“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, BOTH MAJOR AND MINOR. FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. BUT SERIOUSLY, JUST GO SEE IT ALREADY. GOSH.***

Wow.

Years ago, I thought I would never live to see the day when a seventh Star Wars film would be made. Yet here we are. The saga now continues with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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Yes, it’s still “Episode VII” (the words are in the title crawl). I don’t know why I was worried about that.

This movie had unbelievable hype. When it was first announced in 2012 that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and promised that new Star Wars films were being planned, I for one was feeling many things. I was excited, because I thought there might never be more films in the franchise. I was nervous, because Lucasfilm was now in the hands of Disney; what if they turned Star Wars into nothing more than a cash cow? I was also insanely curious as to what the new story would be. The possibilities were virtually endless.

For a while, though, I forgot about the movie. That is, I still knew about it, but I put it out of my mind. 2015 was a long way away, after all.

Fast forward to late 2014, when the first teaser trailer for the new movie was released. I had already decided at that point that I didn’t want to know ANYTHING about the movie. I didn’t want to know the story, the characters, the look and feel of it, NOTHING. Crazy of me? Probably. But I was determined. Star Wars has meant a lot to me from a young age, and I wanted the new film to be as fresh and new to me as possible when I finally ended up seeing it.

Over the next year, two more trailers were released, and a TON of promotional stuff was everywhere — merchandise, news articles, YouTube ads, you name it. So, inevitably, I did end up learning a few things, such as what the main characters looked like. I stuck to my guns, though, and didn’t watch any of the trailers.

I was pretty much shaking in anticipation when I finally — FINALLY — sat down in that theater to watch the film. A hush fell over the crowd as the Lucasfilm logo appeared on the screen, followed by the now famous phrase:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Then, the first note of the theme that everybody knows blasted out of the speakers, and I smiled. As the music played on and the words of the prologue crawled up the screen, my smile only got bigger. It was happening. It was really happening.

I could hardly contain myself as the prologue faded out and the music turned from triumphant to mysterious, the camera slowly moving down to reveal a planet, like in most of the other films. And as the shadow of an enormous ship slowly began to envelop the planet, I was utterly mesmerized. Within mere seconds, director J. J. Abrams had sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go for over two hours.

Enough rambling, though. Time for the actual review. What did I think of the movie?

In a sentence, I thought it was phenomenal.

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Where do I even begin? The story? Yeah, let’s go with that.

If you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the film or you don’t care about spoilers. Either way, I’m not going to waste your time or mine by summarizing what the story is about. Instead, I’ll just say that the story overall is quite well-done. I was fully invested in the actions of the Resistance against the First Order from start to finish, and the mysteries and other plot elements intrigued me. Luke Skywalker has gone missing and is now the stuff of legend? Han and Leia had a son who has now become a Darth Vader wannabe? Stormtroopers are now fully human, and one of them realizes that he’s on the wrong side and does everything he can to escape and fight back? A scavenger from a desert planet called Jakku (a very similar place to Tatooine) is pulled into the fray and is discovered to be incredibly strong with the Force?

That’s just a few of the story elements that really stood out to me. The point is, I found it all compelling, especially the questions that don’t necessarily get answered in this movie. Why is Rey such a natural with the Force? What is the full backstory of how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren? We don’t know yet. This is the start of a whole new trilogy, and it’s a fantastic start indeed.

I do have a small handful of criticisms of the film, though (hey, there’s no such thing as a perfect movie). The main one is in the story department: it is admittedly a little over-reliant on the films of the past. I don’t find it to be nearly as big of a problem as others have, but the story does mirror that of the original (A New Hope). Rey is like Luke, BB-8 holding important information is like R2 with the Death Star plans, there’s a superweapon that the rebels/resistance need to destroy, etc. You’ve seen the movie, so you don’t need me to outline every single parallel.

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However, while I definitely think the parallels could have been toned down a little bit, I really don’t think they hurt the film in any significant way. Sure, I found myself mentally groaning a little when the Resistance outlined the plan to blow up Starkiller Base and then went to do it, but blowing up Starkiller Base was not the main point of the story, like blowing up the Death Star was in A New Hope. Instead, blowing up the base gave way for what was actually important to this story: the confrontation between Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren.

