What can one say about Star Wars? It’s one of the most influential movie franchises of all time, creating a universe so rich, that it went well beyond the main six feature films, from comic books to television shows to video games to novels, to even more!… Before Disney acquired LucasFilm from creator, George Lucas, declared almost everything beyond the six movies to be non-canon, and implemented their own highly ambitious plan for the future of the franchise. This includes the very bold decision to release a brand new Star Wars movie every year, starting with this year.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens functions as the long-awaited ‘Episode VII’, continuing the blockbuster movie saga that began all the way back in 1977, with the start of the original trilogy in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. As such, the hype behind this movie is unprecedented, with the entire world seemingly on the edge of their seats, as pre-sale records are shattered, and the entire internet seems to have become deathly afraid of any spoilers as to what events may occur within the movie (and don’t worry, as usual, this movie review will be completely spoiler-free!).
Right before release though, the dark, foreboding memory of the highly-disliked trilogy of prequel movies from 1999 to 2005 started to creep in. What if Star Wars: The Force Awakens was just another big fat disappointment? What if it killed Disney’s Star Wars revival plans before they even properly got off the ground? Is there any way that the movie could live up to such a colossal level of hype and excitement? After all, it’s been an entire decade since a proper Star Wars movie hit theatres!
Well, rest easy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It’s great, in fact! We can safely perish the memory of the prequels, and move on to a bigger, better Star Wars franchise to come under the leadership of Disney. In fact, more than a true revolution of the franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like it’s being positioned more as a goodwill gesture than anything else. Its approach to Star Wars convention is more comfort food than bold upheaval, but even if the movie ultimately plays it safe, it still stands as one of this Holiday’s most entertaining and truly awe-inspiring movies!
One of the particular strengths behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens is how well it manages to mesh both the new and classic cast. We meet new personalities to carry the franchise forward, in the form of Rey, a scavenger on the desert planet, Jakku, and Finn, a mysterious young man who allies with Rey, while fleeing the reach of the First Order, this movie’s stand-in for the Galactic Empire, more or less.
The characters in the movie are wonderful. Every new personality fits right into the universe, being instantly likable, emotional and cool in equal measure. They also work very well with the veterans, as Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew reprise their roles as smuggler, Han Solo and his Wookie companion, Chewbacca, respectively, who continue to play sizable parts in the story, though I won’t spoil how. You also see a decent amount of Carrie Fisher, continuing as Leia, still a government bigwig in the Republic, and being the key force standing in opposition to the First Order, who basically want to eradicate democracy, with their leaders being masters of the Dark Side of the Force. War never changes in the Star Wars universe, it would seem.
As for Mark Hamill, he is present, but despite being a part of the story in his own way, don’t expect to see too much of good old Luke Skywalker. There is a link to the Jedi heritage with the characters on both sides, and as you can imagine, at least one of them is going to discover a greater destiny that was very similar to both Anakin’s and Luke’s before them. There’s even a neat nod to this with the interesting and badass new central villain, Kylo Ren, the leader of some Sith Lord successors called the Knights of Ren, who is basically Darth Vader 2.0 on paper, though has a potentially surprising backstory that you may not expect, even if it seems like the true depth of his character is being left a mystery for now, to be explored in the already-confirmed sequels. It seems like there’s a lot more to the story of the First Order in general, but for now, they’re quite simply portrayed as the simple successor to the Empire. Even the organization’s true leader, Supreme Leader Snoke, is more or less Emperor Palpatine 2.0, and it also feels like most of his story is intentionally being omitted for now, to be explored in sequels.
Before you worry about too many politics though, a big problem that frequently dragged down the prequels (among other issues), rest assured that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is far more fun and laid back with its cast. Audiences are sure to quickly pick favourites among the new faces, whether it’s the brave and noble Finn, the resourceful and capable Rey, the skilled, quick-thinking pilot, Poe, and of course, the very cool villain, Kylo Ren. Just about everyone is also bound to fall hard for BB-8 as well, the adorable new rolling droid that, yes, is essentially R2-D2 2.0 (though don’t worry, as R2-D2 still shows up in the movie), to the point where his actions and functionality is directly ripped from how R2-D2 was utilized in the former movies. BB-8 is nonetheless very lovable though, and a lot of fun to see in action, even when he still communicates entirely through beeps and props.
