Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Star Wars The Force Awakens poster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens | J.J. Abrams | December 18, 2015

Let’s face it: the prequels weren’t the Star Wars films we were looking for over a decade ago. Luckily, director and co-writer (with Lawrence Kasdan based partly off Michael Ardnt’s original story) J.J. Abrams returns with a nostalgic yet forward-looking sequel to breathe new life into the nearly 40-year-old franchise.

As is common with Abrams’ recent projects, the mystery surrounding the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been teased out in trailers, but what you need to know is revealed in the classic opening crawl: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi, has gone into hiding in the 30 years following Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is looking for him to help the Resistance. However, the First Order, lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in full mo-cap glory), is to working find and kill Luke, wiping out the Jedi once and for all – including the Republic and the Resistance. And new characters Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), BB-8, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Finn/FN-2187 (John Boyega) are in the middle of the chaos.

Finn and Rey on Jakku in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

There’s plenty to unpack, but for the sake of spoilers, I’ll keep that to a minimum. It’s best to go into an event film like this (especially for a franchise with this massive a following) unspoiled.

That being said, this was the Star Wars we needed back in 1999. Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels fresh but nostalgic – and regularly messes with tropes. Rey’s an orphan who can fend for herself and fly spacecraft, despite never having left Jakku (the desert planet of choice, rather than Tatooine); Poe’s an ace X-wing pilot for the rebellion; and Finn’s a disillusioned Stormtrooper who’s done with the First Order. And BB-8 is adorable and full of banter – mostly in action rather than speech. As for the primary antagonist, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he’s a Vader and Sith fanboy, essentially. Again, that’s without spoiling anything.

Now, the main legacy cast (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels) is spot-on. Mr. Ford gets the lion’s share of the run time, followed by Mr. Mayhew’s Chewbacca and Ms. Fisher’s General Leia. They step back into their roles with aplomb but don’t chew the scenes, acting as more reminders of the past still existing in the present. Musically, John Williams’ score is familiar and hits the right spots. The cantina music, however, didn’t stand out as much as the jazzy tune from Episode IV. Maybe I was expecting more from Lin Manuel Miranda. Or maybe a repeat viewing will be in order – including for all the cameos that have been revealed in recent days.

That being said, the plot does feel like a slight rehash of Star Wars and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The villains (Snoke, Kylo Ren, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie)) are relegated to being relatively one-note characters. And there’s plenty of plot from the 30 years in between VI and VII that’s alluded to but not explicitly shown (mainly Luke’s Jedi training, the Knights of Ren, Max von Sydow’s desert-dwelling Lor San Tekka, and Maz Katana (Lupita Nyong’o)). The integration, though, of the CG characters (Snoke and Katana) is tastefully done.

Still, the joy of seeing a brand-new Star Wars movie in theaters was well worth the wait – and the wait for the anthology films (subtitled A Star Wars Story) and Episodes VIII (from writer-director Rian Johnson) and IX (from Colin Trevorrow) will also be well worth it. All qualms aside, the nostalgia factor is high, as are the hopes that the questions raised in Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be answered in the following films.

Rating: 8.8/10