Star Wars: The Force Awakens
For the purposes of this review, we are upholding our promise to grant you a spoiler-free article. That's right, in order to respect you, the reader, we want to give you the best review possible without succumbing to the obligation of having to go into details about plot points. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a special breed of film that should be experienced with as much untainted freshness as possible as there are many elements in the story (both big and small) that play a huge role in driving the experience for not just the film itself, but the future ones to come.
December 18, 2015 (USA)
Director: JJ Abrams
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt
Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Action-Adventure
Rating: PG-13 (For Sci-Fi Action Violence)
[The following review will be spoiler-free. We promise.]
At the tender age of seven years old my father first introduced me to the fascinating world of Star Wars. He had been a long-time fan of the films through a Spanish audio tape reading of a children’s book adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (I had just moved from Puerto Rico to New York City not too long before and Spanish was my primary language at the time). As I listened to this story I became deeply mesmerized by the concept of the Jedi and the Sith, the Force, the never-ending galactic conflict between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, and who can forget those lightsabers?
Not long after, I managed to finally watch The Empire Strikes Back in its original cinematic glory when it was re-released on VHS back in the mid-90’s. It quickly became an experience I would never forget. My father and I began to collect anything bearing the name “Star Wars” on it, mainly action figures, comic books, and movies. I would join in mock lightsaber battles during my youth group days at my former church, drew the Millennium Falcon in heated space shootouts with TIE fighters in my books while doing school lessons, and even sat through the entirety of The Phantom Menace at my local cinema just because. My love for Star Wars has even reached out from beyond my childhood and has influenced me in many ways.
Okay, so maybe at this point you might be thinking, “Enough about you! Where is this review you speak of?!” The main point I am really trying to settle here is that the Star Wars brand is more than just a movie, but a cherished life experience millions around the world hold dear to them.
As you are reading this review, please do understand that first and foremost I am writing from the perspective of a critic and a fan second. Yes, as much as I love Star Wars, I needed to put my pride for the series aside and view it from an objective point of view. Secondly, when I give the movie praise, I do it from both a critical lens as well as from the perspective of the child-like fan within me. When reviewing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one isn’t merely reviewing a film, but an experience that will impact both old and new generations alike. It is from this foundation that I would like for readers to consider the following praises and/or critiques I may have about the film. Now without further ado, let’s get on with the review.
For the purposes of this review, we are upholding our promise to grant you a spoiler-free article. That’s right, in order to respect you, the reader, we want to give you the best review possible without succumbing to the obligation of having to go into details about plot points. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a special breed of film that should be experienced with as much untainted freshness as possible as there are many elements in the story (both big and small) that play a huge role in driving the experience for not just the film itself, but the future ones to come.
Violence/Scary Images: The movie decidedly pushes the envelope a bit here in terms of violence. While it is far from gory, The Force Awakens uses some blood in scenes to show the effect of an injury on a character. As tame as it is, it’s probably the most violent Star Wars film to date.
Language/Crude Humor: There is one mention of the word “Hell” and a vast amount of great meta-humor the series is well known for, but nothing crude or inappropriate.
Sexual Content: N/A
Drug/Alcohol References: N/A
Spiritual Content: It is difficult to delve into spiritual themes without talking about plot points, but there are some great spiritual analogies that can (and will) be pulled out from The Force Awakens. I also do want to add that the theme of “the Force” in the Star Wars films is one that shares similarities with Eastern religions and not consistent with the Biblical worldview on a whole. Please do exercise discernment when trying to pull out theology from the film.
Negative Content: One can view the Dark Side of the Force as a negative aspect of the film since it is a power that is acquired by performing evil acts, but never glorified.
Positive Content: Star Wars has always been a story of self-sacrifice, heroism, love, and forgiveness. The Force Awakens continues this trend by keeping it as family-friendly as possible, but also catering to the more mature fans of the series.
So, how is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you say? Well, it’s good–in fact–it is very good. While I do not want to go too much into plot in an attempt to keep your viewing experience as fresh as possible, the only thing I will mention is that this film begins a full twenty-nine years after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Yep, that’s all I want to go into.
After taking much time to think about whether I should give a quick summary of The Force Awakens to give the reader some sort of context, I decided in my best judgment to not even mention the plot at all. This is because as soon as the infamous yellow letter crawl goes up on screen, we’re already given plenty of info worth pondering about in itself.
However, as much as I would love to discuss the plot of the film (and trust me, there is PLENTY to talk about), I would like to focus this review on the actual presentation of the film. At a budget of 200 million dollars and legions of devout fans, The Force Awakens has a lot to prove. Thankfully, it does just that due to JJ Abrams focused direction.
Abrams is famous for being show-runner on cult TV series’ Alias and Lost and for directing the first two movies in the Star Trek reboot. Here with The Force Awakens, Abrams plays a similar role, albeit one with thousands of tons of pressure on his shoulders. There were truly a lot of balls being juggled here.
See, TFA works not only as the next big entry in the beloved franchise, but it also is a series reboot of sorts. When Disney bought LucasArts back in 2012 for a whopping $4 billion dollars, they managed to acquire Star Wars along with the purchase. From here came the idea of revitalizing the franchise by releasing a film based in the same SW universe every year beginning with the one we see now.
