Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens movie poster

Release: Friday, December 18, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: J.J. Abrams; Lawrence Kasdan; Michael Arndt

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

It’s admittedly difficult to resist feeling giddy when the familiar yellow text starts scrolling into the distance against a background strewn with stars. As John Williams’ iconic score trumpets the arrival of a new era in perhaps the only franchise that seems to matter, excitement slowly gives way to anticipation; anticipation to expectation; expectation to . . . well, this is where the path surely divides.

J.J. Abrams has found success on multiple fronts with his helming of George Lucas’ most lucrative creation. Never mind the fact he managed a dubious transition between both Star-themed universes. His film manifests as a surprisingly efficient blend of fan service and sound judgment. As canon-expanding as it is reverential but without indulging so much it becomes impenetrable to the outsider looking in. The Force Awakens also benefits from the work of a casting director who knows how to put the right pieces in place. On a project of this scale no aspect is unworthy of mention.

POE AND THE MAPQUEST MAGUFFIN 

The Force Awakens grafts nicely together with the story arcs presented in the original trilogy. Set approximately three decades into the future the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, has gone missing following a failed attempt to rebuild Jedi forces that ended in death and destruction thanks to dark warrior Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver, for some reason).

The shadows of its predecessors are never far behind, though much to the franchise’s credit, there’s a lot of comfort in familiarity.

Rising out of the ashes of Darth Vader and his Death Star comes Ren and The First Order, suitably villainous nomenclature for the second coming of the Galactic Empire. Resistance Forces, into which Oscar Isaac’s skilled pilot Poe Dameron fits like a Skywalker into cinemythology, carry on the burden of the fallen Republic. There are hauntingly beautiful shots of alien sunrises, strange-looking-people montages, and compulsory (but still pulse-quickening) light saber duels. There’s even a repurposed AT-AT.

Early on Poe comes into possession of a digital map detailing the whereabouts of the apparently self-exiled Jedi. In an effort to keep the secret from falling into the wrong hands, he hides the file in his droid BB-8. Call him the R2-D2 of 2015. After a few close encounters and a chance run-in with defecting Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) that ends in Poe’s crashing back into the very planet he was trying to escape, the bot proves to be an indispensable asset. BB-8 becomes the target of both the Resistance and the First Order, and the task of protecting it at all costs falls to Finn (née Stormtrooper FN-2187) and the orphan Rey (Daisy Ridley), who represents another of the year’s resilient, beguiling, tough leading ladies.

The trio eventually encounter an aging Han Solo and his co-pilot Chewie, whose loudly applauded first appearances surely won’t prove to be unique to my screening. They meet after crashing a ship following an escape from heavy Stormtrooper fire on the planet Jakku; a ship that turns out to be none other than the Millennium Falcon. Once Solo learns of the precious information the others are sitting on, he volunteers assistance all while Finn is still trying to escape to an entirely different star system, fearing the repercussions of his actions. And he wants to take Rey with him, but she has her heart set on returning home.

YOU AND YOUR SHINY NEW TOY

There’s nothing wholly original about the Abrams/Kasdan-revised script (originally written by Michael Arndt) but above average turns from newcomers Ridley and Boyega make the film easily accessible and a great deal more fun. They’re also unburdened with any sense of forced-awkward intimacy that, if things were different, could’ve earned Lucas a possible Golden Raspberry nomination.

Little time for that though, when you’re trying to take the production (and yourself) a little more seriously. Pride is most definitely at stake here. There’s an unshakable sense Abrams feels compelled to stay to a safe and conventional narrative arc, one that is largely predictable from beginning to end; that he knows and is quite possibly intimidated by how much is at stake with this production. But Episode VII doesn’t play out mechanically or with a sense of cautious restraint. There is restraint being exercised — imagining forty-five minutes having been cut from the opening action sequences and a few other significant confrontations isn’t very hard to do — but if anything the slightly more somber and straight-faced approach suits the drama.

I’ve never been able to categorize any of the installments as drama and yet, for the first time, there is a kind of gravity to proceedings that not only demands but earns attention. That’s not to say the film completely lacks humor, though. And I’ll spare details about what looms in the shadows but I will say this: unfortunately this film hasn’t been immune to Weak Villain syndrome. You’ll need to look elsewhere if you’re to get to the heart and soul of a body soon to be excoriated by dissenters.

Rather the reason, any reason to care about what happens rests upon the shoulders of the embattled Finn and Rey, the newcomers to a saga that clearly has territory left to be explored. Ridley might be the most impressive of the lot, optimizing her natural beauty with a strong, confident persona that betrays her apparently tragic past and fairly impoverished life on Jakku. She also might be the most compelling character. Boyega maintains an easy charm throughout, affording a humanity to the iconic, conformist Stormtroopers that will never be looked at the same way again.

