Thursday, January 7, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens... After years of believing that the Star Wars franchise was at an end with Revenge of the Sith, Disney buys Star Wars and brings it back. Star Wars has been an important part of my life for longer than I can remember, and as such, my expectations, despite avoiding all reviews, trailers, and spoilers, are astronomically high. So, does Star Wars meet our expectations? Let's find out!

Directed by: J. J. Abrams
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure, 
Release Date: December 18, 2015
Running Time: 135 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13

The Good: Star Wars is awesome again, Classic tone and feel, Harrison Ford is incredible, Emotional scenes, Constantly entertaining, Every new characters are lovable, John Williams' is perfection, Instant chemistry between the cast, Practical effects everywhere, Poe is the most likable guy ever, Finn is relatable, Rey is easy to connect to, Kylo Ren is deeper than he first appears, Exciting starfighter battles, Everything,

The Bad: One small thing at the end (which could be easily explained in the sequel),

Plot: 10/10- Star Wars: The Force Awakens' plot and tone feels like a Star Wars film again! And that’s mind blowing in itself! However, directly discussing aspects of the plot would spoil many of the excellent narrative decisions the writers have made, but as a fan, most, if not all, of the creative choices made are satisfying. Many things are certainly unexpected, but they all fit well within the context of the Original Trilogy.

One of the strongest aspects is the pacing. The plot moves effortlessly from event to event with action sequences in-between, and yet the action never overshadows the plot, or rather serves to progress it. There is never a dull moment in this 135 minutes ride. Everything just moves without ever feeling rushed, because the creators know how long to linger on the quieter scenes, just like the Original Trilogy.

One crucial aspect that many seem to forget is that Star Wars is not a large scale story. It follows a small group of people, who are important to the galaxy as a whole, yet the actual scope is relatively small and widens as the plot progresses. Thankfully, The Force Awakens captures the scope and scale of Star Wars flawlessly! Blockbusters act like "Bigger is Better" but the narrow settings and plot focus of The Force Awakens mirrors the utter brilliance of the original Star Wars.

Force Awakens' plot features allusions to the Original Trilogy films, which creates a familiar thematic tone. You could say that it was too similar to the Original Trilogy in ways, but the familiar elements seem intentional to reflect the tone of the franchise as it finds its new footing in the modern era. Star Wars, as a franchise, is complex on a deeper, philosophical level, rather than a strict narrative one, hence my speculation as to the similarities. However, my speculation could be utter BS, so there's that. Either way, the similarities are there, and if you are going to be similar to another film, might as well pick one of the best stories ever.

Some viewers might find that too many questions are asked, with only a few answered, but this is just the beginning of a trilogy, so we do not need all the answers now. The original Star Wars (or especially Empire) did not answer questions immediately either. So unless you saw it in theaters back in the day, you did not have to wait. However, there is one aspect towards the very end of the film that is a bit problematic, although it could be easily explained in the sequel. Other than that, there are no glaring plot holes.

Characterization: 10/10- Han Solo returns, and he is every bit the character that we all know and love, and yet different because the years in-between have taken a toll on Han. He is still a "Scruffy looking nerf herder," but something has happened in the past that changed him, and it shows.

Finn is the standout character from the film. He is the everyman of the franchise, and his motivations are not altruistic in nature. He is just a guy who wants to run away until he finds purpose, and yet you cannot help but love the guy. Plus, Finn is highly entertaining to watch with his various quirks and comedic lines, and he drives the heart of the film excellently.

Rey is a mysterious character. Little is known of her backstory or what she is. She serves as a determined and strong willed opposite to Finn's evasive nature. However, Rey is easy to like and has exceptional chemistry with Finn.

Kylo Ren is the surprise of the film. You expect him to be a Dark Side badass that just kills people, and yet he actually has multiple dimensions to his character. Without spoiling much, he is rather tragic and fascinating. However, it was not until you think back on the film do you realize just how complex and dynamic the character is written, and his motivations are superbly realized.

Poe Dameron is literally the most likable guy ever. Within the first five minutes of meeting Finn, Poe and Finn have the best chemistry! And Poe is just all around the coolest guy. However, he is barely in the film. On one hand, I can see the disappointment some have, but Poe is side character, so being "sidelined" shouldn't really be a valid criticism, even if it a bit annoying. However, what people might not realize is that sidelining Poe, keeps the film from being overstuffed, like Age of Ultron. So, even if I wish he was in it more, it makes sense if you take a step back and look at the overall narrative.

