Star Wars The Force Awakens – ***** stars!
As I sat in a crowded movie theater this weekend, in a seat so close to the screen that I called it a “neck-breaker,” I felt like a little kid waiting to see Santa come down the chimney. The excitement mounted as the familiar 20th Century Fox jingle started to play after the last preview followed by the LucasFilm logo. When the Star Wars logo appeared and the music played, I was at the edge of my seat, beaming with delight. I’ve been excited about seeing certain movies in the past, but this felt different. So, without further ado, I give you my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Before I get into the specifics of Star Wars The Force Awakens, I must speak of the man behind the cameras, Mr. J.J. Abrams. He did a fantastic job with this movie. When he was first announced as director, it eased my mind about Disney buying the franchise from George Lucas. Judging from the reboot of Star Trek, it was clear to see Star Wars was going to be in good hands. Abrams treated this movie with respect and care for what George Lucas started. He did change names and take his own liberties with the film, but he never strayed away from the essence of what made/makes Star Wars so much fun. It was the perfect blend of new generation and nostalgia. He even went so far as to go hands-on with special effects like Lucas did. There was little to no C.G.I. used in the film which is rare for a film of this caliber to do these days. To me, Abrams was the Padawan who had just completed his training while the spirit of the original trilogy was watching over him. Abrams even brought back John Williams to compose the soundtrack and co-wrote the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan.
John Williams is as synonymous with Star Wars as Darth Vader. He has composed all of the Star Wars soundtracks and they have all been some of the most iconic of themes in film and music history. The soundtrack to Force Awakens is great but it doesn’t have that stand out track a fan would hope for such as the prequels “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes.” To me, it was just a play on previous Star Wars music which is not a bad thing, but I feel with a new movie, new cast and new director, you want a piece that can be associated with that particular film. There was not really a track where I can say if I heard it on a radio or someone’s music player one would immediately think “That’s the music from Force Awakens!” However, as far as listening to the music separate from the film, it is top-notch and John Williams does it again.
Just as John Williams has stood the test of Star Wars time, so have Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and a few other famous faces. It’s hard to believe Ford was only 34 and Fisher was only 21 when they played their respective roles of Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa back in 1977. The two are back in The Force Awakens and show they still have what it takes to play their roles and play off of each other even at the ages of 73 and 59 respectively. Of course, what’s Han Solo without Chewbacca? Peter Mayhew has come back to don the Wookiee fur once more but only for certain scenes as he is 71 now coming off knee replacement surgery. R2-D2 and C-3PO, everyone’s favorite droids are back once again to tag along in the fight for the galaxy. Even at the age of 69, Anthony Daniels is still making us laugh inside that gold metal suit. Kenny Baker was not in the dome but was on-set to consult the crew on R2-D2’s character. At one point, we even see Return of the Jedi favorites, Admiral Ackbar and Lando’s former co-pilot Nien Nunb once again played by Tim Rose and Mike Quinn, respectively. While the old faces stole our hearts, the new heroes and villains showed us they were worthy to carry on the epic space opera.
The first new face fans first saw in the trailers was Finn, played by John Boyega. The 23 year-old from London did a great job in his role. He was believable even in his non-verbal parts as a stormtrooper. I won’t spoil anything, but the First Order stormtroopers are a different kind of animal. They are not the bumbling stormtroopers from the original trilogy. They shoot to kill and have all kinds of deadly new weapons. When you see the movie, you’ll see why Finn is the way he is and why he does the things he does. He’s not the best fighter, but he holds his own and is committed to the cause. John Boyega pulled off his interactions with Han and Chewbacca beautifully, bringing the old and the new together.
The first friend Finn makes in the movie is a pilot named Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac. I liked Poe maybe because he reminded me of Wedge Antilles from the first trilogy, the calm and collected pilot who makes it his mission to win the fight and complete the objective at hand. Oscar shot all of his pilot scenes in a cockpit simulator that moved the way a plane were to move in combat which made his acting and the scenes so convincing and exciting. Even outside of the X-Wing he gave a commanding persona to the role. When I saw Poe, I knew the map to finding Luke Skywalker was in good hands.
