Star Wars: The Force Awakens
After a wait that seemingly would never come, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now in theaters and offers up plenty to keep fans happy and engaged, while bringing them back for more. Come inside to check out our full review, and add your thoughts on the latest film!
My Star Wars fandom is well known and documented, so I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say, that everyone who knows me personally is happy I've finally stopped my annoying (to them) countdown to the flick. The Force Awakens is a movie that offers up quite a bit of fan service that's sure to please just about everyone, though it sacrifices some of the plot to do so. Even that being the case, the characters more than make up for any plot shortcomings. Let's talk about it a little more.
[This review will be SPOILER FREE. If you’re seeking to avoid spoilers, you can proceed without much fear.]
A Quick Note on Spoilers
Frankly speaking, I don’t entirely get all of the secrecy surrounding the film. One of the biggest connections in the film is revealed early on in this film (within the first 20-30 minutes), and is used as a plot device throughout the film. It’s not like a major reveal that happened at the end to keep under wraps. So it’s strange.
Even knowing all the details about what would happen, seeing them play out on the big screen was still emotionally satisfying. There was still plenty of ‘impact’ moments that hit me in all the right spots, and more importantly, they STILL hit me upon the second viewing. So yes, The Force Awakens is just as good with multiple viewings, which is really the ultimate goal of any movie out there: to be just as entertaining.
The Fun Factor
I don’t think it can be stated enough, just how much FUN The Force Awakens turns out to be. It perfectly captures the sense of adventure of the originals along with the personal journeys up against the backdrop of a larger scale.
Even if you take out the fan aspect of it, I think it’s a difficult movie to sit through without a big smile on your face. The fun factor is too high to ignore and keeps it going in places where any other story would try and fall apart.
A big reason for this, stems from the fact that the movie is incredibly well paced. Seriously, the pacing on this film is masterful, and shows a strong command of how things should move within a story. The action is consistent throughout, while giving audiences enough breaks in between to lower the tension and move the plot forward. Just when it seems like it’s slowing down too much, another action scene comes in and brings things right back up.
The Force Awakens' balance helps to keep the fun going throughout, and genuinely makes it feel like there’s never a dull moment. The scenes in which things need to slow down are handled well, while conveying the necessary information. It never bogs you down with too many explanations about the world you're in (there are a couple times I wish they would have a little more, but I’ll talk about that later) and lets the visuals/character interactions tell you what’s going on.
As such, the film moves along at a quick pace that keeps it engaging and thrilling, without feeling rushed. That’s not something easily done, especially considering how fast certain things seem to happen, but it shows an adept hand in visual storytelling, which is typically when Star Wars is at its best (just look at Star Wars Rebels). It’s a great example of showing versus telling, an ideal many stories try to achieve.
Oh! I can’t leave off this section without mentioning the amount of humor in the film. There’s plenty of it. This isn’t a doom and gloom type of story, despite some serious things that happen throughout. There’s good moments of comic relief, that feel right for the moments they happen, and perfectly in character for those in the scene. Nothing felt forced or out of place in terms of the humor, and it added a great deal to the ultimate fun factor (even on a second viewing).
An Amazing new Cast
The main reason the humor and scenes come together so well, has to do with the incredible cast they’ve assembled. Forget the returning characters for a moment, and you’re left with some amazing people that I can’t wait to see more of. Our introductions to them are handled well, making it easy to become attached to them almost immediately and without any effort.
We can sympathize with where they’re coming from, and the places they’re entering the story. Poe is the cocksure pilot who laughs, literally, in the face of danger, while Finn is realizing his own morality in a system he grew up with and learning to trust his own skills, while Rey is seeking for something more than her lot in life. These are all qualities we can connect with on a very basic level, and thus, we feel a strong pull towards them as the events of the film unfold.
Combine their energy and capability with the older characters, and it’s a recipe for some serious on screen chemistry that makes the film easy to come back to over and over again. While the story itself seems a little light and basic (more on that in a bit), the sheer depth of the characters is enough to keep you sucked in. Honestly, the things that I keep coming back to and analyzing in the film have to do with the characters rather than the plot, something most movies fail to do, but is absolutely vital for The Force Awakens.