Lastly, everyone's favorite laughing fuzzball, Chewbacca, makes his much desired return, and while there is one minor aspect towards the end of his film that could have been better, he is presented well. Leia returns as well, and her character is effectively utilized.

Direction: 10/10- Visually and tonally, Abrams nails the feel of Star Wars! Of course, actually recreating the feel of the Original Trilogy is impossible, but the various creative choices made effectively reflect how the world of Star Wars has changed between the two films, while retaining many of the core aspects that we love about the universe. It takes the film about 15 minutes to firmly establish itself, but it, no doubt, Star Wars. The style is not familiar to any specific personal style. The fingerprints of the director are almost non-existent (except in the opening scene), but in the best way possible, since it feels like it is a product of Star Wars, not Abrams, which is a credit to Abrams' skill. It sounds crazy, but I almost feel like the movie wasn’t created, it just happened "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." and we to have a film reel of it. There are no actors; there are characters. Everything, except a few CGI characters, just exist, because the film looks so natural without much hint of being a product of modern filmmaking. It's almost magical in a sense. After the initial "Wow, those creatures are puppets not CGI," I was sucked into the world like no other film before. Of course, this is somewhat of an exaggeration, but hopefully that gets my point across.

The Lightsaber duel in the film is absolutely stunning. The Prequels featured fun and highly choreographed "blade-dances,” which, while entertaining, lacked something. Thankfully, The Force Awakens opts for a raw style of fighting with heavy, desperate swings, as the characters simply try to survive. Also, the Dark Side force powers are terrifying to witness! The other action sequences in the film are incredible and seamless. The starfighter battles are exhilarating! They are filmed like the Original Trilogy alternating between the characters in the starfighters and the battle itself. And the various close-quarters blaster battles are intense and raw as the characters barely make it out of each fight. Overall, superb action direction!

Acting: 10/10- Harrison Ford sells the older, almost broken, Han Solo to perfection. He is the same character, yet with growth. John Boyega delivers every line with a unique sensibility and conviction, unlike almost anything else, and his chemistry with Daisy Ridley is incredible! Ridley is exceptional in her role as well. There are several scenes without dialogue that she sells so well with only her expression, and her performance is so natural. As previously stated, Oscar Isaac as Poe is the most likable guy ever. And Adam Driver creates so much confliction in his role, even if he seems disappointing at first. Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, and Gwendoline Christie all play minor roles, and despite the limited screen time, they are great. Of course, Carrie Fisher does excellent in her minor role, even if the years have not been kind to her.

Special effects: 10/10- "Thank the maker!" Because there is so much practical effects and puppetry! If you see a big creature by a watering hole, it's not CGI, but rather a puppet, which is amazing to see in modern cinema! Sure, you can tell the creatures and aliens are puppets sometimes, but that's how Star Wars is suppose to look, and I love it! Thankfully, the CGI that is used sparingly, mostly for the starfighter scenes, and for a few motion capture characters. Maz Kanata is the only one that could have been a little better, but CGI can only go so far. Also, the tentacle monsters look the most fake, but still good. Otherwise, The Force Awakens is a true treat for fans of classic puppetry and practical effects.

Soundtrack: 10/10- John Williams' score is the best film score since the last Star Wars film score. It is familiar, and many of the classic themes gave me chills on so many occasions. However, the new themes are every bit as excellent as the original ones, yet still retaining the classic feel. After ten years, I have a new go-to soundtrack to listen to!

Humor: 10/10- The Force Awakens' sense of humor hits the mark! And the humor is a different style from the other films, but it works. Ford, Boyega, and BB-8 provide plenty of witty lines and moments that made me laugh. The film is much more serious than a Marvel movie, and the funny scenes are more organic, rather than intentionally making a joke, which is great. 

Entertainment Value: 10/10- No question, this is the most entertainment I have ever experienced in a movie theater. Marvel movies, like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, have been a blast, but Star Wars is on a whole new level for personal entertainment. You may hear the phrase, "As soon as I walk out of the theater, I want to see it again," and never has that been more true than The Force Awakens. If what everyone else says is true, it only gets better on multiple viewings.

