WARNING: This review comes with spoilers.
After 126 months, 3 weeks and 5 days, we get a new entry in the saga about a galaxy far, far away... but did it suffer from the anticipation?
The film starts on the planet Jakuu, where the villain, Kylo Ren, storms a village in hopes of finding a map which leads to Luke Skywalker. Right in that moment we get a sense of both the power and the impulsive nature of our main antagonist. This scene also introduces ace pilot Poe Dameron, BB-8 and the Stormtrooper with a conscience: FN -... I don´t remember, but you all know him as Finn.
A few scenes later we get introduced to the female protagonist, Rey, portrayed by Daisy Ridley and the film´s... whatever it was, kicks into motion.
If you are puzzled by the "whatever it was" part, it´s because the film´s plot can´t exactly be called that since there is never a definable one. It jumps from searching for a map, to Finn´s journey of discovery, to Rey´s mysterious backstory... the things is though, that all of these plot points don´t get you quality time with Morpheus.
First of all, it´s a treat to watch Han Solo and Chewbacca entering the Millenium Falcon and see how the characters and their relationship have evolved over the course of 30 years off-screen. Solo looks like a wounded animal smiling to keep up appearances.
Leia is back about halfway through the film and while it´s nice to see ol´Han and the prin - sorry "General" together again with an already established decades-long relationship, a lot of classic Leia is lost, making way for a lot of "New" Carrie Fisher personality traits.
The new droid, BB-8, is poised in here to take the beloved place that C-3PO and R2-D2 have had since the first Star Wars film, but because of its forced "Oh look at me, aren´t I adorable?" portrayal, the droid often comes off as dumb and seems as if JJ Abrams is begging the audience to like it.
Then comes the reveal that Kylo Ren is Solo and Leia´s son and that, while being trained by Luke Skywalker himself, turned to the dark side and murdered apparently every padawan in Skywalker´s new jedi academy. This is given as the explanation to why Luke went into hiding but to be honest, it wasn´t a good one for me. So your nephew turns to the dark side, kills every single one of your students with his new group of allies and you go into hiding and shove all that away because you´re... ashamed... I guess? No, you´re Luke Skywalker! You go to confront YOUR lost nephew, make everything right and don´t leave your sister and your two best friends in the darkest place in their existence! You are a Jedi! WHERE THE FU#$K IS THE JEDI SUPREMACY THEN?!
Then there´s Rey and Finn. My opinion is in the minority with these characters since everyone loves them. To be honest, for me they seemed to be trying too hard (and like BB-8, failing) to be likeable. From Daisy and John´s reaction videos to the Star Wars trailers which we all know were marketing stunts, I found them to be very exaggerated. I found Daisy Ridley to be trying too hard to seem like a tough girl, which was highlighted by the annoying "Don´t touch my hair (or head)!" lines.
And with a new Star Wars film taking place in a different time period than the previous six, we of course get a new villain in the form of Kylo Ren. His suit is extremely well done, giving the person wearing it a presence and a helmet design that rightfully demands respect out of anyone looking at it. I loved Kylo Ren´s design, I even own his elite action figure... but then he took the helmet off... and everything fell apart for me. First of all, let me say that when he first took it off, I love that they showed the helmet is heavy and you didn´t feel like you were staring at a plastic prop, but Adam Driver´s face just... disagrees with the Kylo Ren outfit.
Despite what everyone says about Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, the young man has a presence by himself and you buy he is the future lord of the sith. In the final scene of Revenge of the Sith, when Darth Vader was "revealed" (and I say revealed because, come one, we´d seen him three times at that point), you thought about the face beneath that helmet and you said "Yeah, I like that face". But it´s just not the case with Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Okay, let me give you an analogy so you can hopefully understand my sentiment: Have you ever seen a person from behind, man or woman, and you thought "hey that hairstyle is from a good looking person" but seconds later you get a look at the person´s face and you reevaluate your tastes in life and wonder how you ever thought that individual was pretty? That´s what I get from Kylo Ren.
