No I will not be giving away any plot twists or serious developments in this review of Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens. That said I will be ‘forced’ to dance around the plot because I will say that there are several significant developments and reveals in this film. So be wary of reading reviews that don’t shield you from spoilers.
Since the fandom of this franchise is about as big as any fandom across the known universe, I think a little insight into my view of Star Wars is in order.
I am old enough to remember seeing Star Wars in the theater in 1977. The buzz that movie created was amazing. The movie was the likes of which had never been seen before. Lucas and friends produced a sequel that did something few thought could be done; an improvement over the original. Empire Strikes Back remains my all time favorite Star wars movie. The dialog, the action, Han Solo and Leia’s relationship, as well as a developing Luke Skywalker made for a nearly flawless film that transcends the genre of fantasy action and is just a great movie measured against any that have ever been made. Unlike the overwhelming masses that hate on the prequel movies, I actually liked them. No they were not as good as the original trilogy. But they did a great job of showing us what it was like to be a Jedi ‘back in the day’. The fight scene between Darth Maul and both Obi Won and Qui Gon was one of the best “sword play” sequences I have ever seen. The world that Lucas was able to depict in the prequels was also amazing. The dialog and screenplays were a bit weak sauce, but the movies were still entertaining.
So what about this new film? How does it rate? is it any good? Of course it is, don’t be ridiculous. Disney, JJ Abrams, and the established characters and story elements from George Lucas’ masterpiece are the stuff of greatness.
First I want to start off by saying this movie is well worth the effort and expense to see. It is likely the best movie you’ll see this year and will not disappoint. Seriously you can’t walk out of the theater thinking anything less than “that was a good movie”. But I had very high expectations. This was what Phantom Menace had to face, stratospheric expectations because the first three films are legendary. The Phantom was a bogey at best when measured against those films, if you’ll pardon the golf parlance. This film cannot be spared that expectation either, but it benefits from the fact that it will most likely be measured as much against the prequels as it will the originals. I went in measuring it against the first trilogy of films and that is a very high standard. Star Wars remains the second or third highest grossing film of all time when corrected for inflation, depending on whose all time list you look at. A lofty target to be sure.
It seems that Disney took a safe approach here, perhaps a little too safe. I found this film to be thoroughly entertaining, visually exciting and beautiful, and just really well done for the most part. But the film was horribly predictable, I knew what was going to happen before it happened in at least a dozen scenes. Why? Because they did it before. This film took some generous liberties with the sequences from the original trilogy films. Numerous scenes and plot elements are not just vaguely similar to the first three films but practically ‘cut and pasted’ in. My son Nolan joked that it was a great movie but should be called, “A New Hope, 2.0”. It could be followed by The Force Strikes Back and Return of the Force. Is there not an original idea left in the universe?
I was quite surprised to see a lack of lens flare in this movie, the director was JJ Abrams, right? Just kidding, I think JJ overdid the lens flare in the Star Trek movies so much that he may have burned himself out on it. Either that or Disney turned off the lens flare generators 😉
So regarding the characters, I have to be very vague here, because I think people have some ideas about ‘who is what’ in this movie and those ideas may turn out to be misguided. Everybody knows that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill reprise their roles in this film. It is Ford’s Han Solo that really has the bulk of the scenes among the old school characters in this movie. That is fine by me, because Han Solo is one of the best movie characters ever! Harrison Ford does not disappoint here. The dialog provided for Han Solo was epic and even as an aging hero, Han Solo still kicks ass and it is all believable.
The primary new characters are Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren, played respectively by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver. Rey gets a lot of screen time and that is a very good thing. Daisy knocks it out of the park and steals every scene she’s in. I am delighted with her character thus far and look forward to her reprisals in future movies. It’s not just her acting or screen presence, which is very good, but the character is amazing. She is for now shielded in a delicious veil of mystery. There is so much potential development for her. Rey gets an A, see what I did there 😉 John Boyega is another big plus. This guy also lights it up. His character evolves quite a bit in this movie, but does it so well, that it does not feel rushed. His acting was excellent, his character believable, and his on-screen presence was very strong. Another A grade. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a little more difficult to digest. My son, Nolan didn’t feel he was at all menacing in the villain role. Comparisons to Darth Vader are unavoidable. Darth Vader is a character that is one of the most iconic of villains. His menacing voice was performed by James Earl Jones and it doesn’t get any better than that. Those are large shoes to fill. The first time Kylo Ren speaks it’s like, what? Is the Pillsbury Doughboy under that mask? I agree with my son that he really wasn’t very strong as a villain, but I think that may have been done on purpose. The movie will make some revelations that could explain a few things about the character. The Dark Side is shadowy and the villain on the surface isn’t always the villain running the show. This character is conflicted and like Anakin Skywalker, he is quite powerful, just not fully in control. I give him a B grade.
They left a lot of good material on the proverbial cutting room floor. Captain Phasma was always lurking about as this tough mid level enforcer in the dark side locker room, but they really did not develop her and kept her ‘on the bench’. Why would they do that? Who the hell knows?
General Rux is in charge of the bad guys and is also quite good in this movie. Rux is portrayed by actor, Domhnall Gleeson. Both my son and I think he was much darker and more sinister in a villain role than Kylo Ren. He has that whole creepy Adolf Hitler vibe going on and what better vibe for a villain than a Nazi. It seems the two villains are a bit opposed to each other as the movie develops, almost like the Generals in the Empire were to Darth Vader in Star Wars, A New Hope.
The plot of this movie is a little soft but it holds together well enough. I had the bar set at Empire Strikes Back and this film falls well short of that, but it is better than the prequels and frankly about on par with Episode VI, Return of the Jedi. I no doubt like millions of others, eagerly await the next film. That bodes well for Disney.
Ranking the Star Wars Films for me, in order goes a bit like this…
- Star Wars Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
- Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope, 1977
- Star Wars Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, 1983
- Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens, 2015
- Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace, 1999
- Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, 2005
- Star Wars Episode II, Attack of the Clones, 2002