During the 2015 Comic-Con over the summer, The Force Awakens event unveiled a promotionalvideo that detailed the making of the film in a shrewd effort to reinforce the fact that this film would be made with practical effects and not rely solely on CGI. In the video Mark Hamill says, “You’ve been here, but you don’t know this story.” After seeing The Force Awakens, I know that statement is half true. Star Wars: The Force Awakens very much is a place we’ve been and a story we know. The film strays very close to its comfort zone. It’s a really good film, but like a lot of the sequels we got in 2015, it doesn’t make a name for itself.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens really doesn’t need an introduction. But in case you’ve been in a coma since 1976, it is the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise and is directed by J.J. Abrams. It brings back series staples Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, but also grooms a new set of up-and-coming actors to take over the helm in Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver. Thankfully, the old cast as well as the new, for the most part, deliver.
The seventh film arrived after months upon months (upon months) of the most heavy-handed marketing campaign one could imagine. Images of Kylo Ren dominated everything from sunglasses to cereal. In September, fans waited outside Toys R’ Us, Target, and other retailers for the first wave of The Force Awakens toys and merchandise. And despite everything, there was no real indication if the film would be any good. Star Wars track record isn’t perfect, and the cynic in me worried we’d all have a repeat of 1999. Initially ecstatic, but that was our bodies’ natural defense mechanism to seeing something so bad: denial.
So it makes sense that Abrams and crew wouldn’t try and reinvent the formula. The Force Awakens very much continues the 2015 tradition of the legacyquel. The plot has the same beats and plot structure as A New Hope, and that was somewhat distracting at times. We’ve all seen those movies dozens of times growing up, so this felt like an obligatory price to pay before we genuinely get something new.
The plot of The Force Awakens, for better or worse, isn’t anything new. Some will find comfort in its retread, some won’t. Fortunately, Abrams does deliver enough new content, that the film is still absolutely worth seeing. And his direction of the film is confident and assured-you’d never guess he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders the entire time. There are some great new characters introduced, a few new (and mostly forgettable locations), and while none of the dogfights are as iconic or memorable as the Death Star Trench Run or the Battle of Hoth. They exhibit flash and technical style, but either because the character interaction is so much more compelling or because at this point in film history we’ve seen it done they don’t stick in my brain days later.
In fact, my biggest criticism with the film after it’s plot issues is that it feels like Abrams stuffed a bit too much into it. I don’t think certain things needed any more breathing room – the characters were handled well, and the story has its room to breathe – but there are so many small details that already feel forgotten. It’s exhibited most in the characters played by Max Von Sydow or The Raid veterans Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, who are in the film but barely on screen. Abrams focused less on story, and more on character and aesthetic. You can’t argue with his logic, but the results aren’t flawless.
But the new and old characters do bring it and have it where it counts. From the returning crowd, it is really mostly Harrison Ford’s show this time around, and he does well – though I do think the script played him a bit too jokey at times. Carrie Fisher delivers an awkward and stiff performance as General Leia Organa. The less said about Mark Hamill – the better. (More on him in spoilers on Page 2) I liked James Earl Jones return as Darth Vader. (Just kidding)
For our new cast though we get John Boyega, who does well enough. Again, I felt his script wasn’t perfect at times, but he’s a solid actor. Oscar Isaac is sure to win everyone over with his charm and swagger. And Daisy Ridley truly steals the film. The marketing was deceptive about her role, but the film is hers – and she nails it. She plays the character as strong, vulnerable, scared, but still determined and brave. In a year of great female characters in our action movies, it’s nice that we go out on a high note.
On the other end, we have Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver. Ren is a decent villain, although as his story begins to play out, his character is brought down by predictability. That being said, Ren isn’t a rehash of Vader or others. He stands out on his own, and his minor reactions to things are what set him apart. He is not the cool steely killer that others were, but rather he is emotionally unstable and prone to lashing out. His actions make his lightsaber duels that much better, as unlike The Phantom Menace, there is actual acting and emotion in this fight – it isn’t a sterile and impeccably timed dance.
Other new characters were fun as well. Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata ended up being one of my favorite new characters though the CGI wasn’t 100 percent convincing. The same can be said for Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, a villainous overseer who will presumably do more in the sequels. Snoke is interesting, but not given enough screen time to be fleshed out, which again feels like Abrams tried a bit too hard.
But when Abrams tries hard, the results are far better than what came before. This is the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. But it doesn’t feel like its own film – yet. Star Wars permeates every aspect of pop culture, yet Abrams still insists on callbacks to the previous film just to be sure. The story isn’t much more than a remake of A New Hope while also being a prologue to what comes next. It has the Marvel Studios problem where they spend more time setting up the sequel than being itself. That being said, this is a must-see, especially in theaters. It’s not the best film of all time, but when it gets down to it, it is the space adventure we deserve. Star Wars is finally back.
Spoilers on Page 2. You’ve been warned.