*Note: This review is largely spoiler-free, but does contain minor plot details*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the most anticipated film releases of all time. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the newest installment of the Star Wars franchise was the most hyped movie of the century. This comes with good reason. Star Wars is a pop culture phenomenon, with several of its icons and characters established as household names. Any filmgoer can recognize the lightsaber, Darth Vader’s helmet, or Stormtrooper armour, while quoting lines such as “No, I am your father.” or “Do or do not, there is no try.” (Albeit with varying degrees of accuracy). Anything carrying the Star Wars title is guaranteed a certain level of attention.
The latest Star Wars film finds itself in a unique position, as it has to function as much more than simply “a good movie”. It is a soft reboot, functioning as a revitalization of the Star Wars series in a way that is a unique entry point for new viewers, while maintaining key elements that define a Star Wars film. It is bridge film that must tackle the expositional task of connecting a familiar and well established setting with a whole new plotline. Finally, it is a redemption film, trusted with the task of winning back disgruntled, diehard fans who developed trust issues following the disappointing prequel trilogy of the early 2000s. These roles, alongside heightened audience anticipation, mean that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has big shoes to fill. And in my opinion, it hits the mark.
The newest Star Wars installment takes place in a world where the malevolent First Order seeks to overthrow the New Republic and take over the galaxy. Only the Resistance, a small military force led by General Leia Organa, stands in their way. When BB-8, a droid carrying information vital to the Resistance’s plans is lost, scavenger Rey and rogue Stormtrooper Finn must team up with Han Solo and Chewbacca to return the droid before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the troupe are pursued by the First Order and the evil Kylo Ren.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is best summarized as a fun science-fantasy adventure, embodying the spirit of the earliest films in the franchise. There is definitely a wow-factor to the action and visuals. The battle scenes are exciting and well crafted, complemented by the state of the art special effects. I found that the action element of the film really shined during the Starfighter and lightsaber sequences, with scenes involving the Force being the cream of the crop. There is also a sense of humour, with moments of light-heartedness throughout. We see a variety of planets, creatures, and environments, brought to life by a combination of digital and practical effects. Lupita Nyong’os motion-captured performance of Maz Kanata is just as stunning as the robotic BB-8 prop rolling around set. The on-screen experience is perfectly complemented by the John Williams score, incorporating old motifs with new themes.
The characters in The Force Awakens are a breath of fresh air. Old favourites like Leia Organa and Han Solo return, but have convincingly developed since the last time we saw them. Rey is a character who is motivated by doing the right thing, accompanied by her raw determination. This makes her easy to empathize with and easy to root for. Finn, the rogue Stormtrooper, balances his conscience against fear for an endearing final result. Finally, we have Kylo Ren, who may be one of the most interesting characters introduced in The Force Awakens. Past Star Wars villains have been imposing pillars of evil. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, breaks the pattern as a more unstable and volatile villain, fueled by emotion. Varied secondary characters round out the cast and the universe. These main characters are entertaining and interesting to watch. I was invested in what happened to them, and I can’t wait to see their stories continue.
Of course, this movie isn’t perfect. Having two guaranteed sequels before your film hits theatres will certainly impact the decisions in writing and storytelling. I find that the first film in what a creator hopes will become a franchise often has to employ most of the tricks that the writers have up their sleeves. They have to dazzles audiences, while convincing corporate investors that their series is worth sequels. At the same time, the first film has to be able to stand on its own, in case it isn’t picked up for a sequel. The Force Awakens however, doesn’t have to convince investors that more films deserve to be made, or convince audiences that more films are worth seeing. Like I mentioned earlier, the Star Wars name guarantees a certain degree of success. Thus, this movie has the luxury of leaving more unanswered questions than audiences may be used to, especially concerning the events following Return of the Jedi. This film has a lot of set up going on, but doesn’t quite capitalize on it yet, reserving that for the sequels to come. This may cause the viewer to feel slightly dissatisfied with The Force Awakens as a standalone experience. It honestly feels like the first act of a single story, rather than a standalone film with sequels to follow. I doubt this will matter as much once the trilogy is complete, but I feel it’s important to note.
Dedicated Star Wars fans may also feel a sense of déjà vu. Without going into spoilers, the story beats of this film are sometimes very reminiscent of A New Hope. If you’re as familiar with Star Wars as I am, it will be very easy to pick up on even the subtlest of parallels. Sometimes it’s very satisfying. Who doesn’t enjoy a good reference? However, at other times, it makes the plot slightly predictable. I understand why the writers made the choices they did. As a mentioned earlier, this film is essentially a cultural reboot of the Star Wars franchise, so the similarity makes sense. However, it did make me feel that I’d seen a lot of what was on screen before, which is why those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars canon may actually enjoy this movie more than a Star Wars fan. This is a minor criticism, and it’s really a matter of personal taste more than anything. I’m sure there a lots of Star Wars fans that would disagree with me, and I believe the films will continue to diverge from what we consider typical Star Wars territory as the trilogy continues.
Despite its shortcoming, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an exciting science-fantasy adventure that any audience member can enjoy. It looks good and sounds good, but it’s heart that allows the viewer to connect with the events and characters on screen. I wholeheartedly recommend it.