REVIEW — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
In 1977, a young, independent filmmaker named George Lucas brought his imagination and his dreams to life with Star Wars, an $11 million dollar space fantasy movie unlike anything the world had ever seen before or since. The film was an overnight sensation, a smash hit and an immediate cultural phenomenon, obliterating box office records and ushering in an epoch of the major blockbusters that dominate theaters each Summer season. Based in universal archetypes, the science-fiction adventures of the classic Flash Gordon serials, the legendary cinema of Akira Kurosawa, and mythological heroes, Star Wars birthed cinema’s most iconic franchise – a cinematic touchstone that endures still today, nearly forty years later. Having served as the primary creative force for six movies across nearly three decades, George Lucas entrusted the entirety of Lucasfilm – and all of Star Wars – to the Walt Disney Company, who purchased Lucas’ famed production company for $4 billion dollars. Longtime film producer Kathleen Kennedy, subsequently appointed to Lucasfilm president with the company’s acquisition, became the key figure in revitalizing a galaxy far, far away – an almost insurmountable task that has been accomplished with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Star Wars influenced and inspired an entire generation of moviegoers and filmmakers alike, and The Force Awakens – the seventh episodic installment in the legendary space opera series – will influence and inspire audiences both old and new, serving as an unforgettable moviegoing experience for everyone who journeys to see the motion picture event of the decade. Gone is the oppressive Galactic Empire, replaced by the villainous First Order – an insidious organization lead by the looming and mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Caught in an intergalactic conflict with the Resistance, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) relentlessly pursues Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) as he fights on behalf of the Resistance’s General Leia Organa Solo (Carrie Fisher). Former First Order Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) abandons his cause, citing it to be the “right thing to do,” an action which places him on a journey alongside loner scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Together, the two encounter the legendary former Rebellion general Han Solo (Harrison Ford), with the crew of heroes both young and old banding together to save the galaxy from the all-powerful, planet-shattering Starkiller weapon.
The Force Awakens can be deemed a two and a half hour homage to A New Hope – a comparison that isn’t completely untrue, even if mostly unfair – but why reinvent the wheel when the wheel is one of the biggest, most popular, most successful movies of all time? This is, essentially, a franchise starter despite being the sixth sequel. This is the first of the new era of Star Wars – of Disney’s era of Star Wars. With this first outing, it’s better to stray too close to the familiar than stray too far away into unrecognizable territory. To its credit, The Force Awakens is a lot more A New Hope than The Phantom Menace, and is as close to classic Star Wars as can be without simply being a lazy, unimaginative rehash. Despite the featured bonus of having series veterans Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels resuming their classic roles, Star Wars: The Force Awakens very much belongs to the cast of series newcomers – namely Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver – all who have already become fan-favorites in their own right.
If there’s one major disappointment to the film, it’s that the old cast – while essential to the film’s plot – don’t receive the kind of attention, or interaction, that many established fans might have hoped for. There are several characters who are unfortunately sidelined for the majority of the film’s running time – if you have a desire to see those old players interact in a major way, prepare to be dissatisfied with the appearances (or lack of) of some of your old favorite characters. The returning cast members slipping into their iconic roles like old gloves makes it even harder to accept that this desire goes unfulfilled, but, thankfully, the newcomers do a tremendous job of carrying The Force Awakens on their shoulders.
32 years after the finale of Return of the Jedi, it makes sense for remnants of the Empire – in the form of the First Order – to remain, and for X-Wings, Tie Fighters, and Star Destroyers to fill the skies. This is all iconography that is familiar and which has been permeating in the pop culture consciousness for the past thirty years – and seeing the familiar world of the Original Trilogy again, thirty years later, is part of the same nostalgia draw that Jurassic World carried over the Summer. We want the new, too – but we don’t want something entirely new. A bit of the familiar, blended with the new, and you have an overall satisfying film that serves as a reintroduction to a universe that has existed in the form of films, cartoons, video games, and comic books.
Succinctly said, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Star Wars: A New Hope for a new generation. Both fresh and simultaneously old-fashioned in the best way, The Force Awakens – like its 1977 predecessor – blends an older style of filmmaking with all the expected flourish, bells and whistles of the modern blockbuster. Whereas A New Hope was inspired by Flash Gordon and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Abrams found inspiration in the “unbelievable scene choreography and composition” of Kurosawa’s High and Low, the “powerful stillness” of Terrence Malick, and the “confidence” of John Ford westerns. “The feeling we wanted was from the first trilogy,” says The Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who also served as screenwriter on the Original Trilogy’s The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. “It’s fun, it’s delightful, it moves like a son of a bitch, and you don’t question too much.”
The goal was achieving the overall feel of the first trilogy, and it’s a goal that’s accomplished in spectacular fashion. The Force Awakens feels like the best of Star Wars, with that overall feel permeating through every frame of this sequel to a 32 year old film. It’s a testament to both lifelong Star Wars fan J.J. Abrams’ talents as a filmmaker and the creative and corporate minds behind Disney and Lucasfilm’s first Star Wars co-production: they aimed for classic Star Wars, and they got it. The film is also imbued with a sense of childlike wonder, the awe-inspiring wonder that transports you not only to a galaxy far, far away but to a time of your youth when the magic and wonder of the movies made you believe it all – Luke, Han, Leia, the Jedi, the Force – that it was real, all of it.
It’s a rare feat for a film – something made up of flickering images – to be able to engage us and affect us on that level, but The Force Awakens does it so masterfully, so nearly-effortlessly that the young and the young at heart alike will believe in the magic of the movies. The Force Awakens made me feel like a kid again – any film that can tap into a part of yourself that you believed long forgotten is a film worth treasuring. The term “instant classic” is cliche and overused at this point, having been slapped across countless DVD and Blu-ray boxes to the point of losing its effectiveness, making it more important to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will remain as beloved as the Original Trilogy over the course of the next three decades and beyond. Children now will have the same feeling their parents had upon watching the Original Trilogy in 1977, 1980, and 1983, and they will carry it with them as this film becomes an irreplaceable and notable part of their childhood.
Audiences will leave the theater having witnessed a film that is, by all accounts, an engaging and gripping experience. There’s a moment in The Force Awakens that is so tense, so ultimately heartbreaking and shocking, that there was a visible and audible reaction from the audience. This was a captive audience: cheering, laughing, and gasping in all the right places. “Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story,” said George Lucas of the original trilogy. “People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Wisely, Abrams understands this – and for all the impressive visual effects (from special effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic), story reigns supreme in The Force Awakens. Characters you care about – both old and new – undergo an adventure that whisks you away as though you’re traversing the stars yourself. The third act is the most engaging final act of any film this year, with action and emotion on a grand scale. A dark, snowy forest, illuminated only by the glowing red and blue hues of dueling lightsabers. A nighttime space battle where the sky is alight with blasts of green and bursts of fiery orange smoke and fire. This is beautiful, engrossing filmmaking – this is Star Wars. The Force Awakens is a composite of direction, screenwriting, acting, score, and special effects that come together to form the cinematic equivalent of seeing your first love after a long – too long – time apart.
The Force Awakens is everything you hoped it would be and more – it’s not only an overwhelmingly satisfactory return to a beloved universe, but it’s a launching pad for an anxiously awaited new trilogy of films with Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX arriving in 2017 and 2019 from directors Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, respectively. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is why movies are made. And this is why we go to see them. The Force is very strong with this one.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★.[wpdevart_youtube]sGbxmsDFVnE[/wpdevart_youtube]
Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm and Bad Robot present Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams, the film is produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy alongside Bryan Burk. Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Max Von Sydow, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing.