SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: J.J. Abrams
WRITTEN BY: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, & Michael Arndt
PEW PEW: The Force Awakens is complete with a near perfect ratio of swashbuckling action to compelling narrative. The series positively glows with, and is perhaps the greatest example of pure ‘pew pew!’
CAT FOOD: This film is the saga’s best when it comes to social commentary. What is responsible parenthood? When is war necessary? At what time must we question authority? For at least attempting to tap into that grey morality thing, I’m giving this one at least an honorary cat food seal.
Well, of course I have to cover The Force Awakens. Star Wars is the very reason why science fiction is the longest relationship I’ve managed to sustain! For as long as I can remember, Star Wars has been there. Being born right after the release of the final film in the original trilogy, I was never exposed to a world without the series and its magic. It was never a secret that a certain somebody ended up being a certain somebody’s father. Dad rented a second VCR to record the trilogy into one lo-fi videocassette and it (complete with an ending that only featured part of the ewok village celebration due to the length of the tape) stayed with me until I begrudgingly bought a copy of a ‘special edition’ VHS trilogy pack sometime in 2003.
I’ve since developed a refined sensibility that there are other great sagas and that ‘the Wars’ aren’t the be-all-end-all of the genre, but the movies are still pretty close to the greatest things ever. Even the worst of them stir something up in me the same way seeing a toy one remembers from one’s childhood does. Funny thing is, The Force Awakens is finally the amazing movie this franchise deserves.
When I sat down to watch this movie in the theatre, knowing precious little about what was going to happen over the next two hours, for the first time in my life I got to feel the distinct feeling of not knowing that must have been felt before the first showings in 1977. After the people who were intent on bragging to their friends on social media were done ruining the intro with flash photography, the opening crawl happened and I turned into a starry-eyed youngling again.
I got misty quite a few times while watching this exceptional film. It’s all there still, all the ancient wipe and fade transitions, those totally ignorable but heinous plot holes, that dubious science, and all the black and white morality a crotchety science fiction fan can handle! All that beautiful stuff that makes a Star Wars film a Star Wars film was there.
And tying it all together, for the first time since 1983, is the brilliant magic that is the feel of the original trilogy. Damn it, it’s there like finding a pet you thought was lost. It’s all right there where we left it.
Basically, some thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, there’s this huge civil war happening again as scattered Imperial bands have united to form the First Order that challenges what it sees as an illegitimate New Republic. The worst part is, Luke Skywalker, who I’d come to realise was one of the greatest heroes ever, has been missing for quite some time. After an old ally provides heroic pilot Poe Dameron with a map to Luke’s secret location, the First Order becomes wise to this and dispatches a new, extremely gnarly and shockingly power villain, the mysterious Kylo Ren, to track down the map, and deal with those responsible for its distribution.
So here’s how J.J. Abrams pulled this brilliant miracle of a movie off. For starters, the imagery is more breathtaking than ever before — with a philosophy that practical effects should win out over computer-generated effects, earthen yet somehow entirely alien-looking landscapes once again become king. Jakku starts us in familiar territory, as it is a desert planet. However, with vast and stunning dunes riddled with the wreckage of battles past, the landscape sets itself apart from that of the original trilogy’s Tatooine. The subtle hints at Japanese cinema are still here. One of the most memorable shots is of TIE fighters silhouetted by a massive and gorgeous sun, very reminiscent of Japanese imagery.
And there are of course oodles of cool looking ships, gadgets, and aliens everywhere!!! Some new, some familiar, but we get the distinct feeling that we’re most definitely in the same universe as the original trilogy.
Be warned, there are spoilers from this point on.
Having to live up to the iconic Darth Vader (a point which actually becomes meta in the film) the film’s iconic villain, Kylo Ren, is an abundantly aggressive and tortured badass who harbours a secret that aims to be as shocking as the fact that Vader was Luke’s father. It wasn’t quite as shocking, but appreciated nonetheless. When he is challenged to take his mask of and does, we find that he is rather ordinary looking. He’s got nothing to hide. It’s an odd kind of thing that in a series where we’re so used to horribly disfigured villains, the fact that Ben Solo is regular-looking is actually a bit shocking.
Of course, the ever-expressive and seemingly real droids are the backbone of the story. My old favourite, Threepio is back and, while he’s no longer a main character, manages to offer up some humdingers — and one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie (perhaps you won’t recognise him with his red arm). The droid that takes centre stage is the instantly and severely lovable BB-8. This thing almost steals the show with his cutely expressive voice and head movements.
The sound of the picture is again a marvel to behold. From Kylo Ren’s menacing mechanised voice and the fractured, dirty sound of his rudimentary lightsaber, to the familiar roar of the TIE fighters’ twin ionised engines, the sound design more than lives up to the saga’s high standard. John Williams’ score once again draws out every last bit of excitement and space opera melodrama the film has to offer, and uses key leitmotifs from earlier films to tug at your heartstrings. I do feel, however, that there aren’t too many new themes you can really hum. The old themes were iconic and you could sing them like you would a song. Here, only Rey’s Theme and the March of the Resistance really stand out as exceptional leitmotifs. Only a minor complaint really, in the face of such a perfect film.
