Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is the film that everyone everywhere has been excited for, and yet fearful that it was going to be another Phantom Menace. I’m not going to do any clever preambles or intros here. Let’s get straight into this review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It’s what we’re here for, right? So, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Just about anything I could say relating to the plot of the film is going to be spoiler territory, so I’m going to say as little as I can beyond what’s common knowledge. The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the end of Return of the Jedi, and a new group called the First Order has formed from the remnants of what used to be the Galactic Empire, led in part by Kylo Ren, a dark force user. The resistance—what used to be the Rebel Alliance—is still actively fighting the First Order. From all of this chaos, new heroes arise to fight alongside old ones.
One of the first things that struck me about The Force Awakens is just how safe the film plays it. There are no truly big surprises; everything that happens feels like it’s what would have naturally occurred anyhow. There’s a lot here that feels a lot like bits of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Yet it still feels like a natural progression from those films. You don’t need to have watched the originals to get the film, but it helps a lot.
There’s a definite grittiness in this film compared to the prequels, which felt a lot brighter and lighter in tone. There are dark moments here, showing just how Nazi the First Order can be, along with lighthearted moments that don’t feel forced. Even the music felt just right. John Williams has added to the score here and there, but with many of the familiar motifs running through the narrative.
The acting in this production was mostly top notch. Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is strong and wonderfully portrayed, and John Boyega’s portrayal of Finn, an ex-stormtrooper, is convincing. The old-guard, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and the others, stay true to who their characters were in the original series, with the kinds of differences you’d expect of characters that have grown older. I don’t know if I’ve just consumed way too much Star Wars or whether they’ve changed something somewhere, but I actually felt like I understood the things that the BB-8 and R2D2 droids said. Some of the least convincing acting came from the bad guys. At this point, I’m still undecided about Adam Driver’s role as Kylo Ren. There are definite in-universe reasons for his acting, but I don’t know how convincing it was yet.
Because Abrams relied far less on CGI and more on physical effects, the film feels less fake than the prequels. There’s a palpability to it all, and yet it still looks magical. The scenes of the Falcon flying around are glorious to behold here, and it’s still a pulse-stopping thrill. The aerial dogfights between X-Wings and TIE Fighters actually looked a great deal like the chaos I’ve seen while playing Star Wars Battlefront (reviewed over here). It’s brilliant. In fact, there seems to be a lot here that feels like it was made especially to fit into Battlefront. Time may prove me wrong, but I think I’ve got the right of it.
Are there some questionable decisions here? I think there may be, but it’s hard to tell without the contexts of the following two films, coming in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Does it stand well on its own? It actually does. The film can actually be watched on its own as a wonderful sci-fi spectacle with fun characters and a great storyline. And the best part? No Jar-Jar-like character.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens contains only what we need and no more. And what we need is to feel like the star-struck, wide-eyed 8 year old watching Star Wars for the first time. Did J.J. Abrams get it right? Holy moley did he ever. And then some. The new Star Wars movie delivers action, adventure, romance, feels, danger, laughs, nostalgia, and excitement all in one neat, brilliant little package. It’s not completely flawless, but then what film is? Look, just stop reading this review already and GO WATCH IT.