So by this point everyone and their unborn child has seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and this review really is coming late. But since I wasn’t in the mood to fight through the crowd with my plastic lightsaber I waited until the hype died down so that I could actually get a decent seat without fear of getting trampled. I miss Korea, because at least there you could always reserve a seat no matter what cinema you went to. Since this is Star Wars though, and since I don’t want a man in a Wookie suit coming through my door and ripping my head-off, I will split this review into two parts. First a SPOILER FREE version with a SPOILERS AWAY version to follow. Enjoy!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or, if we’re being realistic, Star Wars: A New Hope 2.0 is exactly that, a retread of the first movie with some new twists along the way. It’s beautifully shot, well-acted, and, for the most part, exciting. J.J. Abrams is very good at imitating other directors. Super 8 was like watching a vintage Spielberg movie, and this is vintage Lucas. The music, the wipes, the scope, all designed to tug on the nostalgia strings in our hearts.
Now I am not a fan or hater of the Star Wars franchise. I actually lied in the intro because I don’t own a plastic light saber. I own a prototype light saber known as a katana because in my mind I’m a samurai. What I’m saying is that I appreciate the inspiration for the original trilogy (Lucas did, after all, borrow heavily from Japan’s Hidden Fortress) but when it comes to Star Wars, I could take it or leave it. Still, I appreciate a good movie, and this is a good movie. Not great, not movie of the last year, just a really enjoyable ride with awesome, three-dimensional, characters that I liked…except one.
The story, more or less, follows the original movie. Luke has gone missing and there is a person on Jakku that knows of his whereabouts. Poe Dameron, ace pilot for the resistance, is given a clue to where Skywalker may be found, but Kylo Ren and The First Order show up forcing Poe to hide the plans within the cutest soccer ball ever, the droid BB-8. BB-8 escapes finding Rey, a desert-dweller with no family who is more than she lets on while rogue stormtrooper Finn frees and flees with Poe, only to end up with Rey and BB-8 after their ship crash lands. Thus the adventure begins as Finn, Rey, and BB-8 have to make it to the resistance before Ren and his mysterious mentor can take over the galaxy.
Each actor gives it their all, and it is fun to see them get completely immersed in their roles. Boyega brings his action chops to Finn while at the same time showcasing his comedic talents. Harrison Ford slips into a pair of comfortable gloves as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher into comfortable hair buns as Leia. Props go to Daisy Ridley’s Rey. This being one of her first movies she demonstrates great depth and I am quite eager to see her in more movies. The stand out is Oscar Isaacs as Poe. This man is fantastic, and his energy is felt in such a way that whenever he is on screen, he easily becomes the center of attention. There’s also Adam Driver as Kylor Ren, but more on that in the Spoilers Away section. Suffice it to say that he wasn’t a favorite of mine, and when he speaks he has this weird jowl movement that I found extremely distracting.
The visual effects are great as familiar weapons and machines are upgraded with modern technology while still remaining fully faithful to the original designs. The aerial dogfights are intense and immersive and easily the standout action sections of the movie.
The blaster battles have those familiar sound effects, and the damage that blasters can do is much more impressive this time around. In fact, The First Order is truly menacing and ruthless, in contrast to the bumbling and clumsy stormtroopers of the original movie. These stormtroopers are ruthless and they will spare no man, woman, or child, if their leader gives the order to kill.
Now, without giving too much away, Kylo Ren, for me, is not that impressive of a villain. I’ll get more into this in the spoiler follow up, but here I’ll say that Ren’s first introduction is excellent. There’s a clear parallel between him and Darth Vader as when both of them first come onscreen they seem to cast a shadow over everyone else. His voice, the eloquence of his speech, his look, his lightsaber, and an impressive show of force powers, make his introduction memorable. But over the course of the movie he loses a lot of steam and the awe of that first introduction quickly fades. He ends up, by far, being the weakest character of the movie but, if they truly are relying on the original trilogy as a blueprint, he may be able to get some of that initial awesomeness back in the sequels. Still, I now kind of know how Obi-Wan felt once upon a time.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie deserving of a watch. It is a return to familiar ground with a director that knows how to imitate his influences. The actors give great performances and the visuals are impressive. Fans of the Star Wars movies will be polarized by some rather bold decisions made in the movie, but they will not be disappointed…but these are Star Wars fans, they’re never satisfied.
John Boyega is no stranger to battling outer-space threats. The first movie that I saw him in is a little British project titled Attack the Block. Boyega plays Moses, a young (and we’re talking teens here) leader of a rough gang of boys out of London’s East End that are hunted by animal-like creatures from outer space (think Xenomorphs of Aliens fame). This movie is fun and extremely brutal and deserves your viewing if you haven’t seen it already. The trailer is below.