After much fanfare and speculation, Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivers under J.J Abrams direction, hitting many of the notes that made millions of people fall in love with the franchise 40 years ago.

The Force Awakens follows a young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her ex-stormtrooper companion Finn (John Boyega) as they discover the mystical power of “the force” while assisting in a rebellion against a totalitarian regime that’s trying to take over the galaxy. Led by a mysterious “supreme leader” (Andy Serkis) and his mask wearing, light sabre wielding second in command Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), The First Order attempts to find and destroy the last remaining Jedi- Luke Skywalker while the resistance group led by familiar faces (Appropriately named The Resistance)  attempts to find Luke and once again restore balance in the force.

Sound familiar? That’s because The Force Awakens is as much a reboot for a new generation as it is the continuation of the story that began 40 years ago. Many beats from the original trilogy are carried over here including:

  • Rey discovering a connection to the force ( thankfully no mention of midichlorians),
  • The evil First Order building a weapon that is remarkably similar to a Death Star but apparently is now a “Starkiller Base”,
  • The mentor figure dying at the hands of the villain
  • The unlikely hero being dragged into the story because a droid is carrying valuable information

The similarities may cause some fans of the originals to be a little disappointed with the story but again I feel like this stems from Disney and Abrams acknowledging that it must redeem Star Wars by showing it can return to form before taking any huge risks. There is nothing groundbreaking about the film from either a technical or story standpoint but where The Force Awakens succeeds is in its ability to return to its roots learning from the mistakes it made in the prequels.

Credit has to be given to Abrams and fellow writers for not complicating the plot realizing that audiences are more interested in the battles rather than space politics and intergalactic trade regulations. It is simple but effective – an invaluable aspect preventing those new to the franchise from feeling bogged down trying to understand the lore. At the same time, the film respects the many hardcore fans of the series with nods to the previous installments, easter eggs and cameos scattered throughout.

Abrams keeps the audience engaged with action scenes spaced nicely throughout the film giving it a good pace. These action scenes are the highlight of the film particularly a wonderfully shot Millennium Falcon chase scene that is thrilling and establishes the new characters rapport quickly. It is here that The Force Awakens shows significant improvement over the originals as the battles (both the air and light sabre variety) look and feel better thanks to the technology available as well as the improvements made in fight choreography over the years.

Mercifully Abrams’ usage of CGI is not as noticeable as it was in the “specialized” remasters of the originals or in the prequels which is a welcome change. The set pieces by in large feel authentic (as authentic a futuristic space epic can look) and he restricted the hologram communications to just one recurring scene which helps the chemistry between the cast as interactions are mostly person to person and not person and green screen.

The performances from the cast is another noticeable improvement from the prequels. This is aided by the dialogue which is significantly less clunky, opting for clarity rather than the convoluted – trying too hard to be profound – mess that was the prequels (basically avoiding this). With the exception of one awkward Boyega/Ridley exchange in the new cantina, most of the dialogue is simple and clean.Taking this approach is the smart move but prevents the film from having a standout performance from any of its actors. Regardless, everyone from Ridley/Boyega down to the droids handles what they’re given admirably.

In fact, it is the way these characters are presented which helps to overcome some of the issues the plot has – yes the story is similar but these characters feel different than their original counterparts. Partially this is because the new trinity (Rey, Finn and Oscar Issac’s Poe) is more diverse than before featuring no white men – something virtually unheard of in Hollywood blockbusters but it is also because the characters are less defined to a certain role. Rey, for example, is a mixture of all three members of the original trilogy, she is the new apprentice much like Luke was in A New Hope but also has Han Solo’s extraordinary flying skills and Leia’s “I answer to no man” fearlessness. While each character possesses their own unique level of expertise in different fields, they are not solely defined by that attribute, This makes the characters seem more true to life thereby giving them a  higher degree of investment with the audience.