In fact, a lot of the time I actually liked how some parts of the story felt familiar, and I think it was a pretty smart decision on the part of the filmmakers. Keep things familiar to a certain degree, but incorporate plenty of the new as well so it doesn’t feel like the same story with a new paint job. I do hope, though, that as this new trilogy continues they branch out even more with new ideas. I liked how The Force Awakens was a tribute to A New Hope, but I do NOT want Episode VIII to be a tribute to The Empire Strikes Back. That would definitely be crossing the line for me.

Next, characters! Holy cow. They’re fantastic. I’ll touch on each one briefly.

First we have Rey, the female lead. I thought she was awesome in every way. Not only was she a main character who was female, she was WELL-WRITTEN too! She was neither weak and helpless nor the stereotypical over-the-top butt-kicker completely devoid of any emotion who is strong, independent, and don’t need no man.

Instead, Rey is strong, but she is also caring. She is skilled in combat, but she is also smart. She is brave, but she also has her moments of doubt and fear. She’s relatable. She’s human. She’s AWESOME.

(Quick note to all those people complaining about how she was able to use the Force in various ways and beat Kylo Ren, a trained Sith lord, without any formal training: you’re free to think what you will, but I thought her abilities were perfectly reasonable. She’s simply a prodigy in the Force [I suspect she has Skywalker blood, personally]. She is established early on as a capable fighter, so it’s not outlandish that she was able to wield a lightsaber reasonably well. Kylo Ren is not a Sith lord, and his training is not complete — not to mention he had just killed his father and been hit with Chewie’s blaster before his fight with Finn and Rey. So of course he had a disadvantage against Rey, who was able to calm herself with the Force and allow the light side to work through her. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get more insight into her abilities in the next movie. And come on, that scene where she called the lightsaber to her was AWESOME.)

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I also loved Finn.  Late in the opening scene, when the stormtroopers are ordered to kill the villagers, I was instantly drawn to him when he aimed his gun with shaking hands but then slowly lowered it. A stormtrooper realizing he’s on the wrong side and having the courage to leave? This is so cool! And not only is Finn a heroic guy, he’s also just plain funny. From his little wisecracks to his chemistry with Han (“We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!” “That’s not how the Force works!”), he had me laughing throughout the whole movie.

One of my favorite scenes was when Finn helped Poe escape and they had an instant friendship, with Poe giving him his name and Finn freaking out excitedly after blasting through the First Order defenses (“DID YOU SEE THAT?! DID YOU SEE IT?!”). That scene had me fully convinced, less than 15 minutes into the movie, that J. J. Abrams was the right man to direct.

Speaking of Poe, I want to see more of him. He had such great charisma, and even though he played a relatively small role in this movie, I already regard him as one of my favorites. I knew I was going to like him right from the moment when he was facing Kylo Ren and said: “So who talks first? Do I talk first or do you talk first?” Just . . . yes. *slow clap*

Poe’s droid, BB-8, is also a scene-stealer. R2-D2 and C-3PO are classic, but this little guy fits right in with them. He’s new, fun, cute, hilarious, and brilliantly executed onscreen. He’s an entirely practical effect, and it shows in the best way possible. I can’t wait to see more of him (and I wouldn’t mind a BB-8 T-shirt, either).

The last new character I’ll talk about in some detail is Kylo Ren. I’ve seen some people in comment sections complaining about him, calling him weak and whiny and things like that. But I found him a very interesting villain. He’s no Darth Vader or anything, but that’s the point. He’s a petulant child who intimidates others with a mask and is not in control of his emotions (I loved the scenes where he took out stuff with his lightsaber, especially the one where the two stormtroopers were like “nope” and walked away). He is still drawn to the light side of the Force, even if it’s not a particularly strong pull. I’m not sure whether I want him to be redeemed later in the trilogy, but here, I found him interesting and maybe even a bit sympathetic. (And the scene in which he kills his father was really well-done, especially with how he says “thank you” after doing it and Han touches his face before falling into the pit. Great stuff.)

