J.J. Abrams and Disney have done it. The Force Awakens has successfully resurrected a franchise that constantly disappointed fans throughout its ill fated resurgence 17 years ago. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans while Revenge of the Sith attempted to inject some flavour back into the saga. Finally, The Force Awakens returns this space opera to form and raises the bar for franchise resurrections.
Taking place three decades after the fall of Vader and the Empire, The Frist Order has become the galaxy’s new threat. In their lust for power and control, a scavenger and a rouge Stormtrooper get caught up in their conflict against the Resistance. A thrilling adventure ensues as the power of the force reemerges to help return balance and peace to the galaxy.
What a fun ride this movie is. It’s a super exciting action flick but not at the expense of creative integrity. The writers spend the right amount of time setting up the new story arc and introducing new characters. Exposition is key here. Presenting new ideas, characters and conflicts into an established environment can be tricky. But they nail it. This is the first part in a new trilogy, which is very exciting. What a lot of “first part” films unfortunately do is leave gaping plot holes that leave the audience perplexed, but J.J. Abrams manages to massage out potential directions for the story with a soundly established narrative and a lot to get excited about for future episodes.
*SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH* With Force, a lot feels familiar. The parallels between it and A New Hope are front on. The theme of history repeating itself is paramount here. Kylo Ren is the new villain and the grandson of Vader. He too turned to the dark side during his training to become as Jedi. Skywalker was his master and we learn he vanished after Ren went rouge. He is the son of Leia and Solo, both of which have endured significant pain and loss after Ren was lured by the First Order. It is their desire to bring him back to the light.
The return of the original trilogy characters injects tangible charm and nostalgia into the mix. Ford and Fisher command the screen. However, I only hope to see more of Fisher in the coming films. Fords return as Han Solo was the highlight for me. His quick wit and charisma are unmistakable and perfect at every turn. The Force Awakens has bundles of it, in fact. The chemistry between Finn and Rey was key to the success of this film as the audience are experiencing new found adventure and discovery through them. Their characters are well established and rounded. You root for them and cannot wait to discover more about them. Daisy Ridley (Rey) in particular has an interesting place in this story and as a strong female lead she delivers a fresh dynamic energy to the mix. We learn of her links to the Force, but much is left unanswered leaving much mystery and intrigue.
The action is fantastic complimented by its flawless marriage of visual and special effects. The designers have worked well to blur the line between what’s real and what’s computer generated. Real sets, real props and real environments are intrinsic to the overall design fabric of this film within the Star Wars universe. It’s hard not to draw comparisons with the aesthetic failure of episodes 1-3 when watching The Force Awakens. Their overuse of digital sets tarnished the authenticity and believability of the story. Without the actors moving within real sets, the galactic environments became hard sell. These creative choices help affirm the sci-fi themes and visuals and I believe J.J. Abrams has achieved the perfect balance here.
The Force Awakens manages to pass as a cheeky remake disguised as a homage film and I am okay with this! Besides, imitation is the best form of flattery, right? J.J. Abrams draws from the style of George Lucas while bringing his own nuances to create this film. It’s similarities to A New Hope are apparent but unnecessary to really dwell on. So just go with it and enjoy. This is blockbuster film making at its finest. Big action, big smarts and big heart. 4/5