a critiQal film review Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Plot: Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn (Boyega) crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last of the Jedi Knights.

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  • ...a solid new entry, and a great introduction to the new trilogy - this film is better than it has any right to be,

After catching up on the original trilogy with our recent review of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), we couldn’t wait to dive into the new films, starting with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. After all the buildup, and the divergent three prequel film in between, would it still be fun to reconnect to Luke, Han and Leia? Or is this another instance of a sequel that waited too long?

Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo, and, as anyone who was in a theater when the previews for Star Wars: The Force Awakens first hit, it’s something that fans have been waiting a long, long time for. While he’s quite a bit older, Harrison’s Solo is still as captivating as ever. With him and Chewbacca back on-screen, the viewer is happy once again, and the retro feel he brings perfectly blends this film in with the original trilogy.

Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) are back as well, but their turns in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are more bit parts than Solo’s is. That’s well and good, however, as they have both aged even more dramatically than Harrison Ford has. While Ford has lost of a bit of a step, literally, in his running sequences, Fisher and Hamill look as if they are doing all they can to just stay upright, much less mobile.

Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t solely about Han (see the upcoming standalone prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) for that), this film also introduces some new characters into the universe. And, thankfully, they’ve gone with the times and centered the film around a woman, namely Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). While most viewers won’t recognize her face, that’s a good thing, as they don’t have any preconceived notions going into the film. She does a solid job keeping the viewers entertained, with the mysterious storyline helping her as well.

Another new face is John Boyega, who begins the film as a stormtrooper, yet switches sides and joins the Resistance early on. He’s also a new face, and he’s engaging even while providing bits of comedic humor along the way. It’s nice to see that the film fleshes out one of those faceless stormtroopers, and it’s a solid new story angle that is played out well in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The First Order has replaced the Sith and the Empire as the bad guys in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but aren’t much more than updated copies of those enemies. Just like how the Emperor remained mysterious in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), so does the evil leader, Supreme Leader Snoke, in this film. The man at the forefront in this film is Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts (and some shocking actions on his part), he can’t really hold a candle to Darth Vader, and it seems like even he knows it.

That being said, the enemy really isn’t the gist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Instead, this is an introduction the a new trilogy, where the viewer meets the new protagonists and starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding them…plus trying to unravel what exactly has happened in the intervening years since Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). J.J. Abrams does a solid job of mixing the familiar (Han Solo and the like) with the new (Rey and Finn), even while paying homage to the original films, and revealing enough hints that the viewer will be on edge until they find out what happens in the next film, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017).

From the opening sequence that’s obvious a homage to the opening sequence in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), to the nostalgic-tinged updates (Maz’s cantina seems reminiscent of a happier Jabba the Hut encampment, while Maz herself seems to channel Yoda at times), to the throwbacks (Han, Leia, Skywalker’s lightsaber, the Millenium Falcon, etc.), it’s obvious that J.J. Abrams is a huge fan of the original trilogy. And it sure is fun to see.

Unlike the prequel trilogy, which felt more like a modern re-telling of the original trilogy that lacked the same passion for the subject, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the continuation that fans have been waiting for. With an obvious love for the original trilogy, and it’s smart blend of nostalgia and modern, this film is sure to delight new fans and old. While there’s a plot twist that many won’t enjoy, the film is so good up until that point that viewers can’t help but wonder if future films will justify even that twist.

A solid new entry, and a great introduction to the new trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is better than it should have any right to be, being a sequel so many years after the original trilogy. Just like he did with Star Trek (2009), J.J. Abrams has managed to take a flagging series, and make it relevant again – and loads of fun.

Don’t miss this one.

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