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There are, of course, other newcomers: Snoke, General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Maz, for instance. In summary, I liked all of these characters as well even though we don’t know some of them very well yet — and at least one of them (Phasma) was definitely underused. I hope we’ll continue to get to know them better in the next film.

Let’s talk about the visuals next — effects, production design, cinematography, costumes, all that stuff. Ahem.

HOLY HOT BELGIAN WAFFLES, THIS MOVIE IS STUNNING!

I was hooked right from the opening shot. J. J. Abrams very wisely wanted to use as many practical effects and real sets and locations as possible. That’s definitely part of why The Force Awakens is simply one of the best-looking movies I have ever seen. There is still some CGI, of course, but overall it’s done quite well; the only really noticeable instances of it are in the characters of Maz and Snoke. While I do think they could have looked better, they still looked good.

Seriously, though, I cannot overstate how freaking GOOD everything looks. The costumes (both familiar and new) look great; the ships look better than they ever have; the props, the sets, the whole LOOK of the film is just outstanding. And I noticed something at the end of the credits that I’m sure helped with that: they actually shot this movie on film. Like actual, old-fashioned 35mm film. That was a brilliant decision and I think it played an important part in how gosh-darn authentic the whole thing looks.

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The cinematography is also top-notch. Much of it is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars film, and yet it never feels like it isn’t Star Wars. It feels like Star Wars, but it also feels like a new Star Wars. It’s perfect. There are shots in here that George Lucas would never have dreamed of using, and it all flows incredibly. For a prime example, the scene in which Finn and Rey fly the Falcon for the first time and escape the TIE fighters on Jakku is downright thrilling. The cinematography is just part of that, of course, but a crucial part nonetheless. I wanted to jump out of my seat, punch the air, and scream “YEAH!” after that scene. Just amazing.

Star Wars has long been known as a textbook example of great sound design in movies, and The Force Awakens is no exception. All the old sounds you expect are here: the laser blasts, the roaring of TIE fighters, the hum and clashing of lightsabers, the bleeping and blooping of droids, and so on. But there’s also plenty of new sounds to enjoy; the rathtars stood out to me, and BB-8’s vocalizations are both reminiscent of R2-D2 and completely new at the same time.

With sound also comes the music. I was beyond ecstatic when I learned that John Williams would be returning to score the new movie. As I watched, however, not much of the music stood out to me apart from the uses of the original themes. I picked up on it more during my second viewing, but there was still not much new music that really grabbed me. And after purchasing the soundtrack and listening to it without the movie distracting me, I can confirm a slightly disappointing thing: this is definitely the weakest of the Star Wars scores to date, which is a real shame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good music, and there are definite standouts (Rey’s Theme in particular), but it’s still simply not on the same level as the previous soundtracks, in my opinion. Maybe John Williams is simply losing his touch as he ages, or maybe J. J. Abrams specifically requested a more low-key score than usual. Whatever the case, I do think the new music is good, but I must also confess my slight disappointment with it.

But still, I can’t stop listening to Rey’s Theme. Help me.

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Apparently, this shot from the trailer wasn’t actually in the final film. Weird.

How have I not talked about the acting and the writing yet? The acting, for the most part, is wonderful. The new actors and actresses won me over with ease. Daisy Ridley is perfectly endearing and mysterious as Rey. John Boyega is heroic and funny as Finn. Oscar Isaac is charming and charismatic as Poe. Adam Driver is suitably torn and troubled as Kylo Ren. I loved them all, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the next movie.

The old returning cast is good as well, though not quite to the same degree. I liked Harrison Ford the best reprising his role as Han Solo; I never once felt that he had lost touch with his character. He really felt like an older Han Solo. Carrie Fisher was fine, but nothing she did in this movie really gripped me, admittedly. And I can’t wait to see Mark Hamill doing more things in the next one, because his scene at the end was so well-done! And he didn’t even say anything! His facial expressions (and Daisy Ridley’s) were all that scene needed to be a powerful cliffhanging finale.

