Star Wars: The Force Awakens, alternatively Episode VII, is the seventh entry in the Star Wars movie franchise. It was directed by J.J. Abrams, and written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. This was the first movie of the franchise that wasn’t filmed under the direct supervision of George Lucas, and the first to be distributed by Walt Disney Studios. After its release in 2015, the movie made a whopping 2 billion US dollars worldwide, becoming one of the three most successful films ever made. It was likewise met with overwhelmingly positive reviews by critics and casual audience members alike, while long-time members of the Star Wars fanbase were less impressed.
Daisy Ridley stars as Rey, John Boyega portrays Finn, Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, Oscar Isaac portrays Poe Dameron, Carrie Fisher reprises her role of Leia Organa, Harrison Ford reprises the role of Han Solo, Mark Hamill reprises his role of Luke Skywalker, and Gwendoline Christie stars as Captain Phasma. The film was nominated in five different categories at the US Academy Awards. It was nominated in another three categories and won in the category of Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects at the BAFTA Awards in 2016.
I remember going to the theaters to watch The Force Awakens way back in December of 2015. It was a truly remarkable occasion. Having grown up watching the Star Wars movies, I was incredibly excited to see a new one. The wait after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was a whole ten years! And so, having pre-purchased some IMAX tickets, I was seated and ready to have my socks blown clean off.
Let me begin my saying that the movie’s soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. This has always been the case with Star Wars, and The Force Awakens is no different. Not only does the film keep the classic sound of Star Wars, but it also manages to reinvent it, making it feel as nostalgic as it does contemporary. Playing into nostalgia is a big part of this movie, and the entire new trilogy (episodes 7 through 9), and this is an example in which it really works.
The film starts with some of the most visually stunning scenes I have seen in any movie. Rey lives on a desert planet, much like Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. We are introduced to her character as she scavenges a massive, derelict ship, traversing its perilous platforms with great alacrity. With her loot in hand, she descends into the vast desert below, and we see her and her droid get in some trouble before reaching a town where she has to haggle for basic supplies. All this happens with just a few lines of dialogue here and there, a testimony to the visual storytelling of The Force Awakens. We learn more about Rey in these few scenes than we do over the course of the entire rest of the film, which is to say that we barely learn anything about her again.
Finn enjoys a similar treatment. He is the first disillusioned Stormtrooper ever shown in all the Star Wars movies. This was something that I always found terribly lacking in the older films – the Empire and their minions were always portrayed as perfectly inhuman, a purely evil force keen on taking over the galaxy. Finn’s character not only calls into question the absolute immorality of the Empire’s (often unwilling) supporters, but also points out the injustices carried out against the Stormtroopers, beyond the Rebels’ purview. It’s a real shame he doesn’t go on to bring more of his former colleagues out of their brainwashed state. Instead, he happily shoots at them whenever they meet. A beautiful message about second chances remains overlooked.
And finally, the antagonist, Kylo Ren. His first appearance is arguably the best out of any that a Star Wars antagonist has gotten so far. The way that he shows his force, to the shock and awe of onlookers, instead of making a tedious villainous speech, was a great move. It’s a great shame that his character isn’t explored as deeply as had been planned at one point. This tragedy is a by-product of this new trilogy of films each having a different director, each with a different vision for their respective movies. While this seemed like a good idea on paper, letting each of the three movies feel unique and interesting in their own way, it resulted in much of the planned material being scrapped with each episode. His main characteristic remains his obsession with Darth Vader.
One of the film’s, and also the trilogy’s, biggest faults is its reuse of plot points from the previous Star Wars movies. I’ve already mentioned how nostalgic it feels, but somewhere along the way, the movie crosses the line and feels more like a reboot. And just to be clear, it isn’t. It’s set several decades after the events of the original trilogy, yet everything going on now is much the same as in the olden days. Another Death Star, another rise of the Empire, a literal Darth Vader wannabe for the villain. It’s more than just eerily familiar; it borders on being a blatant rip-off of the movies it’s supposed to be a sequel for.
To tie the movies in, fan-favorite characters such as Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, R2-D2 and Luke Skywalker all come back for another run on the big screen. And, although it feels nice seeing all of them together again, I can’t help but feel like they should’ve appeared later on. Since The Force Awakens is the first part of a trilogy, it’s supposed to set up a whole host of brand-new characters who we know next to nothing about. And aside from those brief introductory scenes, there’s actually a distinct lack of character development for most of the film. We end up thinking about the characters of the olden days more than about the new ones, and I think that’s a disservice to Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, who could have been fleshed out far more than they were.
On its own, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fantastic movie. If you’ve only seen bits of Star Wars so far (and it’s perfectly fine if you aren’t the biggest Star Wars fan, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) you will enjoy this movie. Its effects are stunning, its soundtrack is beautiful, its action scenes are fun to look at, and it has lots of comedy as well. All of this makes it very easy to watch and follow along, even for someone just starting out with Star Wars.
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