And Lupita Nyong’o receives a sweet supporting role as Maz Kanata, an inquisitive but kind-hearted alien who proves helpful in protecting BB-8 from the First Order. Completely rendered in CGI I didn’t even realize it was Nyong’o until credits rolled, yet she offers a character that will be as difficult to forget as some of the main players.

At times it’s painfully obvious how much Star Wars relies on recognizability rather than its content. It will be interesting to see how many repeat viewings a select few character introductions will hold up to before they start feeling a little too protracted. A little too flashy. And the admittedly imposing Kylo Ren bears more than a passing resemblance to the series’ arguably most familiar character. That ain’t coincidence, all familial backstory accounted for and acknowledged. But let’s be honest, the flashiness can’t be avoided; it’s a new chapter in a major story spanning decades, and everything feels new and shiny again. Perhaps more importantly for me than for others: the new toy isn’t all shine and gloss. It has real functionality, too.

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 4.20.18 AM

Recommendation: Once again a fairly redundant section of the page here; The Force Awakens doesn’t exactly need my endorsement but for what it’s worth, as a decided non-fan of the series, I really had a good time with this movie. More entertaining and diverting than something I can take really seriously, I was expecting to not like the film. So . . . that is . . . that is kind of neat. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 135 mins.

Quoted: “That’s not how the Force works!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.business2community.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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43 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  1. Pingback: The 2015 Digibread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. I think Abrams was going to be damned if he did or damned if he didn’t when it came to veering away from the winning formula. Personally, I think he got that balance just right. It does so much ground work in setting up the next two films. I’m so excited to see Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII.

    • There’s enough in the new characters to ensure the future installments will take on identities of their own. I thought this one was very solid, maybe more A New Hope than anything but that’s not a bad thing. Not the biggest Star Wars fan myself but even I got in on the action, after telling myself I would be staying well away! 🙂

  3. Good point about relying on recognizability rather than content. There’s nothing new here but still, it’s got that Star Wars feel and it’s fun!

    • Imagine the amount of merchandise they are about to start cranking out for this thing now, my god.

      Definitely an enjoyable time, even for outsiders such as myself. 😀

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  5. Just got back from watching Force Awakens. I enjoyed it myself and I think the general vibe of the theater audience liked it a lot. I think it was definitely meant to be a fun, crowd pleaser with a lot of nostalgia and familiar elements mixed in. Good to read your thoughts on it Tom!

    • There was the expected fan service dictating much of the energy of the film, but I didn’t much mind it. The first time Han Solo and Chewie appear on screen, even for me as a person who didnt really get Star Wars in the first place, thought that was a pretty cool moment. 🙂 I’m sure JJ Abrams (and the studio) are in the process of breathing a very deep sigh of relief.

  6. not a fan Tom????? is that possible?????

    truth is, I saw this with my wife who is a VERY non-fan (she has never seen any of the other movies) and she enjoyed my quick recap and the movie itself, so ur in good company 🙂

    Great job as always

    • I might have clarified: I’m not like, anti-Star Wars I just have never paid it much attention. If it is ever on TV i’d probably sit there and watch one of the earlier entries all the way through. COuldn’t get past a lot of the cheesiness in the prequels but they did have their moments too. So I guess I just wasn’t quite as amped on this as the vast majority. And even with that said, i did really enjoy this. The acting was much improved and overall I liked how it tried not to go out and crazy things, it stuck to formula that was familiar but it somehow felt more robust

  7. Oh Tom this is very similar to my review but stated much more eloquently. I’m still a bit pissed of about how unoriginal the plot is. It feels more like a remix than a sequel. The casting director however deserves huge pay rise.

    I gave the film 7/10 and now everyone hates me!

    • No one could ever hate you, Mikey! 😉

      7/10 is a really good score, I don’t know why people would be upset about that! Haha. But I’m with you on the originality of the plot issue. It definitely didn’t strike me at first as inspired or even really good but it was one of those things that actually felt more natural after I thought on the film more later on. Abrams was faced with such a massive task of giving new life to this series and I think his refusal to stray from familiar plot turns and devices actually worked this time. It will be much more of an issue if that trend continues into Episodes 8 and 9, though. As for me, I had a great time with it when I was expecting just a so-so experience. Haven’t watched the originals in decades!

  8. This works in the very same way as Creed. The Force Awakens is fashioned as sort of a remix of the original trilogy. A very well done remix. I don’t think your review is “tepid” at all. It’s reasonable. I’m curious though why you call yourself a “non-fan”. What are your feelings about Star Wars (1977) or The Empire Strikes back?

