“For casual viewers like me, the movie hit the mark, but for longtime, devoted fans, I have gathered that this is an experience on a whole other level.”
by Ken B.
DISCLAIMER: Although most hardcore Star Wars fans have likely seen this movie by now, and I always try my best to keep spoilers nonexistent whenever possible, those wanting an entirely “pure” viewing experience would be better served by not reading this review before watching the film.
SCREENING NOTE: Viewed in 70mm IMAX.
Anticipation is a powerful tool for film marketing, and certainly the appearance of a new Star Wars movie fits the bill. I’ve never been as much of a fan of the franchise as most, but I recognize the importance of the series and the extent of its cultural impact. This is why I believe Star Wars: The Force Awakens is as well done as it is. J.J. Abrams, “transferring over” from his big-screen work on another major sci-fi franchise, has directed a picture which has reverence for its predecessors but also isn’t afraid to update and open the door for more worldbuilding. For casual viewers like me, the movie hit the mark, but for longtime, devoted fans, I have gathered that this is an experience on a whole other level.
Widely known as “Episode VII”, it’s worth noting that such a qualifier does not appear in the film’s title, although the opening crawl bears this identification. Indeed, The Force Awakens is set three decades after Return of the Jedi. In it, the remains of the Empire have been transformed into the First Order. Under the command of a holographic supreme leader (Andy Serkis), day-to-day operations are overseen by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). With legions of brainwashed stormtroopers, the First Order seems confident that they can take over the galaxy with relative ease. However, one such soldier (John Boyega) defects, freeing a captured Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Poe and the ex-stormtrooper, nicknamed Finn, are separated when their TIE fighter crashes in the desert.
Finn collaborates a wandering scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a droid companion called BB-8. Their combined skills lead them to an old, passed down Millennium Falcon, as they seek an elusive map which will purportedly lead them to Luke Skywalker. That map is a hot ticket item, desperately searched for by both the First Order and the Resistance, now led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Along the way, Finn, Rey, and BB-8 come into contact with two prior occupants of the Falcon, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). This newly united (and partially reunited) group is now tasked with locating Luke, as well as fighting off the New Order’s increasingly aggressive attempts at threatening the future of the galaxy.
The most notable stylistic decision made by Abrams is to discard overly sleek CGI effects in favor of a visual approach which closer mimics the original trilogy from nearly forty years ago (furthermore, by discarding excessively modern aesthetics and ideals, many on-the-fence viewers will forget about the much-maligned prequel films). Star Wars: The Force Awakens single-handedly succeeds at feeling very much like a natural part of the series, instead of an alien installment forced into its chronology, an achievement that should also be credited to the film’s script, written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt. However, the screenplay struggles when attempting to contextualize its place without resorting to the fanservice of referencing old dialogue and structuring (comparisons made to many elements of A New Hope are not entirely without merit), as if trying desperately to make up for the absence of hands-on involvement from George Lucas.
In any case, bridging the past and the present is a critical theme of The Force Awakens, visible in its actors as well, as veterans like Ford and Fisher work alongside newcomers like Boyega and Ridley. The motley cast of the film is able to come together and create a solid front, even though new characters like Rey and Finn are left largely without background over the 135 minute runtime (I suppose this also leaves room for development in episodes eight and nine). This blend of old and new is furthered by a score from John Williams, as he effortlessly combines many of his iconic themes while debuting striking original compositions. Abrams seems acutely aware that nearly everything in the film will be taken as a massive nostalgia trip, and so setting up the first installment as just that seems at once a knowingly pragmatic and fairly cynical decision (although not as forced as Disney’s marketing and merchandising, roughly the real-life equivalent of Spaceballs: The Flamethrower). Hopefully, as Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow take the reigns on the two upcoming entries, this new trilogy will take on a unique identity and generate a specific existence for this continuation.