The only issues with characterization come from Kylo Ren who loses some of the intimidation factor after he removes his mask. Trying to humanize the character may point to a potential change of heart down the line but for this film makes him feel weak especially in comparison to Darth Vader. Furthermore, his inability to completely destroy two people who have no force or light saber training is disappointing (I don’t care how connected to the force Rey is, no way someone who picked up a light sabre for the first time should be able to defeat someone like Kylo Ren). I realize he was injured prior to this exchange but seriously, the guy can’t even get information from a girl who just discovered her powers (literally as in 2 minutes before Ren interrogates her). While I think Adam Driver does a decent job with what he’s given, the character doesn’t really give you anything that screams “wow that guy is scary” in the same way Vader did from the opening scene of New Hope

Of course, no Star Wars film is complete without a John Williams score. As usual, the score contributes nicely to the atmosphere of the film but I do feel this time around, it is lacking that one iconic song (your Duel of the Fates if you will) but many old favorites still appear that will have fans feeling nostalgic. Nonetheless, Williams proves he still has it.

The name may be The Force Awakens but this is the film that should be called a New Hope. It is the beacon of hope that finally gives Star Wars fans the true follow up it deserves after 30 years of waiting. Led by a diverse cast of likable leads, the film overcomes some plot issues to give a very entertaining two hour epic utilizing nostalgia and new technologies to full advantage. Though relatively simple and safe, there are enough unanswered questions that Rian Johnson (director of episode VIII) and the creative team can spin the story any way they choose. J.J Abrams has revived the franchise hopefully allowing more risk to be taken from here on out especially after the resounding success that the Force Awakens turned out to be.

Stray Observations

  • Kylo Ren angrily destroying super expensive equipment with his light sabre like some pissed off gamer is perhaps the funniest scene that wasn’t meant to be funny
  • The new cantina song is not nearly as catchy as the original
  • Who’s Rey’s Dad? 3 theories:
  1. Han Solo – Kylo Ren’s sister, connected with him in this one, likely candidate, sure they could’ve explicitly told Rey this early in this film but as we all know Star Wars has a way of telling things from a certain point of view (AKA lying or explicitly withholding information for a later more dramatic reveal)
  2. Luke – one with the force…why not? could set up an ironic “I Am Your Father” bit later on but who would be the mother? I considered Padme’s decoy body double but the age gap is too wide between Luke and her for this to be plausible
  3. Supreme Leader Snoke – sets up another “I Am Your Father” possibility down the line
  • No chopped off arms/hands in this one!
  • Of course Han Solo makes his exit by falling into a giant pit/hole, some things never change
  • Stop holding her damn hand Finn- Rey is awesome
  • On that note I think both Boyega and Ridley have been great in press. Ridley especially seems very happy just to be part of it all
  • Han gets most of the one-liners in this one, my favorite?: “Women always find out the truth kid”
  • Finn uses light sabre for the first time – gets knocked down by storm trooper, second time: holds his own against accomplished light sabre user Kylo Ren – sure that makes sense
  • If Finn is any indication, it looks like the stormtroopers finally fired the blaster shooting instructor and replaced him with someone who could actually hit something. It only took 30 years
  • I counted 7patented Star Wars wipe transitions
  • Ridley got to keep her British accent but Boyega didn’t…why? also the accent comes in and out for Boyega
  • Is it just me or are light sabres less powerful in this one? In the past a touch would tear a limb of but now just a scratch? Kylo Ren should be headless now.
  • Maybe they forget to set the lightsabers from stun to kill
  • Luke apparently spends his days blankly staring at the horizon from the top of a mountain waiting for the next chosen one to come around- very much like Red if you anyone has ever finished Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal
  • R2D2’s “awakening” is the most convenient ex machina ever. Wake up exactly when the plot requires you to not a moment before.
  • speaking of Ex Machina, go watch that starring Oscar Issac (who incidentally is in this movie too) Great Film.
  • How does Kylo Ren reach the forest for the climactic battle before Rey and Finn do? I mean they are coming from the same room and it felt like Rey and Finn had a decent headstart
  • Super nice of Kylo Ren not to kill Rey while she stops and channels the force or whatever magic she did
  • Convenient that the planet splits right between our hero and our villain isn’t it?
  • “15 minutes till weapon is charged” – at least 45 minutes of run time until weapon is actually ready
  • More Jedi mind tricks are used in this film than the six previous combined
  • By the looks of it Han Solo/ Harrison Ford isn’t returning but as he would say: “Never Tell Me The Odds
Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4.0Overall Score

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