There are several other noteworthy personalities, though it’s difficult to go over all of them without any spoilers. Allow me to simply say that the new cast is just as cool and fun as that of the original trilogy, and the familiar faces are all utilized well to boot. The Star Wars universe hasn’t felt this fresh and exciting since 1977 in fact, and you’re bound to quickly get used to the idea of this new cast succeeding the one you always loved from the original movies.
Obviously, I don’t want to give away any big story details from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, since there’s a lot of excitement within it, and quite a few twists. Instead, I will simply say that the plot is very well-done, being highly entertaining, action-packed, and setting up tons of promise for new Star Wars movies to come. Star Wars fans will absolutely love the movie’s story, and even if you’re a more casual moviegoer that could give or take Star Wars, you’ll still objectively find the story to be entertaining, uplifting, and very awesome.
In fact, when it comes down to it, there’s only one noticeable downside to what’s otherwise a pretty fantastic, albeit conservative storyline, and you might have pieced together the issue already, from my prior assessments; As great as the story is in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, quite a bit of it is recycled directly from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If you’ve noticed a vague similarity to the original 1977 movie in the marketing, and think that it follows closely to that same story foundation, you’re pretty much right. Several character templates and plot turns are ripped directly from the original Star Wars movie from 1977, and that might lead to this movie’s plot being a bit predictable for Star Wars fans in particular.
Granted, there are enough surprises and curveballs in the story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to keep audiences distracted from the fact that the movie is treading so closely to the original Star Wars tale, and when the story is presented as slickly as it is here, it’s difficult to care about the fact that you’ve seen a good chunk of it before, if you’ve seen the original trilogy. Ultimately, it may have been the right call to stick more closely to what fans already know and love for this new beginning, especially after the prequels tried to be more innovative, and obviously failed miserably in many respects, though this does create the slight feeling that the next truly groundbreaking masterpiece for the Star Wars saga on the big screen is still ahead of us.
After delivering two great Star Trek movies, it was quite shocking to see director, J.J. Abrams jump ship to the rival Star Wars franchise, and get away with it. This alone was very intriguing, though rest assured that Abrams’ eye for visual direction, style, and a fantastic sense of heart to go with it, are all present and accounted for in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie that’s sublimely directed in pretty much every respect.
Every element of the direction and polish behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens is masterful. The character moments are both fun and heartwarming. The environments are beautifully realized, and give a fantastic sense of scale and intrigue. The action scenes are fantastic, particularly the aerial dogfights between the familiar X-Wings of the good guys and the familiar TIE Fighters of the bad guys, along with the Millennium Falcon’s return to the fray of course, which unfold in heart-stopping, relentlessly exciting displays of light, sound and motion, effortlessly bringing audiences into each conflict to flawless effect!
Again, I don’t want to give away the many wonderful money shots that Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieves under Abrams’ helm, but rest assured that this movie has every bit of the impressive polish as any other Star Wars movie. Even with his work on the Star Trek movies, Abrams perfectly knows his way around what goes into a great Star Wars movie, demonstrating an intimate understanding of what makes Star Wars so cool and interesting, in turn leading to the realization of the coolest and most interesting Star Wars movie to come along in decades!
John Williams returns to compose the soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which carries with it many familiar themes that fans of the franchise have come to recognize and adore, and don’t worry, almost all of your favourites are accounted for! Along with them, Williams also brings lots of new compositions to the table as well, and all of them are just as excellent. The best way to describe the music suite in the movie is that it feels very much like Star Wars, with its big swells of brass and sweeping space opera style, creating a score that’s incredibly authentic, and one that Star Wars fans will definitely want to seek out to listen to at home!
