No movie in history has been more anticipated than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fans waited 32 years to see the return of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia to the big screen and after sitting through the misguided prequels, a lot was riding on this one for the Star Wars community and for Disney. This was the make or break movie- if The Force Awakens failed, the entire Star Wars enterprise could have been in trouble. I was counting down the days until December 17, gobbling up every single bit of information that I could find about the film. I don't remember ever being as excited for a film as I've been for The Force Awakens over the last year. The trailers were perfect, the buzz was ecstatic and the filmmakers behind it were extremely talented. But could it ever possibly live up to the insane hype?
Picking up three decades after the redemption of Darth Vader and the triumph of Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens follows a new group of heroes who team up with some classic icons to save the galaxy from a sinister new threat. As the movie begins, we learn that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has been looking for her brother for years, but with very little success. However, Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), an old ally of the Republic, has discovered a possible way to finding Luke. Realizing that this might be her best hope to finding the last of the Jedi, Leia sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to retrieve the clue on the desert planet of Jakku. Unfortunately, Leia and the Republic are not the only ones looking for the map. The mysterious new force user Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), under the command of the enigmatic Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), is also in pursuit of the map with the hopes of vanquishing the last Jedi once and for all.
There is a really big fear around the internet about spoilers for The Force Awakens, and even though I added the forewarning at the beginning, I tried to keep that synopsis as light on spoilers as I could (what I described is basically the first 30 minutes of the film). But you should know this- there's no way that you can spoil the film experience that is the newest Star Wars film. Watching the film with an audience gives you an indescribable feeling and even if you know the twists and turns, I guarantee that you will still be shocked at each one. I knew the general gist of the plot going in and I still had a blast. I maintain that it's not about what happens in a movie, but how it happens, why it happens and the emotional involvement that you have with the characters.
The problems with George Lucas' prequel trilogy have been noted over time and I don't particularly care to go into detail over what made them not work. All you need to know is this- the prequels are a part of my childhood and they are pure Lucas filmmaking, but they fail to tell a good story and looking back on it, they're incredibly wooden and dull. But as I continue to look closer, I've come to realize that the prequels were a necessary evil of sorts. Without them, future filmmakers may not have realized what made Star Wars so special. Abrams takes all the wrongs from the prequels and fixes them in The Force Awakens, capturing the pure spirit of fun from the original trilogy. There are no trade embargoes, or flat characters or overly choreographed fights. Abrams has brought Star Wars back to its pulpy science fiction roots to create a blockbuster concoction that will be enjoyed for generations.
John Boyega's Finn is a terrific addition to the cast as well and I truly feel that Finn is the emotional center of the movie. Rey very much follows the Luke Skywalker path to a T, but Finn is a bit of a different creation. He's a runaway Stormtrooper who refuses to continue to fight for the First Order after witnessing a brutal village massacre. Finn combines the wholesomeness of Luke and the rugged wit of Han Solo for one of the most enjoyable characters of the movie- the screenwriters know how to write dialogue for him and Boyega performs it to perfection. Finally, to round out our trio of heroes, we have Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron. He's the best fighter pilot in the Resistance and one of my favorite characters in the movie. Dameron doesn't have as much to do as he should, but Isaac continues to show that he's one of the best young actors on the planet. I can't wait to see more Poe (and hopefully more of Finn and Poe paired together) in the sequels. Oh, and BB-8's awesome. He's the fourth part of our new group of heroes and he's an immediately influential character. I can't wait to see more of him.
But there's probably one other question that is still on your mind- how does the original cast do in this new landscape? The answer is that they all do pretty fantastic. Harrison Ford has the most screentime of the original trio by a wide margin, and he's appropriately brilliant. There's a reason that Ford seemed excited to be involved with this project- Kasdan and Abrams have written a brilliant arc for him and the dialogue is so fantastic. Everything feels like something Han Solo would say. If Ford doesn't get an Oscar nomination, it'll be shocking to me. In addition to that, Carrie Fisher proves that she's still an actress. Even though she may be absolutely nuts (in a good way) off the set, she instantly transforms back into the iconic Princess (oh, excuse me, General) that we all know and love. Her scenes with Ford are tender and emotional, and the moment that she's introduced made me well up with tears. As for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.......well, I'll let you find that out for yourself.
The acting is great and it's only amplified by the wonderful screenplay by Abrams, Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. The story isn't anything revolutionary, but I absolutely love the way that it takes the events of the originals and gives them a mythic quality. In this universe, Luke, Leia and Han are mere legends. Some believe in the Force and the Jedi, but many others think of them in only mythical terms. Just like Creed and Jurassic World, The Force Awakens tells its tale from a legacy perspective and it tells it in a real, grounded way. It may have seemed like our heroes saved the day and that all was well at the end of Return of the Jedi, but that's just not the way the world works sometimes. Things happen and I love the true tragedy and sadness that lies at the heart of the original characters in this film- they've experienced so much in 30 years and they've grown. They're in similar, but different places and it allows for them to have their final arc of redemption. It's brilliant character screenwriting by the three men in charge.
But it's not all sadness and tragedy in The Force Awakens. No, this is certainly the most fun you'll have in a movie theater all year. People bash J.J. Abrams all the time for reasons that are valid (wrong, but valid), but I don't think that any other director could have made this film with the vigor and pizzazz that he brings to the table. The pacing in The Force Awakens is brisk and terrific, constantly moving the film along, stopping only rarely to dole out exposition. Just like Lucas did in A New Hope, Abrams gives you a sense that there's a lot that we've missed in between Episodes VI and VII. Our characters are in a different place and the galaxy has evolved immensely. In addition to that, Abrams is a terrific physical director and all of the action scenes are sheer awe-inspiring spectacle, blending the classic special effects of A New Hope with a new digital look. Gone are the blue-screen dominated days of the prequels- this is another film that has a tangible look to it and that's one of the best things about the movie.
The Force Awakens made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me cheer. It gave me hope for the future of Star Wars. That's all I ever wanted it to do. And it lived up to every expectation. J.J. Abrams has delivered a masterclass in modern blockbuster filmmaking, returning us to a galaxy that we can't wait to visit again and again. Filled with dynamic heroes, despicably fascinating villains, absolutely perfect music from John Williams and gorgeous setpieces, The Force Awakens honors the old by bringing in the new, and by doing so, sets the Star Wars franchise on a path to continued success in the future. The Force has awakened. And every Star Wars fan and moviegoer who witnesses this wonderful film will feel it.
THE FINAL GRADE: A+ (10/10)
Image Credits: Variety, Joblo