Monday, January 4, 2016

Awakening the New Generation... A 'Force Awakens' Review...

This review contains spoilers!!

It had taken me forever to finally see this monumental film at the cinema... Yes, I have now seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and would love to go back to the theaters to see it again and again...

First and foremost, writer-director JJ Abrams and Star Wars veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan do their damnedest to honor the original trilogy, the film literally distances itself from the prequels and stays true what many love about Star Wars. At the same time however, it isn't just a nostalgic joyride for the folks who grew up with the original trilogy, it's a grand new beginning that never forgets what got it to its existence in the first place.

It's a new age, new phase Star Wars, and I like it!

Eschewing the gritty tricks that many blockbuster-type movies play on audiences, Star Wars: The Force Awakens goes back to the escapist fun, but also the rich storytelling and its sense of wonder. The compelling mythology is expanded, and the new faces bring so much to what has come before. Intelligent scavenger Rey and brave ex-Stormtrooper Finn make an excellent duo, and BB-8 is all kinds of awesome. Let's also not cast aside pilot Poe Dameron, who may not be in it for too long, but every scene he's in he's also a joy to watch. Han Solo and Chewbacca's return is as satisfying as ever, as is Leia's return...

The new story echoes a lot of A New Hope, though it isn't to the point where it feels like a rehash. I'll address that soon, but first... The new story starts off on a high note by having Luke Skywalker be absent, and since 30 years have passed, him and the original gang become something of a myth for our main characters. With just a few scenes and few lines of dialogue, we get who Rey is, we get who Finn is, no exposition needed. Their characters are established right off the bat, leaving little time for dawdling like a lot of other blockbusters do.

Technically, it keeps the feel of the original trilogy alive as well, what with its epic John Williams score, its style of editing, and the resistance to make everything look bland, lifeless, and colorless. It story goes down dark routes, but it never needs to try to be gritty in that sense. Every shot in the film is pretty to look at, and its staging is top-notch. Never does it feel stale. The airtight plot coalesces, with little filler in its 136-minute running time. When it's all over, it has closure whilst setting up a big future... Ending it on that particular shot of Rey handing a godly-looking Luke Skywalker his lightsaber was the perfect capper...

The little ins-and-out, and the hints they leave, add so much to the story and the world-building of the Star Wars universe, yet it leaves you asking quite a lot.

Even though The Force Awakens does so much right, it does have some setbacks. I think this film is probably a few notches below A New Hope, though a few notches higher than the rather uneven and a bit bloated Return of the Jedi. While I do respect the callbacks to the original trilogy, the film perhaps veers a bit too close to being a new A New Hope. Not necessarily a remake, but at times it feels like they're reprising moments rather than coming up with new ones. I didn't mind Poe giving BB-8 the map that shows Luke's location, nor did I mind Kylo Ren being Darth Vader Mach II, but perhaps the fact that he uses something so similar to the Death Star felt a bit too safe... Though the name of it was pretty cool, I must admit. Luckily, the destruction of the Starkiller takes a back seat to a more intimate lightsaber duel, and Ren's encounter with his father...

What I like about Kylo Ren is that he's not some new villain that happens to be an acolyte of Darth Vader, he's Vader's grandson, and that they make him a little more conflicted than Vader was. While Vader was diabolical, he acted with calmness, an eerie calmness. Ren on the other hand throws tantrums and acts like a petulant child. He has quite the onscreen presence, even with his mask off. Supreme Leader Snoke is also flat-out fearsome, though he is pretty much the next Palpatine... Though I get the sense that in Episode VIII, they'll surprise us and show that he won't be "New Palpatine". There's so much we don't know about him, and for the better...

Other than a few too many callbacks to A New Hope, The Force Awakens utilizes other OT elements to its advantage. The Empire Strikes Back's epic scope and darker streak is present, as is the humor and the characters' quirks that dominated all three films. Seeing Rey and Finn pilot the trashed Millennium Falcon for the first time is one of the film's stand-out moments, a real rush of energy and joy. It definitely rings more towards A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back then anything, there were few Return of the Jedi-esque elements, a few of that entry's better elements would've been welcome, I think.

It's hard to say much, because I think a second viewing is needed here. Now that that first "awe" experience is out of the way, next one is the "break it down" experience. That all being said, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a straight-up fun and resonant action-adventure that takes advantage of the Star Wars mythos, introduces great new characters, feels like a grand new beginning, and ends on a high note.

Knocked it out of the park, you did.


  1. You think it was good the first time? Look up D-Box and locate a theater with that and Star Wars playing. I've suggested this to writer Ken Penders and Disney CEO Bob Iger too (somewhat). It's Star Tours in the movies!

    Also, I was such a nerd for the Paul Rudish Mickey Mouse cartoon, I created my own playlist on Youtube with that cartoon's international episodes and a few Walt shorts, and bookended it with the 1987 Walt Disney Cartoon Classics intro and outro (the beginning of this playlist has the 2001 Walt Disney Home Entertainment logo, then the 1989 Walt Disney Classics logo, then the 1987 Walt Disney Cartoon Classics title sequence, then it goes into the Paul Rudish cartoons starting with "Croissant De Triomphe". It ends with "Space Walkies", and then we have the 1987 Cartoon Classics outro with the now-irrelevant titles and then the Gold Walt Disney Home Video logo to end the playlist:

  2. If you want to rewatch it just put in A New Hope, pretend John Williams's score is terrible, and that all the themes of heroism, idealism vs cynicism, and removing evil are replaced with garbage. I guarantee you nothing would feel different from Star Wars 7.

  3. If you want to rewatch it just put in "A New Hope," replace John Williams's score with garbage, and pretend that all the themes of heroism and idealism vs cynicism are replaced with bad character derailment jokes and it will be just like Star Wars 7 except less bad.

  4. I think with Disney holding all these franchises now, especially Star Wars, Disney should think about changing its name. The animation studio, theme park division, and live-action studio can all keep the Disney name, but Disney Corporate should change its name now that it owns more than just the Disney brand now.

  5. Believe it or not, this isn't the first Star Wars story in which Leia and Han have a son who becomes a villain. That was originally done in the New Jedi Order novels, with their son Jacen Solo.