Film Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars is back.

Does anything more need to be say? Do the positives and negatives need to be weighed? There is a real struggle in talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s not like other movies. It’s not just a two hour story where movie fans discuss if the action was good or not. I know we’re not supposed to put this up on a pedestal (where it is destined to disappoint our expectations), but can you really blame fans for deifying The Force Awakens?

This isn’t just another blockbuster looking to entertain us for a week. This film represents a necessary course correction for Hollywood’s biggest franchise. After the dark ages, Star Wars had to bounce back.Well, not only is The Force Awakens an emotionally satisfying blockbuster that is extremely well acted and directed, but as mentioned before, the course has been corrected.

The Force Awakens is directed by J.J. Abrams, with a script from Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (of Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark fame), and Michael Arndt. The film sees the return of original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, while also introducing a flurry of new characters performed by John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson.

Star Wars The Force Awakens (1)
The beginning of a friendship. Finn helps Poe escape The First Order

If you’ve been on the internet during the weeks surroudnig the release of the film, then you know the drill. No spoilers here (I’m sure there will be plenty spoiler-filled articles here at Word of the Nerd in the future), there will be very vague discussion of the plot and characters, but really nothing that wasn’t already discussed in the trailers. As seen in this Vanity Fair cover (read: not spoilers), the story is an adventure following Rey (Ridley), Finn (Boyega), Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca, and new droid on the block, BB-8.  Kylo Ren (Driver) leads the First Order, and serves as the antagonist opposing our new crew.

Let’s just get this out of the way. I pretty much love everything about this film. The story is classic Star Wars. While there are many elements that are familiar (almost to the point of homage) to the original trilogy, this story boldly moves forward. The Prequel Trilogy took characters we knew and did nothing with them, if they did do anything with them they ruined them. The Force Awakens takes characters we know and truly moves their stories forward. This is a true sequel to Return of the Jedi, and is amazing getting live in this world again.

Yes, it is great seeing Luke, Han, Leia, Chewy, C-3PO, and R2-D2 again, but The Force Awakens makes it clear it will not be limited to older versions of characters we love. We are looking to the future with The Force Awakens, and the future is bright. Finn is amazing, Boyega brings an insane amount of charisma and fun to the role. Kylo Ren is one of the best villains in recent memory, Driver plays his with both tenacity and story-based depth. Poe Dameron (Isaac) might just be the most-likable guy in the galaxy, you smile every time he is on screen. And Rey is one of the biggest surprises of the movie and she ends up stealing the show.

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Rey and BB-8 on the run from Kylo Ren and The First Order

For all intents and purposes, The Force Awakens is Daisy Ridley’s first movie. The unknown factor really worked here. When we see Rey, we are not seeing an actress’s’ previous roles here, we are seeing a great character fully realized by Ridley. While the story bounces between Rey, Solo, Kylo Ren, and Finn (as well as others), Rey works as our protagonist and this is something The Force Awakens needs to be applauded for.

If you couldn’t tell, Abrams, Kasdan, and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy purposefully set out to create a more diverse Star Wars movie. This is arguably the biggest franchise in cinema, and it is about time the story not be limited by white men. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are our main characters. The movie doesn’t make a point about this (“look at us, we are different but we are still the main characters!”), it just sets the stage and treats it as normal. It’s one thing to have a diverse cast (bravo!), its another thing to have your diverse cast play well-written characters that serve a great story. And that is where The Force Awakens continues to shine.

All of these characters work and they add to the overall Star Wars mythos. People may have negative things to say about The Force Awakens, but people will never be able to say that those involved didn’t care about the production. Unlike the cold/lifeless feeling the Prequels gave us, there is energy and love and devotion pulsing through every scene in The Force Awakens, the movie succeeds on this positive energy alone.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The future, the past, old friends Han Solo and Chewbacca once again fight for the galaxy

Speaking of love and devotion, the real star of show here has to be J.J. Abrams. When it was announced that Abrams would be directing, we all had an idea of what we would be getting. Many have said that Abrams’ Star Trek films were just Star Wars films in disguise, so it made since. Abrams is one of the best visual storytellers working today. Simple scenes of dialogue are framed in interesting ways, getting the audience more invested in the scenes. At the same time very few can compare to Abrams when it comes to filming action. This is not the static/boring filmmaking of the prequels, nor is it the frantic shaky cam of modern action movies, this is some of the best action filmmaking today and it totally recaptures the magic of Star Wars’ past.

Though there is so much to say, I want to end on one topic, the lightsaber battle. In praising The Force Awakens’ lightsaber fight I will be praising the movie as a whole. In short, a lightsaber battle is really never about the actual fight that is happening, this is where the prequels got it wrong. Yes, there were more flashy effects and kinetic choreography, but they were always so empty and hollow because there was nothing more going on besides “I have a blue lightsaber and you have a red lightsaber so let’s fight.”

The best fights of the series (Luke and Vader’s duels in Empire and Jedi) were so powerful not because the choreography was so crazy, but because of the emotion and grander purpose the fights served. This is, again, where The Force Awakens knocks it out of the park. The lightsaber fight (as teased in the trailers) is emotional, and serves the purpose of character development, so everyone in the audience cares. The lightsaber is supposed to be like the swords of old, they are not to be weightless objects that can be swung by children. This lightsaber fight has weight to it, both literally and metaphorically. When our characters are fighting you feel the emotion they are going through. Those involved in the fight are completing their character arc through this fight.

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General Hux, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. The new heavies of The First Order.

This is where Star Wars (and by relation, the blockbuster film in general) has always worked. Yes, there are big effects and lasers and space wizards. But underneath all the craziness, there is a story of good and evil, and we get to experience great storytelling through flashy effects from a galaxy far far away.

The old cast is back and The Force Awakens successfully continues the Star Wars saga. A new cast is introduced and The Force Awakens makes us fall in love with our new group of space adventures. The music is here, lightsaber fights matter again, and the story works on its own and we also look forward to the future (Episode VIII can’t get here soon enough). Most filmmakers and film fans have their love of film because of Star Wars, so it is a gargantuan task to try and continue that story. Well, Abrams, Kasdan, Kennedy, and the cast (young and old) were up to the task and The Force Awakens is pretty much perfect when it comes to revitalizing George Lucas’ wildly creative franchise. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again:

Star Wars is back.

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About the author

Josh Tarpley

is a film critic and all around movie enthusiast. Along with being a Marvel fanboy, he is also a husband, college graduate and proud Beagle owner. Josh loves to celebrate art and tries to incorporate his faith into every aspect of life. You can follow Josh on twitter @JoshTarpley7

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