Naturally, the rest of the audio follows suit in being very faithful to Star Wars as well. There seems to be a bit of added punch given to things like blaster shots and lightsaber swings, especially in IMAX theatres and other such premium formats, but it all sounds very faithful to the classic Star Wars sound effects that make the series so instantly recognizable. If it’s authenticity you’re after, Star Wars: The Force Awakens believes whole-heartedly in it, while still working with the faithful effects to produce something that still feels very modern, and especially mighty and thrilling!
It goes without saying that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very visually arresting movie, and sure enough, this is one of the most visually arresting movies to be released all year! As with the audio, the visuals go to painstaking efforts to be very true to Star Wars sensibilities, with everything being very recognizable, and very faithful to the Star Wars universe. Even then, elements of the visuals have been touched up and made better than ever, giving the movie an especially glossy, yet reverent sheen that emphasizes how everything is still Star Wars, but it’s a new and improved Star Wars for modern moviegoers, and that’s excellent!
I’ve already gone over some visual highlights in the direction of the movie, and it bears repeating that the action scenes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are a thing of beauty! The dogfights are especially awesome, but even the earthbound chases and lightsaber duels are incredibly engaging. They also never lean on CGI as a crutch, and still make use of a lot of credible, handmade stunt work. Even with the increased modernization, the reverence for the classic filmmaking techniques of the original Star Wars trilogy is still preserved in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which feels like an excellent marriage between classic wisdom, and modern polish, especially since it ditches the overuse of CGI that dragged down some of the visual designs of the prequel movies.
On that note, my advance screening of the movie was in IMAX 3D, allowing me to get the very most out of the experience. As for how these elements stack up, I must say that the 3D in particular is quite good, and while it’s nothing mind-blowing for live-action 3D movies, it’s still used to great effect, with things like dust clouds, embers and fog appearing to engulf the audience nicely. The added dimension also exceptionally enhances the action scenes, and particularly the dogfights, which are at their best and most immersive in 3D for sure!
The IMAX elements sadly feel a bit less impressive, at least from a visual standpoint, since they do create a slight sense of added scale with some of the sweeping planetary shots, but otherwise, the IMAX screen isn’t used all that much, with the IMAX speakers definitely being better utilized. The IMAX 3D cut is still good overall, thanks to the audio boost it gives, and the good 3D being at its best there, though if you’re stuck with a standard digital 3D screening, that’s still a fine way to see the movie. If you’re not adverse to 3D, I’d at least recommend seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in that format, where the movie is most lifelike and gripping, though the movie is still a visual marvel if watched flat in 2D.
Whatever your preference, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will delight your senses, especially if you’re an avid fan of this franchise. It will take you on an exciting and fun new journey that will faithfully balance feeling at home with bringing you into a new and exciting adventure that continues to nicely flesh out the beauty and splendour of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not the new greatest Star Wars movie ever made, but it’s exactly the right foot for Disney to start their new ownership of the franchise on. With this new beginning of the series, Disney has deftly proven that the franchise is in great hands, and that Disney’s overseers know their stuff when it comes to revitalizing Star Wars for both the new and previous generations.
The movie falls just shy of being a true masterpiece, since it’s still heavily relying on the original foundation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope to piece together its new building blocks for Disney’s plans to expand the new Star Wars universe, but that’s not to say that the story feels stale. Recycled and occasionally predictable, yes, but if anything, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitive proof that the foundation of Star Wars as a whole is timeless. Moreover, given the mostly botched prequel trilogy, and the scars that it left on Star Wars fans, the fact that Star Wars: The Force Awakens mostly functions as fun, laid back comfort food, is definitely not a bad thing.
Like I said, the next true groundbreaker for the Star Wars franchise is probably still ahead of us, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens will allay any doubts you may have about Disney taking ownership of the franchise, and will leave you extensively looking forward to what’s coming in the future. I could say that The Force is strong with this movie, as many other critics no doubt will, but even more important than that, is that The Force is alive in this movie. Even not being the most novel of Star Wars tales, Star Wars: The Force Awakens captures every element of the franchise’s unique magic, and that’s ultimately what matters most.
- Superb new cast that meshes well with classic personalities
- Excellent and faithful audio/visual polish
- Highly thrilling action scenes, particularly dogfights
- Story recycles quite a bit of A New Hope