After a ten year absence from the big screen, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is delightful, magical, intense, charming, exciting, comedic, ambiguous, and so much more.
THE BEST MOVIE SINCE THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is most definitely the film you are looking for. It’s the film Star Wars fans have been pining for since before the Prequel era films began to release in 1999. A direct sequel to 1983’s Return of the Jedi (I get chills writing that), a new threat has arisen in the ashes of the Empire, known as “The First Order.” If you thought the Empire was ruthless, you haven’t seen anything yet. The New Republic has been formed, with its militaristic defense body known as “The Resistance” taking the place of the former Rebel Alliance. That’s as far as I will go with any story details, as I want everyone to experience this film completely spoiler free. It’s our duty as Star Wars lovers, fans, and obsessors to protect the story as tightly and amazingly as Disney & Lucasfilm did. Check back after the first of the year for a spoiler version. So please, continue on with complete peace of mind.
PRODUCTION & PRACTICAL EFFECTS
The Force Awakens is guided under the helm of JJ Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot. The saga could not be in better hands as it transitions to a new Trilogy. One of the first major announcements after Disney’s takeover of Lucasfilm was that the upcoming films would go back to having an emphasis on practical effects, with support from CG effects as opposed to an over-reliance on CG. This is how the original trilogy operated.
The Force Awakens is absolutely stunning.
Whether it’s the beautiful nature of the planet or setting, the gorgeous view of a ship dogfight such as the Millenium Falcon weaving in between parts of a downed-Star Destroyer, or the majority of the Alien species appearing realistically, there was nothing left to be desired.
It’s hard to gather my thoughts and organize them in a manner that isn’t scrambled. I’ve witnessed the movie twice now, less than 24 hours after release. I’d go again tonight. In a visual sense, it looks as if the film will hold up for decades to come. The original trilogy has had to have its share of touch-ups and updates (some necessary, some not), the prequel trilogy can look a tad unrealistic at times with the overkill of certain CG effects and scenes, but this looks clean, crisp, and effective. In essence, CG was used only when it was needed, or if it could help the sequence look better. There are new bits here and there that are new to Star Wars films (things we knew we would witness sooner or later) that are aided by the abilities of the fantastic team at Bad Robot.
Remember when we couldn’t believe that BB-8 was an actual practical model? Mark Hamill spilled the beans on that one late in 2014 and we were all astonished. You won’t be disappointed in BB’s R2-D2-like abilities, his mobility, or his personality. Lastly, the First Order Storm Troopers’ helmet design is sleek and modern feeling.
On The Geekiverse Show, we have talked a great deal about Hollywood’s descent into darker overall themes. Though The Force Awakens is intense and at times grim and dark, its balance of light and dark (much like the Force) is what makes it a legendary film. It’s not easy to execute and there was little room for error, but the movie’s story, cast, and production staff come together in what is the best feeling, most perfectly paced movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Clocking in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, I swore I had only sat there for an hour. Most movies today have me struggling at some point or another to keep focus. The Force Awakens not only grabs your attention the entire time, but makes you believe you are capable of sitting and viewing a 4+ hour movie. Though this is subjective, there wasn’t one boring scene. Each one had a purpose. There was no lull. Each scene was more exhilarating than the previous one.
This film is perfectly paced.
With an intense opening sequence that takes place right after the crawl and establishes the new universe we are setup in, there’s a good bit of humor right off the bat. I was surprised to see it this early in the movie, but establishing the tone for the rest of the film was vital and told us what we were in for during the next 2+ hours. The original trilogy found its fair shared of one-liners here and there, but The Force Awakens is the funniest (yes, funniest) Star Wars movie to date. If you’ve watched any Marvel film in the last 7-8 years, you’ll recognize a very similar influence here. Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably the most popular of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies thanks to its mix of humor, action, and casting, drawing heavy influence from Star Wars Episode IV-VI. The thing is, The Force Awakens takes this idea and executes it in such a way that we see what made us all fall in love with Star Wars for the first time.
Watching The Force Awakens is like witnessing Star Wars for the first time all over again.
John Williams reprises his role as conductor and writer for the film’s soundtrack and produces what could be his best work to date, nevertheless at age 83. That’s as close to timeless as you can get. My heart leaped when I heard the famous theme play out as I read the “Episode VII” crawl in yellow letters. Much like the prequel films, Williams mixes in the classic, instantly recognizable tracks with updated, newer themes that match aura of the new heroes & villains. The prequels contained some of my favorite themes, particularly Episode I’s “Duel of the Fates” score. Going into the film, I told my wife of all the things I was anticipating most, it was possible that Williams’ new tracks or renditions would be my “it” moment.
