Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2015


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Movie Review - 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

by Adam Pavlacka on Dec. 16, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set 30 years after Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi and continues the saga created by George Lucas.

It's been a little more than 10 years since the last Star Wars film debuted on the big screen, and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is the first theatrical film to be produced since George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and stepped away from the universe he helped create. Director J.J. Abrams, who was responsible for rebooting "Star Trek" in 2009, has taken the helm here, and while Abrams does an excellent job of bringing us back to familiar territory, he seems a little afraid to explore new directions with the story.

There is no doubt that "The Force Awakens" is a visual tour de force on the big screen. The use of physical props was an excellent choice, especially after the over-reliance on CGI in the prequel trilogy. Visual composition is also strong, with images similar to the TIE Fighters racing out of the sunset or the X-Wing squadron coming in low and fast over a lake, with the water spray in their wake. These were featured in the trailers, and "The Force Awakens" provides plenty more of similar quality. When the Blu-ray hits shops next year, there will be plenty of screen capture material for Star Wars fans to use as desktop art.

Where the film suffers a bit is in Abrams' focus on nostalgia. There is nothing wrong with including existing characters, as they are still important in this universe, even if events do occur roughly 30 years after the end of "Return of the Jedi." In fact, how "The Force Awakens" handles Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is to be commended. None are there simply for fan service; all are there for a reason, and each shows some sort of character growth. Fisher has a commanding on-screen presence as General Leia, while Ford proves that he still knows how to work it. Solo may be older, but he still has that swag when it comes to dealing with tight situations.

The Millennium Falcon is treated similarly well, with the old rust bucket looking none the worse for wear. The ship, both interior and exterior, looks and operates just as fans would expect.

If Abrams had left the nostalgia factor to the returning characters, he would have been fine, but he went the extra mile and repeated one too many story beats over the course of the film. From little things like the opening shot being one of a Star Destroyer in orbit over a plant, to Jakku being identical to Tatooine in everything but name, a cantina full of aliens and an enemy with a weapon capable of destroying planets, "The Force Awakens" feels like it is cribbing a lot from the original Star Wars film. Had Abrams thrown in a few more original ideas rather than just lifting from George Lucas' past work, "The Force Awakens" would have been a much stronger movie.

If you overlook the blatant parallels and focus on the new characters, "The Force Awakens" is at its best. Daisy Ridley is an absolute treat as Rey, the mysterious protagonist. Ridley's portrayal of Rey is one of a self-sufficient young woman who doesn't need anyone's help but is willing to offer it when needed. She has her vulnerable side, particularly around her mysterious past and unknown family, but that doesn't define her. Rey is strong and confident, and it's obvious from the start that she is the star of the show. Come Halloween, don't be surprised if there are thousands of girls wearing Rey costumes, just as there were thousands of boys wearing Luke Skywalker costumes when the original trilogy was in theaters.

Oscar Isaac also shines as Poe Dameron, a rebel X-Wing pilot. It's a shame that Poe's role is so limited in this film, as Isaac manages to make him an extremely likeable character in a very short amount of time. Here's hoping that Episode VIII has more Poe.

John Boyega is Finn, the stormtrooper-turned-Rebel who has been featured in all the trailers. Finn is Rey's accidental companion for much of the film, and he tries to bring an "everyman" role to the Star Wars universe. In some parts, it works. In others, Boyega's actions and mannerisms feel somewhat out of place. Everyone else became their respective characters, while Boyega sometimes felt like an actor playing a role, especially when he was attempting humor. If Finn is going to continue in the new trilogy, the character needs to develop and show a little complexity.

The one character I wasn't quite sure what to think of was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). A Dark Side user following in Darth Vader's footsteps (he even has a Dark Side master, portrayed by Andy Serkis), Ren's driving goal is to eliminate all traces of the Jedi. While his first appearance is imposing, Ren's unstable nature means the character has none of Darth Vader's gravitas. Perhaps things will change in the next film, but for now, Ren can't even compete with Darth Maul as a villain, let alone Darth Vader.

When it comes to the soundtrack, "The Force Awakens" sees a return appearance of John Williams, though like Abrams, Williams seems to be playing it safe and relying on nostalgia rather than something new. Much of the soundtrack is atmospheric, with major cues reusing themes from past films. There are no stand-out tracks like "The Imperial March" or "Duel of the Fates" here.

Ultimately, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" isn't a bad film, but it's also not an amazing film. Instead, it's a solid first entry in a new trilogy that relies on nostalgia and plays it safe in order to set the stage for what's to come. Star Wars fans are likely to appreciate "The Force Awakens" more for the foundation it lays than the immediate experience it provides. The payoff isn't at the end of the film but in Episode VIII and Episode IX. If you've never seen a Star Wars movie before, you'll probably think better of the film because it won't feel quite so familiar. As for me, even with its faults, I'll be returning to see "The Force Awakens" a second time in the theater.

Score: 7.8/10

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.

More articles about Star Wars: The Force Awakens
blog comments powered by Disqus