I can´t give an in-depth opinion on Poe Dameron, since for me, he wasn´t on screen long enough to make one. But for a brief impression, he just seemed like another regular supporting character, who I assume will be explored further in next installments of the never-ending franchise.
Captain Phasma has me the most astonished and is a character that confirms my theory on false film-marketing and building expectations. I remember reading an interview with Gwendoline Christie where she says how it´s much more difficult to act while wearing an armor, since you have to be aware of how you move to convey your character´s emotions... but she didn´t show any. She was just your average, faceless bad guy who is always referred as a bad-ass in the film but you never see it. Her performance, to be honest, was like a robot. And for her the "she´ll-be-fleshed-out-in-the-sequels" argument is not valid, since her character was so over-hyped by the film´s crew prior to its release, to be captured like a noob and being left JJ-knows-where.
My favorite characters by far where Maz Kanata, Han Solo and Chewie. I loved how wise, funny and likeable Maz was without pushing it too hard on you.
Again, while these points seem to contradict my previously stated sentiment toward the film, they don´t. The movie actually never bores you.
When it was first announced that JJ Abrams would direct the next Star Wars installment, I wasn´t too familiar with his work, so my mind was open to anything he´d bring to the table. But afer watching Star Trek and noticing the obsessive use of lens flares, I began to worry... not about the aesthetic, but about the film being imprinted too hard with the director´s trademarks. "Why", you ask? Because Star Wars is already established; it is a (somewhat) cohesive world that needs to remain a certain tone to keep you in it and not have uncharacteristic qualities in its representations. So I was really happy to realize the director´s trademark style doesn´t hit you in the face. You don´t watch a particular scene and go "Ugh, JJ"; you are immersed into this new world.
The cinematography is simply beautiful. You know how when a new version or a sequel of a film is announced after a few years have passed since the original, you perceive this newer iteration as looking gritty but not overly dark? Just the right color palette to make your experience watching the film feel like trading your beetle for a BMW? In other words, you want the new film to look as polished as possible. That´s what I got from The Force Awakens. When the final showdown went down, the color choices for the fight and the environment were perfect.
The best scene for me in the entire film was Han Solo´s demise. If you really think about it, Leia was the one that sent him to his death but the execution of it was flawless. When he caressed his son´s face as he was about to fall into the abyss, I was drenched in tears because it showed the love a good parent can have for his children, even a smuggler like Han. What packed a harder punch for me was thinking that the careless, lost scoundrel we met in the original trilogy had found his true loves of his life in his wife and his son. That packed the whole emotional push - you know what? PUNCH the picture needed and even somewhat makes you forgive the ending.
What do I mean by that? Well, when the third Death Star is destroyed, Finn, Poe and Rey go back to Leia to give her the devastating news. Then, suddenly, after BB-8 bumps into the dormant R2-D2 and insists on waking him, our beloved white-and-blue friend inexplicably wakes up and fuses the part of the map he holds with the one BB-8 has. This finally reveals Luke Skywalker´s location, so Rey and Chewbacca go there.
When they arrive, Rey climbs a few mountains and, when getting to the one the map pointed, she finds Luke Skywalker, a few meters away with his back turned to her. Luke turns around and looks at her, surprised. Rey then holds his lightsaber towards him and... and... that´s it... Thank you for coming folks, come back in two years and make us another billion dollars.
That´s what it felt like to me. And while it´s okay to leave a few mysteries for the sequel, the film finished off too ambiguous.
In the end, the film was very enjoyable, the cinematography was brilliant, great returning characters but with setbacks such as some of the newcomers and fragile story threads.
I know people are saying it doesn´t hold up to the original Star Wars films but truly, what we are suffering from with those movies is nostalgia. If you think about it, had A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back been released in today´s modern society, they would not have been as well regarded as they are right now.
In the end, with a great trip but a weak story, Star Wars has a solid new outing that deserves your attention.