One of the most entertaining characters in the movie was not even a person or alien…it was a droid. We have all come to know BB-8, the little ball droid that has made a name for itself since appearing in the trailers as well as on posters and merchandise. After seeing this movie, I want a BB-8 of my own. The puppeteers did an amazing job bringing it to life so convincingly you would think it was another cast member on set. This little droid did anything and everything while giving the audience some very good laughs along the way. There was a very touching moment when he is among C-3PO and R2-D2 that cemented BB-8’s place in the Star wars lore.
- Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz provided the voice work and consultation for BB-8.
The original trilogy had Luke Skywalker, the prequels had Anakin Skywaler and the new trilogy has Rey, a girl from the planet Jakku who lives on her own salvaging scrap metal. Daisy Ridley is as talented as she is beautiful and this movie shows it. She may have Luke’s poor, desert upbringing but she has Leia’s toughness and no-nonsense attitude which makes for a great character. After watching a few of her action scenes, I turned to a friend and whispered, “I think I’m in love.” Daisy is the epitome of an acting newcomer and I will never forget her now. She completely blew me away with her performance and her compatibility with her fellow actors and actresses.
On the Dark Side of the Force, we have plenty of newcomers as well. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, the man who wields everybody’s new favorite lightsaber. Darth Vader will always be the best Sith Lord, but Kylo Ren will have a place in the Dark Side of this new trilogy. Adam was fantastic; he spoke so eloquently as if he were a Shakespearean antagonist. You can tell his character was inspired by Darth Vader, but was not intended to be a facsimile of Darth Vader. He still did his own thing and had his own mentality. There was one aspect he had in common with Vader that as evil as they were, you couldn’t help but like them and sympathize with the villain.
Game of Thrones fans know the name Gwendoline Christie very well, but now Star Wars fans will know her too as Captain Phasma the silver, armor-clad commander of the First Order stormtroopers. From the very beginning, you knew bad things were going to happen when she was around. She does not have as many scenes as one would think, but that could be a good thing too. Let’s not forget fan favorite Boba Fett. Despite her scenes being limited, they were so great and we want more of her in the next movie as the chrome plated stormtrooper. The most effective part of Gwendoline Christie’s performance was that she made her 6’3″ presence known without having to speak much. Captain Phasma is the symbol of the new, savage stormtrooper and fellow staff writer Steven’s new crush.
Domhall Gleeson, the son of Brendan Gleeson, is General Hux, Kylo Ren’s right-hand man. Hux reminded me of Grand Moff Tarkin from Episode IV, following Kylo Ren around and informing him of military movements and battle plans. He like, Kylo Ren, does interact with Supreme Leader Snoke, played very well by the legendary Andy Serkis, the master of motion-capture technology. Speaking of which, Lupita Nyong’o does a fantastic job with her stop-motion character, former pirate and smuggler Maz Kanata. I did not even realize it was her until I went home and read a magazine detailing the cast.
My first ever experience with Star Wars was when I happened to catch Return of the Jedi on TV on Christmas 1997 . I didn’t know what it was until a family member told me so I left it on. I caught it at Yoda’s death scene which actually made me cry. I finished Return of the Jedi and then caught up on the original trilogy when the special edition was released on video, which I still have in the same boxes. There is something so captivating about the franchise that every time I see the movies I go back to that Christmas, being a kid again watching it for the first time. J.J. Abrams was a great director, but the way he put The Force Awakens together was otherworldly. He took this franchise, revered by millions around the world and made it his own while never veering off from what George Lucas did to make it so revered. I loved this movie and everyone involved with it. I cannot wait for this movie to come out on Blu-ray and the next one to come out in theaters.
Star Wars The Force Awakens is now in theaters.