    • Nice, I like the comparison to what Creed has done for its franchise. I can’t say I disagree on that. I guess when I say I’m a ‘non-fan,’ I just mean I could never get really enthusiastic about this release and I don’t ever recall seeing the prequel films very quickly. I wasn’t blogging back then either, but I also don’t think I made it a priority to see those films as I just couldn’t muster the energy. So it’s a case of indifference rather than anti-sentiment. lol. I’m not against the series by any means, I just never found the true appeal. The acting and the romance in the past always were big turn-offs for me, but Abrams and his crew have done well rectifying that here. I really, really dug the new characters too and in fact I’m pretty sure Daisy Ridley is about to qualify as one of my favorite new faces of 2015

  9. Good review with lots of plot retread, which helps me remember how much fun I had. Really well written too. Without getting into big spoilers, I really enjoyed Kylo Ren and Adam Driver’s layered performance. Check my Nerd Theory article to see why. The look of his mask has deeper meaning beyond reminding us of Vader to buy tickets 😉 But I think I know what you mean about (blank)’s appearance. I loved this movie… I’d rate it with the whole pie, 8 slices out of 8, pleasantly stuffed!

    • Yeah *Blank*’s appearance was a bit lame in my book but it wasn’t enough to put me off too much. It’s funny you notice there is a lot of discussion of plot here, I was debating whether or not to put a Spoiler Alert label at the top just to warn others about details being given away, but in the end I figured by the time this post goes live many (if not most) hardcore fans and readers would have already seen the movie so I went without it. Tough job to talk too much about the movie itself without spoiling it in any way, shape or form though. I tried to comment more on how I felt in the movie as a less enthusiastic viewer so hopefully that came through a little bit. 😉

      Adam Driver was a very curious choice. I think I like the actor but he is such a hipster in movies usually it was hard to take him seriously in this movie for me! Haha

      • Driver was nice and annoying in movie, coming off wimpy. His snivelling characteristics and meagre voice really help show us why he needs the mask and voice changer to be intimidating. I think we’re supposed to get annoyed, perhaps to better the arc should he turn to the Light.

        I tried not get too spoilery here… check out my theory article for that 😉 I would love to hear your spoiler thoughts in comments there – since its ok for spoilers there.

        Oh and i hear ya… Awakens was hard to review without involving the use of “I” or mentioning prequels or plot, but I think I pulled it off with non spoiler review.

        • For sure man, I’ll be on by. I have actually successfully avoided reading an overload of pieces on the movie so far which has surprised me because they are everywhere. It’s pretty cool how much of an event this release has turned into. Call it the movie of the 21st century!

    • Oh wow, never seen the originals eh? I’m wondering if that might throw your experience out of whack but if you have intentions on catching up anyway, then it probably won’t matter too much what order you see all them in. 🙂 I’m just more relieved there are more people like me who weren’t completely in a rush to see this and wax poetic about it. It’s cool that people are amped about it, but i just can’t get that into it. Maybe it’s a personality flaw hah

  10. Strong thoughts, Tom. I’m not sure if I’m gonna watch (probably couldn’t get a ticket this weekend, anyway!). But, I’m happy to hear that it is accessible, as it has been some time since I sat down with the original trilogy, and I don’t have the time to do so.

    If I watch, no way in hell I’m writing about it! There are more than enough blog posts for it.

    • Hah, yeah I totally feel you on that man. I tried my best to get this thing out the night I saw the movie but by the time I had gotten back home from the midnight showing it was going on 3 o clock so I waited til the next day to start. Than ran right into writer’s block and that had me going nuts until that night as i knew how many other posts would be going up about this movie. There comes a point where I almost fully expected no one to read this b/c they’d have their information from so many other places! Haha! It’s a tough gig this blogging biz sometimes, man.

      You should look forward to the film at any rate. It’s really fun

  11. A very fair review, Tom. If I was awarding marks out of 8 I’d say a 6 too. Maybe a 7 because I’m a fan. I had a few spine-tingling moments!

    • Yeah, it’s a package that knows exactly what it is and sticks to formula but in this case that only helps its cause. I definitely took to it more than I expected I would. Just could never get into this realm, same thing with Star Trek.

  12. Not a Star Wars fan. Hmm… Nice knowing you, Tom! 😉 Seriously, though – I’m glad it sounds like you liked this one anyway. 🙂 I’m still trying to fully sort out my thoughts even though I saw it Wednesday night. It’s damn good, though. And I loooove Rey. Rey rules. 🙂

    • #reyrules #rulesofbeingrey #justbefuckingcool #ohjustbecauseisaidiwasntafandoesntmeanicantenjoythisokaythisistoolongofahashtagphrasenowforsuretheresnodoubtaboutit

      This was a fun movie! I liked it and even not really being a fan, i guess i just mean I didnt’ really get into the whole thing. I”m not really against Star Wars. But this was one worth seeing early and i was completely surprised the show was not sold out

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