Overall: 10/10- Star Wars: The Force Awakens is everything and more than we could have asked for. It has emotion, drama, action, stunning visuals, a charming cast, and a plot with the perfect amount of complexity, yet familiarity. Star Wars is back, and as an extremely critic fan, it surpassed my impossible expectations.

Closing comments: For reference, few films have received a 10/10 from me, and even fewer actually deserve said rating in retrospect. Since becoming a critic, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best film that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. Subsequent viewings will determine how it ranks among the all-time greats, but compared to all other first time viewings, The Force Awakens stands tall as a new milestone for cinematic brilliant and entertainment. Star Wars is back, and it is actually amazing. Not since the Lord of the Rings has a film impressed me to this level, and it is only the beginning of a new cinematic saga! Thanks everyone for reading, and "May the Force be with you."

Recommended for: Everyone, Star Wars fan, Anyone, Humans, Aliens, Seriously everyone!, Not joking watch this movie, Go watch it again!, Why aren't you watching it again right now?

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  1. Solid review for a fantastic film, James. I'm glad you liked it and that it lived up to your expectations. It did mine too and it's really exciting to have this universe opened up for original tales again.

    Can't wait to see where they go from here!

    1. Thanks Jordan! Episode VIII should be "Most impressive" if they can follow it up with a new premise.


  2. Great review, James!

    (Spoilers in this comment)

    I noticed that the plot was very similar to ep 4, but I agree, I think it was definitely intentional, and no matter what the reasoning was, I really enjoyed it being that way. It made it feel like Star Wars! And it was original in so many ways anyway, it's not like J.J. was cheating or cutting corners or anything. I am definitely dying of these questions over here. A year and a half... I can make it... Oh, what was the problem near then end that you mentioned? I can't think of it.

    I loved it all, but the characters were my favorite part. Isn't so neat the Kylo was the biggest surprise? When everyone thought he was the one character we knew most about? Even though his twist does take away from his coolness a little, it gave him an incredible amount of depth that I'm so excited to see more of! I realized that the returning characters were done amazingly, but I just can't get over the new characters. Ridley and Boyega were unknowns, and then all of a sudden they were the two huge leads of Star Wars! And they're both absolutely perfect for the roles. Poe's my favorite. Like you said, impossible not to like. Seriously. I did spend some time wishing he was in the movie more, but I do also realize that it would have crowded the movie. So I just hope he'll have a bigger role in 8. He can take the screen time that Ford got in this one. And if he and Rey have the same great chemistry that he has with Finn and Finn has with Rey, it just might be too much awesomeness to take!

    I like your thoughts on the lighsaber duel. And yes, the humor! I loved the "thumbs up" between Finn and BB-8. So cute. And when Finn's trying to convince Rey that he's "with the resistance!" Actually, yeah, everything funny that Finn does is just perfect. :D

    I'm glad your avoiding spoilers worked out and payed off so well! Haha, I wish I was watching it again right now! Again, great review! :)

    1. Thanks Sarah!

      *Spoilers ahead*
      I read recently that the similarities were definitely intentional. And I think people are rating it far too low because of a few similarities. As for that one thing, R2 at the end with the map was a little too convenient. I'm sure it will be explained in the next film, but I figured I needed to include one thing under the "The Bad" lol.

      Yes! Kylo's depth was such a surprise. There is so much the writers can do with the character next. I really think Poe will be in the next one a lot more. He will probably replace Han as the cool guy.

      The "thumbs up" is a new running joke with my brother! :D We love it and BB-8!

      I'm going to see it again on Sunday but a week away is too long to wait. :D


  3. I love this movie! Your thoughts on Kylo Ren are spot on with mine as well. I think he's fascinating and not overly evil. My sister and I were talking about whether he could be redeemed from the Dark Side, and my theory is that he has lost someone, probably a sibling, in his earlier life and he feels that his parents, especially his father, are to blame (which is why he referred to his father as weak). So I think it may have been a younger sister given his fascination with Rey at the end of their lightsaber duel. That's my theory at least, but siblings have played a large role in the Star Wars franchise, so I believe that Kylo is really in the throws of grief and guilt and believes that the Light Side has failed him.

    1. Glad you loved the movie too! Good theory! I wonder if that will be the case. But I kind of hope he isn't redeemed since that would be too similar to Vader's arc. However, they could pull it off. But I definitely like your theory! It reminds me of the EU too.



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