Williams’ theme for Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is my favorite. It mixes in a bit of mischief and intrigue and stuck with me the most. As I sit here and write this review, listening to the very soundtrack, I can picture back particular scenes thanks to the stories told by Williams’ music. More than any other composer in cinema history, Williams can tell a story and establish a mood like no other. I think back and reflect on some of the high points throughout my years of listening to this glorious music. Attack of the Clones’ love theme is magical. The track that plays as Anakin speeder bikes off to find his mother. The first time I heard The Imperial March, aka Darth Vader’s Theme (there’s a subtle variation of this in certain parts of The Force Awakens). I could go on forever.
The Force Awakens features the greatest cast in the history of the franchise, ingeniously blending series vets with newcomers that will likely take the reins as we move forward. The series veterans from the original trilogy appear in varying lengths of screen time, but were all phenomenal. I came close to choking up on many occasions, with one point in particular putting me over the edge. I can’t say anymore in this review, but I promise you that you will love it.
Newcomer Daisy Ridley was superb. She is lovable, strong, adorable, and instantly the one you will root for. A perfect casting for her character “Rey,” Ridley will soon become a household name. John Boyega nearly stole the show as “Finn” with his mixed brand of humor, heroics, and ingenuity. Boyega is in the same lot with Ridley. I wasn’t sure what to expect from him going into the film for the first time, but he quickly became one of my favorite parts of the story. Oscar Isaac is the most established of the 3 new main actors and is likely to become a fan favorite as X-Wing Pilot “Poe Dameron,” much like Harrison Ford did as Han Solo in the first trilogy. Isaac is pure cool, emitting a sense of confidence but not quite arrogance. The chemistry between Isaac and Boyega is clearly evident. As one of only 3 actors confirmed for Episode VIII so far (Mark Hamill and Gwendolyn Christie being the others), I can’t wait to see more Poe Dameron. His backstory is briefly explained in the 4 part “Shattered Empire” comic series from Marvel and is worth a read.
Gwendolyn Christie is “Captain Phasma,” the Storm Trooper from the trailers with chrome plating. Her presence is intimidating as one of the first main Star Wars female villains. Phasma was originally going to be cast for a man, but Christie begged Abrams for a spot in the movie, at which point Phasma’s persona took a 180. Adam Driver as “Kylo Ren” is an intriguing character with layers of depth. Of any of the film’s new characters (or old, for that matter), he is the one I am most excited to read an eventual back-story on. Dom Gleason plays the First Order’s “General Hux,” an intense, Nazi-influenced officer. Andy Serkis (Gollum, Lord of The Rings) performs admirably as Supreme Leader Snoke, with a matching musical theme that captures the haunting feeling and sound similarly felt and heard from the prequel films’ Darth Sidious theme.
The story is satisfying from beginning to end, answering most of our burning questions while leaving a few open until at least Episode VIII in 2017. As mentioned before, the interweaving of original trilogy stars, themes, and throwbacks (even one or two throwbacks to the prequel trilogy) meshed with the new feeling and emotion from Episode VII are flawless.
The Force Awakens strikes a wide range of emotional chords, from nostalgia, to grief, to sympathy, to excitement, to pure joy and everything in between. There are a few surprises here and there, both pleasant and (depending on your level of fandom) shocking. You’ll remember where you were, what you thought, and how loud and often you cheered in the theater when you first witnessed The Force Awakens.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has had a profound effect on me and evokes similar feelings I had years earlier upon witnessing Star Wars for the first time. I’ve stepped back and looked critically at the movie, not letting those very emotions give me an unfair bias. I’ve tried to find something that could have been executed better and I can’t. If you’re a longtime fan, enjoy the celebration of everything you love and go see this. If you’re a newcomer, there’s no better place to start than right here. Star Wars is back and it’s here to stay.
+ Plot is satisfying, exciting, has its own beginning/middle/conclusion, yet invokes a sense that we are about to embark on a new adventure throughout a new trilogy
+ Cast, both young and old, is perfectly fitted
+ Mix of old and new
+ Nostalgia and throwbacks not only to Episodes 4/5/6, but also 1/2/3.
+ Atmosphere ranges from dark to downright funny, bringing back the light heartedness of the first trilogy without sacrificing the intensity necessary to the plot.
+ Perfect pacing
+ John Williams’ score is as legendary as ever
+ Cinematography through superb mix of CG & Practical effects blends for a visual marvel