Star Wars: the Force Awakens Review

8.5 Overall Score
Direction : 9/10
Writing : 8/10
Performances: 9/10

New Cast, Highly Entertaining, Balance of Nostalgia and Thrills

Feels Too Remisicent of Past Films, Plot Problems

With the level of creative influence that Star Wars has had over the industry throughout the past 48 years, it’s only fitting that Star Wars: the Force Awakens practices a high level of self-reflexivity. The first forward moving sequel in the franchise since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, fans have been eagerly anticipating the chance to see what happens next in the story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the rest of the characters in a galaxy far, far away. In an interview about the Force Awakens, Hamill talked of the future of the franchise, how “nothing’s changed yet everything’s changed.” For a film that has been so shrouded in secrecy, the biggest surprise of Force Awakens is it’s ability to look forward and backwards in one simultaneous jolt. This is director J.J. Abrams holding a mirror up to the series, reminding the audience of what worked about Star Wars in the first place and what we must adjust for in preparing for what’s to come.

In many ways, Abrams typifies the ultimate modern blockbuster director. There’s a visual sleekness to his films that looks polished, clean and appealing, similar to a smartphone. He moves through action set pieces with a controlled freneticism that grasps at the breath of the viewer like one of Darth Vader’s patented force choke. He establishes a broad sense of humor to his films that are meant to lighten the tension just a tad. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but for a property that is as distinctly realized as Star Wars the attempt to “modern” things up could have been distracting. Thankfully, Abrams is also a scholar of all things Star Wars and understands what the legions of fans want to see when they purchase their ticket to a Star Wars film. He possesses a sensibility and awareness that even series creator George Lucas has lost in his waning years, and that is the key to the overwhelming success of the Force Awakens. 

Similar to what Abrams accomplished with his reboot of the Star Trek franchise, the Force Awakens is essentially Star Wars’ Greatest Hits with a modern facelift. I’m not going to say much about the story, lest you are reading this and are one of the three people on the planet who have still not seen the film. The script’s framework, written by Abrams and series veteran Lawrence Kasdan from a first draft by Michael Arndt, follows the essential beats of 1977’s A New Hope. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the struggle between good and evil has resurfaced, with the Resistance and the First Order standing in for the Rebellion and the Empire. The dynamics have changed, as good reigns supreme for now, but the power-hungry fascism of the First Order looms large.

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We spend a sizable amount of time on the desert landscape Jakku, wistfully reminding us of the rugged, grimy planet of Tatooine where the Skywalker family grew up. There’s more business to attend to regarding an important droid with important information that serve as a McGuffin to get our characters where they need to go (this time the droid is an adorable piece of marketable merchandising known as B-B 8). We eventually visit a revisionist version of the Mos Eisley cantina, the film’s biggest showcase of the highly publicized combination of practical and computer-generated alien background dressing. Slowly but surely the similarities and references become more apparent, as Abrams takes his time to get to the reveal of some of the most beloved keystones of the franchise like the Millennium Falcon or Han Solo himself. At times, the reverence is distracting. There are one or two moments where the film just stops in its track to prod at the nostalgia. Like its subject of idolization, there are plenty of story lapses and plot mechanics that don’t fit if you are digging deep for them. But the Star Wars series has always worked better when looked upon with broad brushstrokes, and the Force Awakens fires on all cylinders in those respects. By the time we are reintroduced to all of our favorite characters (in appropriately tearful and reminiscent fashion), the wheels are churning.

Speaking of the new major characters, Abrams & Kasdan’s point of inception for them seems to be as newer, fresher representations of the archetypes of the past. Luckily, the excellent performers add enough panache and modern 21st century energy to avoid a more overt mimicry. While mostly an ensemble piece, our protagonist is Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley, an emotive, expressive revelation in her first film role), a scavenger who lives on Jakku and encounters B-B 8. The droid belongs to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, infinitely charming), the best fighter pilot in the Resistance. They all cross paths with Finn (John Boyega, perfect in comedic and dramatic peaks), a rogue Stormtrooper who has turned away from the First Order due to a traumatizing case of soldier’s conscience. They are all being hunted by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, vulnerable but menacing), a temperamental fanatic of the Dark Side whose past is one of the key mysteries of the film.

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       The Force Awakens is an old fashioned adventure with the spectacle of a new age blockbuster. It may be the most accessible film in the franchise to general audiences, but it doesn’t sacrifice what the fans love the most about the series. When the computer generated Millennium Falcon zooms through tiny crevices while the dynamic camera follows every swoop and whirl as John Williams’ nostalgic score blares through the speakers, everything felt serenely precise. The glue that secures the strength of that connection is Ford, who gives a phenomenal performance in support of his sprightly co-stars. As Han Solo sets out on new adventures with this new generation of heroes, Abrams grips us with the infinite possibilities ahead. By the end of the Force Awakens I wanted to reengage with the original trilogy while also speculate what will happen next. That’s possibly the best compliment I can give a film with as much riding on its success as this one. The Force Awakens truly does give fans a new hope and delivers an entertaining adventure to satisfy a new generation of Star Wars enthusiasts.

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Author: Andrew Auger View all posts by
Andrew Auger is a student at Marist College and is majoring in Journalism. He is a huge fan of movies, and considers the late film critic Roger Ebert his idol. He hopes to one day be a prestigious film critic just like Mr. Ebert.

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