Star Wars Episode VII may have actually been the most anticipated movie of all time. As much as we love other legendary franchises like Marvel, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, this holiday season reminded us that Star Wars is still the king of fiction. I have never felt a more heart pounding anticipation than those precious few seconds between the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” text and the blaring start to the opening score as “STAR WARS” explodes onto the screen. The silent electricity flying around the room as we all waited to cheer was a great start to an equally great experience. Just for everyone’s information, there will be spoilers later on here but you’ve got plenty of time before that, and there will be painfully apparent warnings before we get into the actual events that play out in the movie.
Cutting the suspense of a final verdict, I thought The Force Awakens was an amazing revitalization of a saga we need back in our lives. The reputation of the prequels lands somewhere between how terrible they actually are and how terrible they’re rumored to be. But whether you feel they were an abomination, or just a noticeable step down from the originals, just about everyone agrees that we haven’t been given a proper Star Wars movie since 1983 (some would argue since 1980.) The pressure that fell onto this movie’s shoulders was immense, a cost I imagine every single member of the cast and crew was well aware of heading into this project. Fans were bipolar between the new trilogy’s 2012 announcement and its near 2016 release.
This may be tough to remember, but there was actually some degree of outrage over the Disney buyout. Many believed they’d turn this into a story aimed towards children. There was terrified skepticism when J.J. Abrams bravely announced the return of the franchise’s aging stars. Of course people were still excited, but mostly in that Batman vs. Superman “Will this be terrible?” form of excitement that feeds off of uncertainty. As we were given one tiny taste of the film after another, however, fans sprinted towards the other extreme. The teaser trailer aired right around the Avengers: Age of Ultron release was met with incredible praise, with an exclamation point from Han Solo’s “Chewy…we’re home.” It was as if the clip was a direct kick to the throat for everyone who didn’t think the big three heroes shouldn’t be brought back.
And now, The Force Awakens is finally here. No more speculation, just the next chapter in Star Wars history. This will be the spoiler-free portion of the review, so anyone who hasn’t seen the movie but needs to be sold a little bit before competing for tickets can stick around. Abrams and company fulfilled the impossible task of taking some of the best special effects we’ve ever seen and making them look old fashioned. In today’s world of CGI, we’re simply never going to see movies made entirely through makeup and production tricks. But that doesn’t mean everything has to look like one giant green screen and an army of motion-capture suits, otherwise known as Andy Serkis pajamas. Mad Max showed us what 2015 action/fantasy movies should and feel look like. Star Wars took that vibe and put a better story on top of it. The aerial battles in particular were some of the most beautiful cinematic sequences I’ve ever seen. There’s one long shot in particular, following an X-Wing, that is already one of my favorite Star Wars moments of all time. Other space conflicts are certainly cool looking, like what we saw from Guardians of the Galaxy, but they weren’t aiming for fantasy-based realism.
The Force Awakens looked like a true story, albeit it one that could only occur in a galaxy far, far away. Everything about this episode made the Star Wars universe feel more real than ever before. For the first time, it looked like getting shot with a blaster actually hurts. And they had to do all this while maintaining some of the retro habits that make these movies feel dated. So the Microsoft PowerPoint-style scene transitions are still there, and they absolutely work. The dialogue walks the tightrope between campy and corny without ever tipping too far towards one side. It feels like genius filmmakers from the mid 1970s traveled through time and were given 2015’s technology, a tone that has always been unique to Star Wars. There are moments and appearances clearly written in to draw rounds of applause, but they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, there’s no “Goodbye……………….. Chewbacca,” moment from Revenge of the Sith. On top of all that, the chemistry between each and every character in the movie just jumped off the screen. I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell how good an actor John Boyega is, but every single conversation that involved Finn felt real, almost unscripted. His interactions with either Poe or Rey, in particular, brought the film to life. And these are the faces that ultimately have to move this franchise forward, minus one of course that we’ll get to later. Even Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher showed us that the Han-Leia chemistry never went anywhere, and that the seemingly ancient concept of the scoundrel and the princess who fell for him never gets old if you have the right characters to do it.
From this point forward, there be spoilers ahead…
I repeat, spoilers will inhabit the remainder of this article…
One last time, if you continue to read you will find out things that happened…and things happened…
Ok if you’re still here you’ve either seen the movie, don’t care, or get a weird satisfaction out of going into movies with full knowledge of what’s going to happen. Sadly I didn’t mention Kylo Ren earlier, but that’s because I feel his entire character development is even a minor spoiler. We didn’t know what kind of person we’d find under the mask. And Adam Driver gave us an incredible villain. This movie walked a number of tightropes, so I’m going to beat that phrase to death. But with villains you usually end up with one of two extremes on the matter of emotion. You either get the stone cold sociopath who, aside from maybe one soft spot, doesn’t care about anything and is easy to turn into a tough guy. It’s not the most interesting character, but it’s tough to go wrong with someone like that so most filmmakers play it safe. Or, you get the whiner, maybe the least enjoyable brand of antagonist. That’s the villain who they’ll try to make into a relatable, sympathetic figure, but instead you just end up wanting the guy to shut up. To simplify it, usually villains either turn into Darth Maul or Anakin Skywalker. But Kylo Ren gave us an emotional, flawed, even immature figure who also could also destroy you in one brutal second or as many brutal seconds as he wanted to use. One minute he tortures someone using nothing but the force, the next he cries, and you feel for him. Usually when a masked villain unmasks himself it’s a disappointment, because no face is going to be cooler than a symbol. But Driver’s expressions and haunting voice, even without the voice modifier, introduced us to the teary eyed killer that will keep us on our toes for an entire trilogy. The Sith are supposed to be fueled by emotion, yet it seems every one we’ve seen up until now have this weird sense of composure that more closely mirrors the demeanor of a Jedi. It’s nice to see one who may snap at any second.
On the off chance you disregarded the spoiler warning and still haven’t seen the movie, now is certainly the time to jump ship. There was much speculation over the identity of Kylo Ren, especially once J.J. Abrams confirmed that there was a mysterious connection to some of the other characters. If you know any of the Star Wars extended universe, the shocking revelation that Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo may not have been so shocking. And if you know anything about Harrison Ford and his current stance on being in these movies, his shocking death at the hands of his own son may not have been so shocking either. However these are still hugely impactful decisions that made this movie so great, and I’m glad J.J. Abrams didn’t try to outsmart his audience. The man does love his secrecy, which was present throughout the time leading up to the film’s release. But there’s a difference between keeping secrets and making potentially detrimental decisions just for a “gotcha” moment. We all knew Benedict Cumberbatch was Khan, and his character was underdeveloped in an attempt to make us think otherwise in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Abrams and company actually manage to shock us with just how early the Han-Kylo lineage is revealed, with Supreme Leader Snoke dropping the bomb on us almost immediately after Han’s first appearance. And the anticipation of Han’s failed attempt to win his son back was almost more thrilling than being outright shocked.
Ultimately, all great decisions and effects aside, this movie was driven by the strength of the characters. The old faces returned to their roles with grace, while the new ones added immeasurable value and depth to the Star Wars universe. I still can’t decide who my favorite is between Finn, Rey, Kylo and Poe. Even BB-8 and Maz Kanata were excellent. I’m sure each character is the favorite of many fans by now, which is a testament to this new cast. I would recommend this movie to anyone, whether you’re a religious fan of the franchise, a casual fan who just likes Star Wars, or even just someone who enjoys great movies. Most importantly, there has been an awakening, and Star Wars is finally back.