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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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The Star Wars franchise is, without question, the most beloved franchise in film history. While it’s had its ups and downs, the series has captured the imaginations of every generation since 1977. Now, director J.J. Abrams and Disney are here to bring their take on Star Wars with December’s The Force Awakens.

While I’m unable to divulge much information regarding the plot due to the fact that the marketing has been intentionally secretive, I am able to provide a general description. Taking place 30 years after the original trilogy, the film follows several new characters, both villainous and heroic, as well as a number of previously-met characters such as Han Solo and Princess Leia. That’s about all I can say.

This film is by far the most well-acted of the series. Let’s face it; while Harrison Ford certainly left an impression with A New Hope and onward, the rest of the original cast were never the best performers. With newcomer Daisy Ridley and many up-and-comers including Ex Machina’s Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, Attack the Block’s John Boyega, and Girls’ Adam Driver, Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy have assembled an excellent cast.

Each hero is terrifically realized by the performers. Ridley is a revelation as Rey, a lonely but confident scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku. Her strong, yet likable, performance is one of the most surprising of the year. Boyega and Isaac are equally excellent as a rogue First Order (the new Empire) stormtrooper and a Resistance (the new Rebellion) fighter pilot. Both bring a deft swagger to their roles, particularly Isaac, though Boyega’s Finn is a far more layered character than Isaac’s Poe Dameron.

The original cast returns… with mixed results. While I can’t say much about Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) role, Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Leia are easier to discuss. Ford is outstanding in his best performance since 1993’s The Fugitive. While still retaining the utter coolness of his earlier work, he imbues a level of regret and longing into his aged character. On the other side, Fisher disappoints. She may not have ever been the best of actors, but she brings nothing new to this older Leia.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention BB-8. This adorable orange and white droid is an absolute scene-stealer. A marked improvement over many of the droids seen in the previous six films, BB-8 brings not only humor but true heart to The Force Awakens.

This is Star Wars though, so for each hero there is a villain. Unfortunately, the only one that is allowed time to stand out is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who is easily the most fascinating character in the film and possibly the best foe the series has ever seen. Gleeson is solid as First Order commander General Hux, as is Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) as chrome trooper Captain Phasma and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) as the Sith Lord Supreme Leader Snoke, but they’re woefully underserved with little screen time or development.

The film’s action is stunning. From tense aerial dogfights to beautifully filmed lightsaber duels that recall the originals and not the over-choreographed messes found in the prequels, each action sequence is expertly directed and entirely unique.

All of this is made better by Abrams’ and Disney’s decision to accomplish it all through practical effects. Save for two characters crafted through motion capture, former pirate Maz Kanata (12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o) and the aforementioned Supreme Leader Snoke, each and every location, alien lifeform, and explosion is real. These are the kinds of effects that will hold up, not the CGI contraptions of nearly every other modern Hollywood film.

The movie is also bolstered by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s (The Empire Strikes Back, The Big Chill, Raiders of the Lost Ark) strong script and composer John Williams’ (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Harry Potter, Jaws and so much more) incredible score. Kasdan has such a deep understanding of Star Wars, and it’s entirely evident through this screenplay. Williams’ score is absolutely fantastic because of his choice to not only create new music but to also remix classic tracks for specific moments throughout the film.

 

Positives:
  • Abrams’ direction and Kasdan’s script
  • Outstanding action
  • Practical effects add so much
  • Williams’ stunning score
  • Excellent characterizations for both new and returning characters
  • The best performances the series has ever seen
Negatives:
  • Carrie Fisher struggles as Leia
  • Several characters are underserved
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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens