After a decade-long sabbatical the Star Wars saga returns to theaters with Star Wars: The Force Awakens or more accurately Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Fans will rejoice as if they are seeing an old friend who was away for too long. The film is a direct continuation of the original Star Wars films being that it takes place years after Return of the Jedi. While it is a sequel to the original trilogy and pays tribute to those classics, Star Wars: The Force Awakens marks a new path for new fans as it introduces new players to the universe that George Lucas created nearly forty years ago.
Alright, many of you reading this are asking the nagging question: How does it compare to the other films? More importantly, is it any good?
On the whole, yes, this is a fun film that is worthy of the Star Wars title. But there is something lacking in the film. Perhaps it needs George Lucas’ direct touch. His influence is felt in the film, but it doesn’t feel like a George Lucas Star Wars film. There isn’t any way it could top the first two Star Wars films, but it’s a better made film than Return of the Jedi. As to the prequels, it’s better than the first couple of prequels, but Episode III was a better made film. The reason probably has to be that it doesn’t gel quite as smoothly with the other films. Being that it lacks Lucas’ input it feels apart from the traditional Star Wars film, but it does try its best. Thanks for that is due to director J.J. Abrams.
As a major Star Wars fan, J.J. Abrams pays proper homage to the original films and sets the saga’s course in a new trajectory with eye-popping special effects, detailed sets and thrilling sequences. It should be mentioned that although the film uses practical effects, there are times in the second half that its usage of CG sets is quite obvious, which is distracting.
What truly helps the film are the new characters and the actors playing them. They are intriguing, well acted, full of fire and it’s easy to see that the actors are thrilled to be playing in the Star Wars universe. Even actors who returned to their old roles shine in the film, particularly Harrison Ford as the iconic space pirate Han Solo. Unlike Return of the Jedi where he seemed bored, here Ford plays Han as if he’s glad to put on an old pair of comfortable shoes. Han still has spunk and verve and he is one of the greatest highlights.
As for the new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) pop out and instantly become worthy Star Wars characters. Clearly, Abrams outdid Lucas when it came to casting when comparing this film to the prequels (Ewan McGregor aside). The only weak character was regrettably the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The actor does what he can with the role, but as a bad guy Kylo just can’t compare to Darth Vader or even many of the prequel villains. He lacks the gravitas, the poise, and even the power. Instead he’s too emotional, it’s as if young Anakin Skywalker has been outfitted with a Vader knockoff suit and told to let loose.
As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to pinpoint why this film, despite its merits, feels off. It probably has to do with its pacing and story. Characters come and go without explanation, sometimes they’re missed, sometimes not, which is a problem. There are times when Abrams is in too much of a hurry with the characters and just wants them to go from point A to point B without any nuance or proper buildup. Worst of all, the bare bones of the story strongly echo the very first Star Wars film. Some may call it an homage, but others will rightfully call it for what it is: lack of originality.
Spoilers: The film centers around the pursuit of a droid called BB-8. At the start of the film, Luke Skywalker has been missing for many years and the Republic and its Resistance force along with the First Order (the remnants of the old Empire) want to locate the last Jedi for opposing reasons. On the planet Jakku, BB-8 is given a map by his owner Poe, an ace X-wing pilot, before he’s captured by Kylo Ren. The map happens to details how to locate Luke. Rey, a lonely scavenger on Jakku, finds the droid and feels compelled to return BB-8 to its owner. The Resistance pilot is able to escape thanks to Finn, a stormtrooper who develops a heart and turns against the First Order. Finn is separated from Poe, but eventually meets Rey and the droid. With the droid a hot commodity, the three escape the planet on an old junk ship the Millennium Falcon with the aim of returning the droid to the Resistance. Pursuing them are Kylo Ren and the First Order, who have constructed a massive planet-killing weapon out of a planet. Along the way, the trio encounter ship’s previous owner, Han Solo and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and at this point Rey and Finn become more embroiled in the galactic conflict as they play pivotal roles in it.
There are many questions the film leaves unanswered by the time the lights come back. However, the fact that the film builds up enough interest about the makeup of this universe is a good sign. Hopefully, the next episodes will satisfactorily answer the questions.
Thankfully, as the first of a trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t an embarrassment like Episode I even though stalwart fans of the original films will have their complaints. Nevertheless, it’s great that Star Wars is back and this film offers enough thrills and joy for old and new fans.