Huge props go to J. J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt for the great screenplay. The dialogue was leagues better than in the prequels, keeping a healthy balance of serious and lighthearted. There were dark moments, and there were also hilarious moments. Heck, this might just be the funniest Star Wars film yet, and that’s a good thing. None of it felt overdone or forced (*cough* Jar Jar *cough*). It felt natural and real. And the actors had such great chemistry throughout the film! You could easily tell that they were having a blast making this movie, a plus that the prequels never really achieved. After leaving the theater, a friend of mine said that the characters in this movie had more chemistry than all of the prequels combined, and I have to agree. Awesome job, everyone.

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Time to wrap this thing up.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a phenomenal, triumphant return to the galaxy far, far away. J. J. Abrams and everyone who worked on it clearly poured a lot of love into it. It’s visually stunning. It sounds awesome, even if the music isn’t quite what it should have been. The cast is brilliant, especially the new players, and their characters are compelling and a blast to watch. The story, while a little bit too obvious in its parallels to A New Hope, is well-done, easy to follow, and exciting. The film is many things at once: a passionate tribute to what has come before, an exhilarating setup to what is yet to come, and an altogether rollicking good time for fans both old and new.

In fact, it might — it just might — be my new favorite Star Wars film. I’m not quite sure yet, but at the very least it’s miles better than the prequels. I think I’m going to need a few more viewings and some time to decide for sure, but I really do think it could take the place of Empire Strikes Back in my mind.

J. J. Abrams has said that, above all, he wanted the movie to be “delightful.” Well, J. J., you’ve definitely succeeded, and then some. I’ve seen your movie twice and I still want to see it at least twice more on the big screen. Congratulations on creating the most financially successful movie of the year, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed. You and everyone who worked on this film deserve it.

Bravo. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the movie? Comment below!

See you next time, and may the Force be with you. Always.

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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — My Hopes/Expectations

Guys . . . it’s almost here.

The new Star Wars movie is a mere ten days away.

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Has it really been about three years since it was first announced that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and that they would be making at least three more movies in the series? Apparently.

And has it really been over a year since the first teaser trailer was released? Yup.

Hard to believe. But here we are, in December of 2015, eagerly awaiting the seventh installment in the saga. I don’t think I need to explain all the hype surrounding this movie. You’ve seen it. Even if you’re like me and haven’t watched any of the trailers, you’ve still stumbled across images here and there on social media. You’ve still found out the names of the new characters and what they look like. You’ve still picked up on theories about what the storyline will be.

So, what are my hopes and expectations for this movie?

Good question. And I’ve got a little bit of a curveball for you. I’ve decided that I should do my best to keep my hopes and expectations neutral. Not low, necessarily. Just neutral. As in not really having any hopes or expectations at all.

Let me explain. Just hypothetically, what if this movie is subpar? I know for most of you that idea is hard to believe, but it could still happen. Maybe not likely, considering the people who have made the film, but still possible. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be going to the theater expecting a cinematic masterpiece and just getting a so-so action flick. I’m not saying I really think that’s what will happen, but I am saying we should be prepared just in case.

On the other hand, what if the movie is absolutely spectacular? Everything we dreamed of and more? Well, if we keep our expectations neutral, we’ll be in for a huge and extremely pleasant surprise.

So, what I’m proposing (not just for myself) is to try to forget about the movie. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry, don’t speculate, don’t hope, don’t fear, don’t expect, don’t get caught up reading threads upon threads of people’s comments explaining why they think the film will either be incredible or awful (guilty).

Just wait.

Patience is the key. The movie is coming very soon. It will be here before we know it. If we just stop laboring over anxieties of whether it will be good or not, we’ll be all the more excited when that fateful day finally comes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be excited. But I am saying that we should stop being hyped. I think it’s a subtle but important distinction.

So, with that being said, I hereby resolve to not read or watch anything related to Star Wars until after I’ve seen the movie. Further, I will not even use the Internet unless absolutely necessary in the week leading up to the film’s release — and not just because it’s going to become Spoiler Town in less than 12 parsecs. I don’t even want to know what critics are saying about it in advance. All I want to know as I enter that theater is that I’m about to see a new Star Wars movie. The rest will follow.

May the Force be with us all. Ten more days. We can do this.

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The next post on this blog will be my review of the film. I hope you check back after you’ve seen the movie!