Since the first Star Wars trailer dropped, we’ve all wanted to know: Will it be any good? Would J.J. Abrams deliver us something special? Would Jar Jar Binks actually turn out to be a Sith Lord? I have those answers and trust me when I say this will be a spoiler free review (We’ll have in-depth analysis next week). If reactions are spoiler for thought, just go see the movie first and come back to hear what I’m spinning.
There was a sheer dread that washed over me as I sat down in the theater. The last two trailers got me really excited and given the ridiculously poor trailers released since then (Bats v Supes, TMNT), they stood out because of the care taken to craft them. However, even that was not enough to quell my nervousness. And to be fair, my guard was up for good reason. The prequels were excellent CGI sour popsicle fests, whose only attempt at character development were the descriptions on the toy boxes. I only own the original 3 films and that was likely to stay the case because of how disappointed I was by the new trilogy. Much of J.J. Abrams productions have left me underwhelmed. He re-ignited Star Trek and then put it in an awkward position with Into Darkness, and possibly even worse given the Star Trek: Beyond trailer. And don’t get me started on Lost…
So with all that playing out in my mind, I sat down and tried to enjoy Episode 7
I didn’t have to try hard. You will be hooked quick and early with the opening scene. It does move quickly, but this scene sets up up quite a few threads to drive the film. It’s great that they didn’t waste any of these either. It would have been annoying to those threads still left dangling when the film closes. The fan references are excellent, well-timed and work with the film. There’s only one that I felt was a little forced, but they did such a good job with the others that it’s hardly noticeable, and that has to be noted as a key difference between the prequels and Episode VII. The fan service from those films created more questions than they answered and generally left fans bewildered. With the first shot of the Falcon, Han and Chewbacca dashing on screen, and the other homages, they played as smart choices within the narrative, not just thrown on at the last minute.
The Force Awakens, however, is about the new kids on the block and they deliver in a rather mighty way. Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe (Oscar Issac) are superb. Rey is a smart and clever scavenger with a mysterious past. Finn is the stormtrooper disillusioned with the First Order. Poe serves as the top pilot of the Resistance. These threads mesh together well and they are teamed up in true Star Wars fashion. As this franchise continues, if they improve upon the performances in Awakens, they will be in prime position to keep knocking these out of the park. They interact well on screen together, developing excellent bonds between one another without forcing it. Their first encounters and dialogue add a genuine level of humor to this franchise that has been missing since the originals. BB-8 is going to rival R2-D2’s position as the heroic and ever helpful droid. I thoroughly enjoyed the new presence and life they put into BB-8’s moments. The droid was able to shine brightly with touches of humor and displayed excellent character moments.
Choosing to focus the story primarily on Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren (more on him in a second) was the right decision and lined up exactly with what Abrams had been saying. This is a different universe than the one we remember at the end of Return Of The Jedi. The triumph over the Empire is weakened by the despair and lack of solidarity that currently exists. Various characters we grew to love drifted apart, went separate ways, or just went on their own journey. Letting our new heroes inhabit this place and move forward was excellent. Because we have so many questions though, it made some of the new factions, like the Resistance or First Order seem odd. If you wanted to know more about their structure or how they arose from the Rebels, you will not get much of that from this film. It plays well that the franchise is moving forward, but it hurts this film because we could have received a few more details to chew on.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is going to be a very interesting character. His arc in this story is going to be just as central as Rey and Finn’s experiences, but he’s approaching the Force from an angle we haven’t seen before. He’s not an experienced force user by any means. Is he powerful? Of course, and we get many moments of that. But there’s also an apparent immaturity that he gives into that works well. This will not be wrapped up easily nor quickly and I’m very excited to see what lies in store for him. I was initially annoyed by his temper tantrums, but realized later how significant they are to his growth. It could possibly still get on my nerves later, but it serves to further hit home how he still needs to grow in his position and stature as the bad guy.
What didn’t work in this film? The third acts gets a little weird. While I wasn’t taken out of the experience, the setup for some of the final decisions felt a bit rushed. It’s almost like they forgot they had to wrap this thing up. So while the final battle breaks the ridiculous scale in a good way, a few of the moments felt a bit off and needed some more time to simmer. I was very disappointed by the John Williams score, but that was simply because we never heard a distinctive difference from previous work (W.T. Bane brought this one to my attention). I couldn’t think of a musical moment that really stood out to me. Rey has some moments early in the film that nod to Luke on Tatooine, but after that, I can’t recall any major moments for the music to shine. I’ve already mentioned the lack of detail regarding the Resistance and First Order. Those were the few moments, that if allowed to simmer, might have addressed those issues and given us a clearer picture of this new universe.
This movie rocks; it doesn’t meet my lofty expectations, but that was unfair to begin with. It would have been hard to top IV, V, or VI. But they have certainly set the franchise on a brighter trajectory than the Prequels.
Star Wars: the Force Awakens: 8 out of 10
Additional note: I really wanted to chat about Rey and Finn more, but it’s likely whatever I say could spoil their arcs for you. Kylo Ren’s isn’t straightforward either, but I think there was enough to talk about that would give my impression whereas I would need to be a bit more specific with Rey and Finn. After the weekend, expect more analysis from the entire team here at Nerd Union.