A culture blog, mostly focused on film and television. Warning: spoilers!!!
Film Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
December 25, 2015
Disclaimer: I’m not a Jedi-level Star Wars fan but I’ve seen all the films and I re-watched the original trilogy some weeks before going to see The Force Awakens. I think I’ve got a pretty adequate understanding of the films, or at least enough to pick up on meta-references and call-backs, but sorry if I didn’t catch everything!
Warning: Complete spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead.
You done good, J. J. Abrams. The much-anticipated, box office history-making, seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, pays homage to the classic and best Star Wars films and injects it with fresh energy in the form of new characters, exciting action sequences, and an adorable, spherical droid called BB-8.
In the timeless battle between the forces of light and dark, a Stormtrooper has a crisis of conscience and helps rebel fighter pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), escape from the malevolent First Order (a new version of the Galactic Empire led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a dark Jedi). Newly christened Finn (John Boyega) quickly encounters the bowstaff-wielding scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is accompanied by a unique white and orange BB-8 droid waiting for its master, Poe. The droid is safeguarding an important map leading to the vanished Luke Skywalker that both the rebel forces and First Order want desperately (hinthint). Our new heroes run from quickly advancing Stormtroopers and turn to the older but still roguish Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca for help in reaching the Resistance. Solo brings them to the castle of Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o)—a busy, Mos Eisley Cantina-like outpost, but bigger and cleaner—where Rey discovers that she is Force-sensitive. Unfortunately, Kylo Ren and his Stormtroopers descend, bringing destruction and snatching up Rey to bring to Starkiller Base, the First Order’s headquarters and a planet-sized, world-decimating weapon (winkwink). Finn et al. get picked up by the Resistance, and with BB-8’s map safely in the hands of General Leia Organa, the Resistance plans an attack on Starkiller Base by exploiting a structural weakness in the massive machine (nudgenudge) and hopefully bring Han and Leia’s son, Kylo Ren, home.
Turns out that Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side is the reason why Luke ran away, distraught as he was by the violent power of his protégé (sound familiar?). As the Resistance mounts a fearless onslaught on the First Order’s base, Finn and Solo go on a mission to rescue Rey. But Rey manages to harness the power of the Force to escape from Kylo Ren all by herself! In a heartrending scene between Han Solo and his wayward son, on a narrow bridge above a massive, indoor pit (it’s déjà vu!), Kylo Ren makes his final decision to reject the light side completely, killing his father while Finn and Rey watch helplessly from afar. NOOOOO!!!! There is little time to dwell on Han Solo’s death as, thanks to the Resistance, the Starkiller begins implode, but not before a final fight on the wintery surface between Rey and Kylo Ren. Their battle reaches no conclusion as the ground splits apart between them, but Rey finds out her powers with the Force and skill with a lightsaber rival those of the dark Jedi. The two retreat from each other, with Rey returning to the victorious Resistance base and Ren returning to his master, the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), to continue his training in the dark side. Rey briefly mourns the passing of Solo with Leia before taking up the mission to find Luke and, presumably, train to become a Jedi.
The two, 23-year old Brits, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, prove themselves to be excellent additions to the Star Wars universe and their characters charming, brave, funny, and strong heroes worthy of carrying forth the torch passed on by Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. As a Stormtrooper who broke free of the conditioning into which he was born, Finn is quick to make friends with Poe, Rey, and BB-8 and has a strong drive to do the right thing. His initial instinct to run from danger is overturned by his affection for Rey, and their budding relationship will hopefully be handled more delicately than other Star Wars romances have in the past (ahem, Padme and Anakin). Speaking of Padme, Ridley’s likeness to Keira Knightly, who played a handmaiden and decoy to Natalie Portman’s queen in The Phantom Menace, has already drawn speculation about Rey’s briefly alluded past (which, if true, begs the question, do all the characters really need to be related?) Aside from that, Rey is already shown to be exceptional character as she is a badass fighter, a natural heir to the role of Millennium Falcon co-pilot, and an important figure in keeping the light and dark sides of the Force in balance. The third addition to the motley crew of the rather sizable Resistance is Poe Dameron, General Leia’s best pilot and BB-8’s master. Poe cuts a dashing figure, thanks to Oscar Isaac’s stubbled jawline and curly locks, and he brings less anonymity to the Resistance X-wing fighters who are forever trading shots with Stormtroopers. Of the few faces actually visible in the evil First Order, Domhnall Gleeson is nearly unrecognizable as the cold, militant, power-grabbing General Hux. Hux is a more polished leader than those who preceded him, but the Nazi symbolism surrounding him is just as clear as when it was Darth Vader in charge of the Empire. Interestingly, Hux acts as foil to the more individualistic and volatile Kylo Ren. Adam Driver’s unusual and youthful features betray a surprisingly unsure and immature man hidden beneath the sleek mask, although he also makes for a good neo-Vader as well, with his menacing voice and towering stature. By the way, his real name is Ben (because clearly Leia wouldn’t let Han name their kid Chewie).
In terms of script and action, Abrams keeps things zipping along while also allowing characters and relationships to develop. From two party chases to large space battle scenes, detail and scale are maintained. Just the right amount of fan service is included in The Force Awakens. Of course, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher get their scenes as grown-old-and-grown-apart Han Solo and Leia Organa. Mark Hamill has his big cameo and a few other established characters, like R2-D2, C-3PO, and even Admiral Ackbar, show up too. A few, hidden cameos from actors Simon Pegg (playing a junk dealer) and Daniel Craig (as a Stormtrooper) add to the fun. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of humour to be had via Stormtroopers now that they are no longer clones. However, one major complaint is that Chewbacca didn’t get quite the amount of screen time he deserved to show his reaction to Han being killed, aside from his immediate anger. He should’ve gotten a scene with Leia or on his own to mourn his best friend. For the most part, though, the heroism, humour, and action of classic Star Wars shines throughout The Force Awakens, leaving viewers satisfied and eager for the next instalment in the forever franchise.