If Disney wants to successfully sell this new trilogy and new spin-off films, they have to be able to do so on the strength of NEW characters. Relying on original trilogy characters and nostalgia can only take them so far, and they need the new actors/characters to drive the franchise. The Force Awakens proves they can do this, in that I feel desperate to know more about these guys, and not just because I want answers to lingering questions, but because they’re genuinely interesting and fun.
I didn’t walk out of the theater wanting to see more of the old cast in the next films, but rather eagerly anticipating what the NEW characters would get themselves into. In this way, The Force Awakens is above and beyond a success. Even the minor characters in the film, like Maz Kanata and Lor San Tekka were instantly engaging and bring up a wealth of questions that will keep you thinking long after the credits begin to role. In this way, Disney and JJ have made the Star Wars galaxy much bigger, without taking up too much screen time to explain them. This makes it easy for the other films to pick up on those story threads without feeling forced.
While The Force Awakens is immensely fun and thoroughly engaging with all the new characters, it’s not a perfect movie and has some areas I wish were improved. As I mentioned already, the story itself is pretty basic. In fact, as many have already pointed out, it’s a pretty solid copy of how A New Hope plays out hitting many of the same story beats. There’s a new planet destroying machine that has to be taken care of (right down to the countdown to firing), a villain in a mask, and new heroes from obscure origins.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and since the primary focus seemed to be on the characters rather than story, I can see why. The problem, though, is that you never get the sense of conflict on a larger scale. Everything is more personal oriented, so when it came to the First Order doing bad things to the galaxy, I felt less of a connection to it all, and couldn’t see them as much of a threat in the same way the Empire did originally.
I appreciate the attention to detail and emphasis on SHOWING a story rather than telling one, but there are some points where I wish they had explained a little more. The current state of the galaxy isn’t entirely clear. The Resistance is being ‘helped’ by the Republic, and the First Order is culled from the Imperial remnant...but that’s all you know. It’s never explained how these forces are operating with one another or how they’re in conflict exactly. The state of the galaxy isn’t clear enough to feel like battle lines are drawn, which makes it difficult to sympathize with the bigger picture.
This lack of connection to the bigger picture makes it a little tougher to get into the film from a more general perspective. I didn’t feel the same sense of tension for the final battle to take down the Starkiller, as I did watching the rebels fight the first Death Star. The tension is surely there when it comes to the personal interactions, but sadly missing on the bigger scale. Some more explanation of things would have made a bigger impact in this regard.
The only other issue I had with the film sort of ties into the point made above: it feels like a safe movie. When JJ Abrams was first hired, my initial thought was, “that’s a safe choice.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or that I wasn’t excited, but it always seemed like Disney would want to play it safe with this first movie.
Disney NEEDED The Force Awakens to be good, as it would be launching a new franchise, and would ultimately guide all the things they have going on (comics, video games, spin-offs, TV shows, etc). As such, they wanted to make a movie that would appeal to a wide audience without taking too many risks or chances.
This is why the plot feels on the safer side of things and more emphasis is put on the characters. While I feel this will be a great thing overall for the trilogy, it makes TFA specifically feel like it didn’t take enough bold actions within the plot.
* The visual effects are truly amazing in this movie. I know so much emphasis has been put on the “practical effects” in the movie, but the computer generated ones are nothing to balk at. It’s a stunning testament to the technology today.
* There are a TON of things going on in the background of just about every shot. The attention to the little details is impressive, and fun to look for on multiple viewings.
* Kylo Ren is such a great villain.
* The soundtrack is freaking great. John Williams does a great job of combining familiar themes with new ones seamlessly.
* The introduction of the older characters into the story were treated reverentially without feeling forced or over the top. Very well done, and made everyone in the theater cheer.
* BB-8 is a legitimately fun character.
* Snoke is VERY interesting, and I can’t wait to see more of his story.
The movie is a ridiculous amount of fun, with masterful pacing that will be enjoyable for all ages, and new/returning fans. JJ Abrams did exactly what he set out to do, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Even on more than one showing, I was amazed at how much is going on, and the depth of visual storytelling at play. Don’t miss this one in theaters, and be sure to take the whole family.