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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

December 21, 2015

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis
Director: J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Super 8)

Bottom Line: There were a lot of things going right with the development of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We can all appreciate George Lucas for bringing the Star Wars franchise to the world, but after the bitter taste he left in our mouths with Episodes I-III, I can’t imagine that anyone was sad to hear he wasn’t going to be involved much with the making of Episode VII. Replace Lucas with proven sci-fi master J.J. Abrams, who recently reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise with great success, and the creative minds at Disney, and well, there was plenty to be excited about.

And The Force Awakens immediately feels familiar… and special. Before I even heard the names Finn or Rey, I already knew Episode VII was going to be eons better than the last three movies. It feels like a Star Wars movie – a good one; and yet, it is carried by an entirely new cast of characters.

It opens with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver as the new Darth Vader), field commander of the First Order (the new Empire) and a crew of storm troopers trying to find a map that leads to the location of a missing Luke Skywalker. Of course, the map is hidden in a droid (no, not R2D2) that is accompanied by a top pilot in the Resistance named Poe (Isaac), both of whom are captured by the First Order. However, during battle, one of the storm troopers, who we will come to know as Finn (Boyega), seems to become aware of his wrongdoing and decides to deflect, saving Poe and his droid and escaping before crashing on the planet Jakku, where Poe disappears and Finn meets Rey (Ridley), a scrappy scavenger with all the signs of a future Jedi. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s up to Rey and Finn to use the map to find Luke Skywalker, the last known Jedi, and avoid the clutches of Kylo Ren and the evil First Order.

At first glance, that plot might look eerily similar – and it should. The Force Awakens is certainly not breaking new ground in storytelling and considering this is the seventh installment in the series, it honestly makes me laugh any time I see someone legitimately criticize this movie for being unoriginal. What did you expect? It’s pretty clear that the writers decided to take the elements of the original series that worked, flip them around a bit, add a twist or two, add some new characters, sprinkle in some old ones, shake it up a bit, and hope they had the ingredients for another commercially (and this time critically) successful trilogy.

And I’ll be damned if the formula doesn’t work to perfection. Abrams and company manage to infuse The Force Awakens with plenty of call backs and cameos from the original trilogy without overdoing it, all while developing brand new players that will carry the story for the next decade. Both Ridley’s Rey and Driver’s Kylo Ren are worthy additions to the Star Wars legacy, but it’s Boyega’s Finn that is the true standout. As a former storm trooper, Finn’s arc is the only one that is truly unique in the movie and Boyega plays the part with wide-eyed giddiness. Already a potential breakout candidate with his awesome performance in 2011’s wonderful and criminally overlooked Attack The Block, Boyega is now officially a megastar. Having watched the original trilogy recently, I was also impressed with how seamless Harrison Ford’s performance as Han Solo feels considering it has been over thirty years since he played the part. That kind of nostalgia didn’t carry over into the latest Indiana Jones movie, so it’s a welcome feat here.

Not everyone in the cast is brilliant, however. Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa feels out of place and her portrayal is a bit jarring. I don’t know if time just hasn’t been kind to the actress or what, but she doesn’t feel or sound like how I would imagine Princess Leia 30 years later. Also, after seeing such brilliant performances from Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) in Ex Machina earlier this year, it’s a bit disappointing to see how little screen time Isaac gets for what I thought would be a major character and how rigid and forced Gleeson’s First Order general feels.

Still, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was everything I could have hoped for. It feels like a movie George Lucas would have made in his prime with 2015’s film-making technology. The story lacks originality, sure, and while you might not be able to guess the plot twists exactly, they won’t really surprise you when they happen – and I can only assume more “big” revelations are coming (if Finn is an ordinary storm trooper that simply decided to switch sides, well, then I know nothing about anything). Regardless, the movie is entertaining and funny enough that we can be happy that we are getting more of what we already know we love: an awesome space adventure with great and memorable characters. We have a new core of potential Star Wars icons to root for and against and it will be interesting to see the rest of the trilogy play out. This is a superb blockbuster film and I can’t imagine how any Star Wars fan would feel anything less than glee while watching it. J.J. Abrams done did it again!

Replay Value: I actually want to see it in theaters again… preferably in IMAX 3D.
Sequel Potential: Episode VIII is due out in May 2017 and Episode IX comes out in 2019, plus we are getting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016, a Han Solo prequel in 2018, and possibly a Boba Fett movie in 2020.
Oscar Potential: This movie should get some technical attention: special effects, make-up, visual effects, costumes, sound editing, sound, etc. the real question is whether it can sneak into the Best Picture or Best Director categories…

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

MINOR SPOILER: My one real complaint with this movie was that about midway through, Han Solo and Chewbacca are encountered by some sort of bounty hunters played by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, amazing martial artists that are responsible for some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen (see: The Raid and The Raid 2) and yet, their roles could have been played by any other extra, as they have minimal dialogue before being whisked off screen while we get a monster chase sequence. Talk about a waste.

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