Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Reviewed by Eliza DoLots
J.J. Abrams’ re-energizing of the Star Wars universe, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, will almost certainly be his most successful movie to date. This is very well deserved. The creator of the Star Wars universe, George Lucas himself, was unable to create another movie as satisfying and engaging as this.
Abrams has succeeded—at least in part—by bringing original co-writer Lawrence Kasdan onboard. The Abrams-Kasdan script brings humor and fun back to the Star Wars universe and it is a very welcome thing. Politics—which seemed to overwhelm the Prequel movies—takes a backseat to human emotion. These characters are driven by feelings and problems we can understand.
There has been criticism that the plot of The Force Awakens is too close to the plot of the original movie. This is not deserved at all. While there are definite similarities, Abrams has managed to stay on the side of comfortable familiarity without delving into the repetition (theft?) we saw in Star Trek Into Darkness. The characters, locales and story of A New Hope resonate throughout The Force Awakens without detracting from the freshness and excitement of the new adventures.
Like A New Hope, The Force Awakens focuses on a lonely orphan on a desolate planet. But Force heroine Rey —played by the luminous Daisy Ridley— is not a whiny teenager trying to escape. Rather she is a fiercely competent survivor dedicated to waiting for a family she believes will one day return for her. Also reminiscent of A New Hope, this lonely teenager encounters a small, engaging android on a mission to aid the rebellion against the evil power bent on ruling the galaxy. This droid, the very appealing, expressive BB-8, is far more involved with the human characters in the story. BB-8 sticks to the protagonists like a loyal dog, rolling quickly behind them as they run and engaging them in animated conversations (Rey, at least, seems to speak Droid).
The biggest link between A New Hope and The Force Awakens is the original trio. Han, Leia and Luke are back. The good news is, just as with Nimoy in the 2009 Star Trek movie, Abrams uses his older cast members fully. These are not brief cameos with little purpose in the story other than bringing in interested audience. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, in particular, is a driving force (snicker) in the story. I didn’t measure it, but it felt like he had as much screen time in this movie as he did in the original. Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca is back as well. While he is not used as thoroughly as Solo, Chewy is definitely a major character. He’s involved in multiple fights and plays a major role in the attempt to rid the universe of the enemy’s newest terrifying weapon. Our old droid friends, C3PO and R2D2 have somewhat less to do in this film. BB-8 carries the bulk of the Droid duties. But they are there and it’s fun to see them. C3PO continues his habit of interfering whenever Han wants a private moment with Leia.
One somewhat discordant note is Carrie Fisher’s General Organa. For whatever reason, her face now seems immobile. The engagingly expressive features of Princess Leia have been replaced with a stony, stiff lipped rigidity. Yes, I know that there have been disturbing times. The Han Solo-Leia Organa relationship seems to give new meaning to the term “dysfunctional family,” but whatever horrors came her way, Leia was ALWAYS expressive. We watched her as her home planet was destroyed. We watched her when the man she loved was lowered into carbonite to be frozen. Somber, unhappy Leia should not be stiff, frozen Leia. It’s a disappointment.
Also like the original movie, we have a young aspiring dark lord. In this case it is Kylo Ren, played admirably by Adam Driver. Where Vader’s backstory and evolution took movies to unfold, Ren’s history is made clear very quickly in the movie. His struggle to rid himself of irksome “light” tendencies is behind what is arguably the most shocking moment in Star Wars history. That this struggle will continue in the upcoming movies is a given and I look forward to watching Driver as he expands on this role.
Much has been made of Abrams’ insistence on using physical effects whenever possible. This might well have been to assure the fans that the mistakes made by the CGI-obsessed Lucas were not going to be made in this movie. The physical effects are good. The planets, the locations, the ships all look and feel real. There are two CGI characters in this movie. Maz Kanata, played by Lupita Nyong’o, is among the best CGI characters I’ve seen (and yes, I’ve seen Avatar, LOTR and King Kong). The other CGI character is Supreme Leader Snoke played by Andy Serkis. So far we’ve only seen a holographic projection of Snoke so it’s hard to evaluate as CGI. It LOOKS like a hologram because it IS a hologram (and an impressive hologram it is too! After all those tiny little projections—and a few life size ones in the prequels—Snoke’s holographic projection is enormous! It’s very “Supreme Leader”).
To me the biggest change this movie makes to the Star Wars universe is in our understanding of the enemy. The “Bad Guys” are no longer cartoon characters. While there were always hints about the humans behind the Storm Trooper costumes, the mask is torn off in this film by central character Finn, played by John Boyega. His backstory and personal struggle changes our perception of the Storm Troopers. Combined with the emotional struggle we see in Kylo Ren, the result is a picture of an Empire (now called The First Order) built on the back of vulnerable, flawed, damaged humans.
Is this a flawless movie? No. But I don’t think that any of the Star Wars movies have been flawless. I refuse to hold Abrams to a standard that was never met by George Lucas. Is it an enjoyable movie? Very much so. Am I excited about the movies to come? You bet.
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