One of the greatest things about The Force Awakens is that thirty years have gone by that we know nothing about. The Jedi and the events of the original trilogy have become nothing more than whispers and legends that the new characters know little about. As such, writers Kasdan, Abrams, and Arndt present us with an entire galaxy that operates after a thirty year history that we know little to nothing about — we are thrown right down smack dab in the middle of this huge fucking story ALL OVER AGAIN!
Starting right in the middle of this new sprawling opera is only the second most brilliant thing Abrams has done. I maintain that the whole reason this series was able to do what it did is that Lucas finally decided on leaving us with a boring, mild-mannered, teenaged farm boy as a protagonist. Luke wasn’t the Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon-type hero. He’s smaller in stature, lonely, starry-eyed, and a little whiny. Luke Skywalker was 75% of the teenage boys who went to see Star Wars in 1977.
It is much the same way with The Force Awakens’ primary protagonist Rey. While there are other characters like Finn and Dameron, we end up settling down to begin our journey in earnest with the lovely Rey. She’s a very demure kind of beautiful with a very understated au naturel look. When we meet her, the girl is a quiet, independent soul who, much like Luke, is determined to get off the planet and begin some kind of real life. She’s altogether stronger than Luke, owing to a much harsher, survivalist upbringing, and she’s not quite as starry-eyed, as a lot of hope has been burned out of her from being abandoned for so long, but she’s still lonely, down to earth, and very realistic. I assure you this writer, along with at least 90% of the male audience, fell in love with this girl at first sight.
So what’s so great about that over a saucy, outspoken, buxom female warrior who knows everything, you ask? I’ll tell you as I told you once before: since we begin this new and unfamiliar journey at ground level, on a barren desert planet, with a normal, everyday human who has spent her life away from all of this, we are provided with a relatable guide who knows as little about the story as we do. In a sense, we experience the galaxy as Rey does, only learning things gradually as they become important to her journey.
Aided by brilliant performances from series stalwarts Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, as well as lesser knowns John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, and Adam Driver, The Force Awakens’ story is the most engaging, involving, and terribly exciting thing to grace the screen under the Star Wars brand. The film takes the absolute best of all three original trilogy films and combines them into one big, stunning experience.
There are emotional experiences, too, that compare with some of the most groundbreaking moments in the saga’s history. For instance, that scene on the bridge where Han Solo confronts his son and attempts to turn him without violence, by just being a good dad. In a series that has had a terrible track record for father figures, it is crazy that ‘Han Solo: Douche’ actually stood up and became a great father, albeit to his ultimate demise. I really don’t care much for Han, but I was really impressed with his character in this one. Perhaps the greatest battle in the entire series was fought without violence on that bridge. And to Adam Driver’s credit, I saw more expression in one second of seeing his face than I did of an entire two movies of Hayden Christensen’s.
Add to all this the mystery of Snoke. Just who in the hell is this guy who appears as an eighteen thousand foot hologram and commands the fierce loyalty of legions? And that closing scene, where we see Rey (after watching her climb a lot of steps from a wonderfully flattering angle) meet Luke Skywalker. The man doesn’t say a single word, but Mark Hamill must have sat in front of a mirror for a year trying to get the perfect haunted look. That one look told us that this man was the greatest hero of all time, and even he was unable to stop whatever had happened to get everybody into this mess. In true Luke style, he chose to isolate himself from the galaxy in order to perhaps save it from his possibly causing even more damage.
It all adds up to once again deliver what Star Wars was always meant to deliver: a ridiculously entertaining picture.
Had I been there in 1977, I might have felt this way about the original Star Wars, but as it stands, this film fulfilled a lifelong wish of mine: to watch Star Wars with the same unknowing wonder as audiences had as the films had come out, in the time before I was born. I was seriously on the verge of tears when that lightsaber was snapped up into Rey’s hand and at last powered on triumphantly. And wouldn’t you know? The obligatory space combat scenes were blessedly succinct and totally riveting, successfully eliminating one of my biggest gripes from the Star Wars saga.
I love every single one of the characters in this movie. Poe is an extremely likable non-douchebag, which goes against all the laws of modern male leads. Finn, eschewing the Han Solo scoundrel mold, is a bonafide bloody gentleman, taking Rey’s hand on instinct even though she demands him not to. He even gives her his coat. I’d be willing to bet the dude even says ‘I love you, too’ when he’s about to get his ass frozen in carbonite.
When the film was over, I hastily declared that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the single greatest film I’d ever seen. Is this true? I would like to say yes. Is it my favourite movie? Most likely, or maybe not, but I can guarantee that I’ve never gotten more enjoyment out of two hours of a movie than I did that day.
The astute of you will realise that this review follows a very similar format to that of my review of the original Star Wars. I’d like you to note that it was nonetheless an effective review and that it that did its job regardless of how similar it was to the original.
Shut the fuck up about The Force Awakens mirroring the original film… It does so for a reason and, also, who cares?!