[Movie Review] ‘Star Wars’ Returns As ‘The Force Awakens’
The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie you’re looking for, a long awaited sequel to Return of the Jedi launching a new generation into the epic mythology well established in six prior blockbusters, the obvious must-see cinematic event of the year.
Unless you have been living like a hermit on the Outer Rim in a galaxy far, far away, you are not only well aware of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but, after literally destroying every existing box office record in just over two weeks, you have probably already seen it (at least once), so I’ll skip the backstory and just punch it into warp speed.
Daisy Ridley is a marvel as the film’s new young heroine Rey, an undeniable icon for a new generation of girls and boys. Her femininity is never once portrayed as a weakness, but is in fact not even thing at all, as Rey is introduced to us completely self sufficient, a scrappy survivor with a big, kind heart even before her true destiny comes calling and the action really takes off.
It is somewhat revolutionary in itself that it’s Rey who can pilot a space ship while her most immediate male counterpart cannot, not to mention the fact that she is actually pretty good at it, so much so that she even earns a heartfelt compliment from the fastest pilot in the galaxy, Han Solo.
She may have tears in her eyes, but those are much more tears of passion at the thought that she may have finally discovered her path in the universe than they are tears of fear.
Rey is more than equal to the men in The Force Awakens, she is better than them, displaying the courage of Solo, the righteousness of former-princess-now-General Leia (Carrie Fisher reprising her famous role), the skills of ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the wide-eyed enthusiasm of her new friend and former First Order stormtrooper Finn, and the power to harness enough of The Force to scare the new Darth Vader disciple Kylo Ren.
Played by Adam Driver, Kylo Ren echoes shades of Hayden Christensen’s tortured Anakin Skywalker from Revenge of the Sith, consumed by anger and a hot temper, armed with the coolest red lightsaber since Darth Maul. Ren is given the film’s most shocking scene, one that will resonate deeply with fans of the original Star Wars trilogy and undoubtedly throughout the future of this saga, certainly shaping events to come in future episodes.
John Boyega has a blast as Finn, who was taken from his family as an infant and raised by The First Order to be a soulless stormtrooper known only as FN-2187, until his conscience takes over during his first battle and he quickly becomes a deserter, a traitor immediately hunted by his former employers.
Finn’s story arch is without a doubt The Force Awakens‘ most unique and original plot point, as nothing else in the current Star Wars canon has ever explored what’s behind the infamous stormtrooper helmets – much less what’s going on in their heads – quite like this.
I absolutely love the chemistry between Boyega and Ridley, and especially the honest youthful excitement and awe with which they are (both) awakening to a much larger world before them, just starting to realize their places in it.
As Poe Dameron, a daring X-Wing fighter pilot for The Resistance, Oscar Isaac is dashing, funny, and instantly likable as the first of the new cast that we meet on screen, while Domhnall Gleeson excellently snarls his way through commanding the new Starkiller Base as First Order General Hux, exceedingly evil in a frightening Nazi-esque speech, though Gwendoline Christie is criminally underused as the mysteriously cool looking Captain Phasma.
Harrison Ford brings more depth to the legendary smuggler-turned-Rebel General Han Solo than he did in any of the original three movies, as our collective familiarity with the actor and his most recognizable character provides a comfortable bridge from the classic trilogy to the new film and those already scheduled to follow.
Carrie Fisher makes a welcome return as Leia, still as spunky as ever, now elevated to the rank of General within The Resistance but still locked in a seemingly never ending war against The Dark Side, be it The Empire of three decades prior or the newly christened First Order of today. She was a rebel when we first met her and she is still a rebel, a respected leader who remains “royalty” to some.
But what of the love story betweeen Leia and Han Solo? All we know for sure is that life in another galaxy does not usually go as planned or expected, much like in our galaxy.
And where is Luke Skywalker? While the presence of the last Jedi is evoked constantly from the earliest opening seconds through the final frame of the film, without spoiling anything I will say that the (mis)handling of the franchise’s most important character is the biggest problem with this otherwise reinvigorated take on the same timeless themes that creator George Lucas so effectively tapped into with the first Star Wars movie in 1977.
As great as it is, The Force Awakens is far from a perfect movie, or even a perfect Star Wars movie. If Lucas’s divisive prequel trilogy was (unfairly) criticized for being too different than the first three films, the newest entry strives far too hard to correct this, taking nostalgia to unneeded ridiculous levels, most evident in an overall plot line that is essentially identical to the original Star Wars (A New Hope).
No other Star Wars film ends with the kind of scene that wraps up The Force Awakens, and I feel the new movie would have been better without the last two minutes, which would make more sense as the kind of blatant audience-baiting cliffhanger that is usually reserved for Marvel’s post credits scenes meant to only tease the next film in the series and remind viewers that the adventure is not over. But of course anyone watching The Force Awakens is already well aware that the adventure is only just beginning (again), so for Disney to think that this kind of tease is necessary shows that the Mouse House clearly still underestimates the power of Star Wars.
If I had to nail down one key element that is lacking, I would say that it’s a dose of George Lucas, who sold the Lucasfilm legacy he created to Disney in 2012, and who understood that each film being its own “episode” of a larger story does not mean that those episodes don’t each need a proper beginning, middle, and ending. Part of what make those first three movies so great – and so re-watchable – is that they are each a complete movie within itself, independent of the others and yet forever linked inside the bigger saga.
While nothing about The Force Awakens approaches the emotional intensity of the original trilogy, or even Revenge of the Sith, it does re-capture the sheer fun that we all experienced first climbing aboard the Millenium Falcon via Luke Skywalker when we were eight years old, and it’s clear that by the time Episode IX opens in 2019 and Rey and Ren exhibit an epic lightsaber duel beyond all others before it, we will all feel the power of a fully operational game-changing franchise, and once more, Star Wars will rule the galaxy.
Official Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
THE WARS TO COME…
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Dec. 16, 2016
Star Wars Episode VIII – May 26, 2017
Young Han Solo Movie (currently untitled) – May 25, 2018
Star Wars Episode IX – 2019
Boba Fett Movie (currently untitled) – 2020
What did YOU think of this movie? Write your own review in the comments below!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (rated PG13) is now playing at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills and The Pioneer Theatre in Manteo (through Jan. 14).