For those worried that The Force Awakens might hit another case of prequel blues, I can safely say it manages to avoid all of the traps that befell those films, but it also manages to erect some powerful pillars of foundation for a very promising future for the series. For example, TFA features its very first on-screen female lead in the series in the form of “Rey” played by Daisy Ridley. Now there are several female characters in the Star Wars universe, but the reason this is so significant is because the main story in TFA truly focuses on her journey as a character. Along the way we meet John Boyega’s “Finn,” a First Order Stormtrooper with a dark past, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, a Resistance fighter who is sent on a mission to… well, again, let’s keep that part spoiler-free.
Those fearing the new leads wouldn’t work, have no fear. Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac are wonderful and inject the film with a vibrant youthfulness that is often playful, self-aware and appropriately somber when the story calls for them to be so. Without giving away too much, the film holds some of the best character moments in the series by far and much of that is due to the strong performances here.
A special mention has to also be given to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who gives a great performance as the film’s lead villain. Kylo Ren steals every scene. He is easily the best Star Wars villain in years. Of course, it is majorly because of this cast that the film succeeds. Let’s not also forget the addition of BB-8, the new member to the Droid family. Yes, he is as cute as he looks and even has some fun scenes of his own.
The other half is held up, of course, by the brilliant original cast and even some surprise cameos from certain cult characters the series is known for. Seeing them reprise their roles on screen after so many years was the equivalent of seeing old family members after being apart for years. Simply put, The Force Awakens often feels like a gigantic homecoming celebration.
Visually, the film is no slouch, throwing every kind of effect into the mix. From visual effects, practical effects, motion capture, there’s not one thing that director JJ Abrams leaves out. In fact, the film’s numerous set-pieces often makes use of a combination of all of these elements truly selling you into this world we are watching on screen. The places the characters visited throughout the film aren’t just backdrops, but places rich with history and lore from long ago.
Back to the set-pieces: This is hands-down the most a Star Wars movie has ever had. Lightsaber battles, aerial dog fights between TIE fighters and X-Wing fighters, Droids, and the iconic sound effects that accompany them–it’s all here. All of it delivered a child-like fervor to me as a fan that the prequels failed to capture. With that being said, do be on the lookout for numerous references and easter eggs that will occasionally pop up throughout the film that will have you saying, “Hey, I know what that is!” and even other elements hinting at the direction of the franchise’s future will have you excited for more.
But, of course, as much as the child in me would like to cherish all of the great things found here, my unfortunately critical adult mind must now kick in. As I watched The Force Awakens, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of familiarity with it all, in both a good and not-so-good sense. While I did rather enjoy many intricacies and plot twists the story ultimately delivers, I couldn’t help but to feel that I have seen it all before, albeit it is all being presented here in different variations.
The film borrows many story beats from its predecessors (mostly from the original trilogy) and while it often does feel like a tribute in one moment, in others I just couldn’t help but to be overcome by a sense of familiarity. If you’ve watched any of the original Star Wars movies, you can just about predict what may or may not happen, but the writing here by JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt, and series master Lawrence Kasdan imbue the old elements with much freshness towards the source material presented, however from my personal opinion I would have liked a more original story with its own new ideas.
Speaking of new ideas, to be completely fair there are numerous amounts of new settings, and plot devices here that are enough to get one excited, but I also couldn’t help but to notice the various amounts of characters who are given great introductions and are barely ever seen in the film. It’s a bit of a disappointment since the marketing campaign really put a lot of focus on certain characters in the film only for them to have such a minimal impact in the overall story. Still, we have to remember that The Force Awakens is the first in the new trilogy (along with various other spin-off films that will jump around in the timeline), so I have no doubt that we will see these characters again as by the end of the film multiple plot threads are left up in the air.
The IMAX 3D Experience
I had the great opportunity of watching The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. I can honestly say it was one of the greatest movie experiences I’ve ever had. Technically speaking, the IMAX 3D version of The Force Awakens is a true wonder to behold. The film was presented on a 70mm IMAX screen and while only one scene was shot in true IMAX format, I cannot express enough how much more it added to the sequence.
The entirety of the film was shown in 3D. This added really great depth to a lot of the action scenes and even transitional shots in between. Again, I am trying my best not spoil any surprises, but if you are in an area where a screening The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D format is available, and have the extra cash to spend, I cannot recommend it enough and I truly believe this is the best way to experience the film to the fullest.
After twenty-nine years since the original films and a ten year hiatus after the prequels that almost permanently damaged the franchise’s legacy, Star Wars was showing its age. While it still remained young in the hearts of millions of fans, it was also apparent that it was becoming more and more difficult for younger generations to connect with the films and discover what truly made the franchise unique in a world filled with so many other similar properties.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns after many years to once again reclaim its crown and remind the world why it is the biggest science-fiction property in history. While the film does have some minor flaws, they are easily overshadowed by a sense of celebration, a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. If it is any indication as to where Star Wars is headed after this, we should all be excited, very, very excited. The Force has never been stronger than it is now.
+ Set-pieces are suitably epic and action-packed
+ Likable new leads play well with the classic cast
+ World-building and easter eggs aplenty
+ Does well introducing Star Wars to a new generation while also respecting the old
+ Kylo Ren is the best Star Wars villain in years
+ No Jar-Jar or Midi-chlorians in sight
– Retreads familiar story beats a bit too closely at points
– Some characters are heavily underutilized