Film review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens today. Well, technically it will be yesterday by the time this post hits the Internet.

Overall, it was pretty good. If you like the original trilogy and hate the prequels, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. If you like the prequels, you’ll probably also like this movie. If you like the prequels and hate the original trilogy, what the heck is wrong with you?

The plot is essentially a rehash of A New Hope. The bad guys have an even bigger Death Star which they plan on using to explode the planet that the good guys are on, and it’s up to a ragtag bunch of scrappy heroes to explode the new Death Star before that happens; indeed, several shots and sequences intentionally reproduce iconic moments of the first movie. There’s also a pretty huge callback to The Empire Strikes Back, but saying more would be a spoiler. Oh, and they also have to find Luke Skywalker, who vanished for spoilery reasons years ago. To the credit of everybody involved, The Force Awakens is still interesting and entertaining to watch, even if we’ve seen it all before. 

Directorially, The Force Awakens draws mostly from The Empire Strikes Back and the Marvel movies. While it does tell a full story with an introduction, ramp-up, climax, and denoument, this is still clearly part 1 of a franchise. By the end, Kylo Ren’s plot thread is still dangling, and the characters’ nominal goal is only accomplished in the last few minutes, to be continued in the sequel.

The most impressive aspect of The Force Awakens is that is manages to be a good sequel that moves the classic characters forward while also being a good starting point that doesn’t require any familiarity with the previous movies. Sure, we know who Han, Leia, Luke, Darth Vader, C3PO, and R2D2 are, but the exposition is handled deftly enough that the eight-year-olds will pick it up just as if these were brand new characters.

Thankfully, it’s free of the Boba Fett circlejerk that blighted the prequels. If you hated the prequels for normal reasons, you’ll be glad to hear that the ridiculous joke theory about Jar-Jar being a Sith or at least a Dark Jedi is false, since Jar-Jar isn’t in this movie. Also, Kylo Ren isn’t Luke Skywalker.

Performances are consistently decent. John Boyega is convincing as renegade Stormtrooper FN2186, and Daisy Ridley manages to pull off Ama Rey as a female Luke Skywalker without it seeming preachy of pandering. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher reprise their roles of Han Solo and Princess Leia with more chemistry than I remember there being in the original trilogy, and they really do seem like an elderly married couple who have issues in their relationship. Adam Driver, bless his heart, totally nails Kylo Ren as a Dark Jedi who really really wants to be Darth Vader.

In conclusion, as a standalone space opera, The Force Awakens is fine. As a Star Wars movie, it gets the job done and is pretty good. JJ Abrams was cautious and didn’t take too many risks with the source material, which considering the reception of the prequels and his own Star Trek reboot is probably for the best.

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