I never thought I would see a brand new Star Wars movie after watching Episode III: Revenge of the Sith back in 2005. That movie wrapped up the prequel trilogy and connected it to the original trilogy that already ended with a happily-ever-after feeling. I had no reason to expect another movie in the series. That's not to say it's impossible for an Episode VII to be made, because Star Wars creator George Lucas is immensely rich thanks to this franchise and would have nothing to lose if he were to conceive a story following Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Still, I'm the kind of guy who responds to official news of a movie rather than speculation or rumors of one. That's why I didn't pay attention to Star Wars until George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and his Star Wars intellectual property to the Walt Disney Company and Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens was announced with J.J. Abrams signed on as the director.
Now that we do have a new Star Wars movie, one big question is raised. What new territory will this movie explore? Will it go in directions never before taken with the other six Star Wars movies? That's a possibility, because the principal cast comprises a newer generation of actors. At the same time, the three stars of the original Star Wars trilogy also appear in Episode VII and reprise roles that they haven't played for at least 30 years: Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Does this mean Episode VII would spend more time taking the audience back to the original trilogy? Well, given that this is definitely a major curiosity for fans, I will go ahead and just answer the question right now.
This movie has the feel of a fresh new movie, as well as the feel of a familiar movie. I shall illustrate this by comparing the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope (the first Star Wars movie back in 1977) with that of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. In the opening of A New Hope, Stormtroopers of the Galactic Empire launch an attack with laser guns on a Rebel ship, and a black masked villain named Darth Vader enters the scene and captures Princess Leia, who had just hidden the plans for the Death Star superweapon in a droid named R2-D2. In the opening of The Force Awakens, Stormtroopers of the First Order launch an attack with laser guns in a desert village, and a black masked villain named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) enters the scene and captures Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who had just hidden a piece of a star map in a droid named BB-8. Now, before you freak out, understand that this manner of presenting scenes reminiscent of the original trilogy isn't done continuously for two hours, but intermittently so that there is still some room for original content.
For instance, when it comes time for the Stormtroopers to execute the villagers, one Stormtrooper refuses to fire a single shot. He is FN-2187, who will later be referred to as Finn (John Boyega). Because of his conscience, Finn makes a daring escape from the First Order while rescuing Poe Dameron. Pretty soon, the film introduces the other main character: a scavenger girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley). This is where another reference to the original Star Wars film comes in. Here is a character who grew up poor on a desert planet and now comes into contact with a droid containing sensitive information. It used to be Luke Skywalker with R2-D2, and now it's Rey with BB-8.
So where do Luke, Leia, and Han come in? Well, they're all supporting characters now. Luke has the briefest appearance in the movie, and Leia is in a couple of scenes as a Resistance general. Han, on the other hand, has the most screen time of the three and could arguably be considered a main character alongside Rey and Finn. And before I forget, Chewbacca is back alongside Han, and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 have brief appearances. As likable as those droids are, they are still very minor characters, because by the time we see them, we've already become attached to BB-8. Besides acting like a cute pet, BB-8 also has an interesting design, as a head on top of a rolling ball for a body.
What about the plot? Well, it involves Kylo Ren and his First Order attempting to seize the star map contained in BB-8. That's because it will lead Ren to the legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker, who has vanished for quite some time. Luke is presumably the last of the Jedi, and his defeat would allow Ren to be unstoppable. That is really all I am going to say about the story. Given the high level of anticipation for this movie, it's best that I say no more.
So how much of this movie is original versus reminiscent of the original Star Wars trilogy? If I had to provide numerical estimates, I would say that a little over one-third of the movie has things that make you say to yourself, "Oh yeah, there's a scene in A New Hope that is similar to this one." In some cases, the scene will make you think of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Overall, if you are a Star Wars fan, you cannot ignore the references to the original Star Wars trilogy. But you still can enjoy the moments in this movie that have never occurred in any of the past six films. I won't go into detail, but I will say that the most original moment of the film involves something very unexpected happening to one character, a scene that literally made my jaw drop.
As for the special effects, we're in the year 2015. Computer-generated imagery is a standard staple of many action films, so that watching a new Star Wars movie now doesn't really generate the same reaction of intense amazement as the very first film in 1977. Still, it's great eye candy. And there are some action sequences that are quite cool simply because they would be very difficult to put on screen back in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, one scene has Rey and Finn running away while First Order TIE Fighters are in the sky shooting down towards them. I don't remember any scene like that from the previous Star Wars movies, because starship attacks were really just limited to the space between planets. Also, expect to see moments with a foreground laser gunfight simultaneously with a background aerial dogfight that could still send lasers or starship debris into the foreground.
If the Star Wars saga really did just stop at Episode VI, I would be fine with it. But if the series were to continue, I expect it to be good. And thankfully, Episode VII: The Force Awakens is entertaining. You can definitely rest assured that, if you disliked the prequel trilogy of Episodes I through III, you won't feel that way with this movie. At the same time, because of the deliberate references to Episodes IV through VI, I can't put Episode VII on that same level. So it's in between. It's enough for me to gladly wait for Episode VIII and see what happens next. The Force may not be very strong with Episode VII, but it certainly has awakened from dormancy.
Anthony's Rating: 8/10
(Review originally published at http://www.anthonysfilmreview.com/Film/S/Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens.htm)