Wars and stays true to the ideals of the original movies. People who grew up on this franchise and felt betrayed by the prequels will feel nostalgia for the originals and it will very likely bring in new fans of the franchise as well. So if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Get out there now and see it and the countdown has officially begun for Episode 8 which is expected to be released in The Force Awakens’ December 2017 which is fitting because 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of the original film. And also don’t forget about the spinoff movies that will be appearing starting with this December’s Rogue One.