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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens

The long wait is finally over.  Star Wars Episode VII is open and the good news is that J.J. Abrams’ revival is better than George Lucas’ prequels.  The Force Awakens is similar to Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise.  The story is sloppy, but the action is fast-paced and the movie is fun enough that audiences probably won’t mind its short-comings.  I will keep my review spoiler-free so feel free to read on even if you have yet to see the movie.

The plot of The Force Awakens has been a highly guarded secret.  Perhaps that is because there really isn’t much of a story.  The characters take up a mission, but no one seems overly devoted to seeing it through.  The movie itself doesn’t seem very concerned with the central quest either perhaps because it’s all basically a set-up for Episode VIII.

As the launching pad for countless new Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens has a lot of heavy lifting to do.  Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan introduce us to a number of new heroes like Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger who is waiting for her family to return, John Boyega as Finn, a stormtrooper who has decided that stormtrooping ain’t for him, Oscar Isaac as Poe, a top pilot for the Resistance and BB-8, the cutest droid since R2-D2.  Thankfully all of these characters have a lot more personality than any of the characters in the prequels.  They are sympathetic, relatable and given snappy dialogue with which to quickly win audiences over much as Luke, Han and Leia did in the original trilogy.

Abrams has another ace up his sleeve in the form of those classic Star Wars elements.  Harrison Ford gets a lot of screen time as Han Solo and he seems to be relishing it.  Han hasn’t been this engaging since The Empire Strikes Back.  There’s an undeniable thrill any time Abrams reintroduces any of the original characters or even the space ships.  Seeing the Millennium Falcon take off again for the first time in over three decades is a rush of nostalgia.

Sure, Abrams panders to fans of the series.  But not as much as he might have.  The Force Awakens aims to give audiences exactly what they want.  No more and no less.

That makes for a movie that is more entertaining than it is truly satisfying.  Episode VII plays it very safe.  It sticks very closely to what worked in the original trilogy including settings that look very much like Tatooine, Hoth and Endor.  The bad guys are known as The First Order, but they may as well be The Empire 2.0.  Ditto The Resistance which is just The Rebellion under a slightly different R-name.  The Resistance even has the same leadership so you almost wonder why they bothered changing their moniker.

With Abrams, there is usually a meta angle and The Force Awakens is no different.  The new characters are very much like the audience.  They are essentially Star Wars fans.  Rey and Finn have heard stories of the events of the original trilogy, but they have taken on a mythological quality.  When they meet Chewbacca, they react the same way a fan boy at a convention would.  On the other side of things, we have a villain who could be the founder of the Darth Vader fan club.

I have already seen a lot of fans over-praising The Force Awakens.  In a couple years when they have rewatched it a couple of times, some of that enthusiasm is going to die down and it will take its rightful place sandwiched between the two existing trilogies.  The new Star Wars isn’t as fresh and original as the first series, but it’s a lot more lively and fun than the prequels.  If the prequels hadn’t come along to lower everyone’s expectations, it’s possible that Episode VII would be viewed as a disappointment.  But now that we have all seen how bad things can get, it’s easy to be satisfied with the new Star Wars even if it is occasionally too familiar.

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Posted on December 18, 2015, in Movies, reviews, Star Wars and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Yep can’t wait and thanks for such a thoughtful yet spoiler free review. I’m pretty sure from your description I’ll be one of those fans that go overboard on this movie.

    Might have time to go tomorrow but it’s more and more looking like it will have to wait a week. In the meantime, I’m still working on the WP add media settings…

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    • I saw you left me goodies. I haven’t had a chance to look them over, but I will as soon as time permits.

      As for SW, I will be very interested to hear your reaction. So try to pull yourself away from WP for a few hours! 😉

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  2. I really liked this film- would appreciate it if you could check out my 100 word review: Latest Star Wars a Tour De Force- reviewed in 100 Words | scribblesofstageandscreen
    http://scribblesofstageandscreen.com/2015/12/19/latest-star-wars-a-tour-de-force-reviewed-in-100-words/

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  3. Nice review. 🙂 I think I liked it a little more than you did but I’m still trying to sort my feelings out. I’m just happy it’s SO much better than the prequels. And Rey is AWESOME. 🙂

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  4. To me, it sounds like when more of these films are released, that would be an ideal watch. However, this picture sounds worthy of being teased. Great review!

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  5. “The new Star Wars isn’t as fresh and original as the first series, but it’s a lot more lively and fun than the prequels. ”

    That’s the thing right there. It’s easy to forget that the first Star Wars was lightning in a bottle and you can’t recapture that. There’ve been numerous attempts that have either totally failed or created stuff that was popular at one point. But proved to have little to no staying power (Independence Day).

    The original Star Wars, when it hit theaters in 1977, was not expected to be a blockbuster. The studio saw it as a homage to old Flash Gordon serials. A lot of the anticipation was slated for Scorsese’s New York New York. Today, that film is regarded as one of Scorsese’s lesser films.

    Trying to chase blockbusters is a tricky thing. In the summer of 2006, there was a ton of hype over Snakes On A Plane. The hype on the internet was huge. But the movie ended up opening, closing and being quickly forgotten.

    I will be seeing Force Awakens tomorrow. Upon seeing it, I’ll be here with my thoughts, most likely as a comment on the spoilery article.

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  6. Neat review. 🙂

    I know it is an unpopular opinion in many quarters but honestly I quite liked the Prequels, or at least many aspects of them. They don’t stand up to the original films true, but it seems a shame to throw the baby out with the bath water and I’m a little sad the new film ignores them.

    Conversely – and forgive me lebeau – but I was startled how many elements of the old Expanded Universe have been reused and reskinned in ‘The Force Awakens’. Don’t misunderstand me: the movie is quite clear the books, comics and video games have been discarded from continuity, but there are elements in the new film that seem strongly inspired by ideas in the Expanded Universe. Perhaps I’m seeing things that aren’t there but anyone familiar with the old Expanded Universe will know what I mean.

    Overall I liked the film a lot, even if some aspects of the worldbuilding are minimalist even by the standards of ‘A New Hope’. I’m caustiouslly optimistic for the next one.

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    • The way the movie ends, you really want to see episode VIII. So in that sense, yeah, I am looking forward to seeing what happens next. But, there’s always a but, TFA represents a change in the nature of the series. Up until this point, every SW movie has been an event. Not only that but they have all been parts of trilogies with beginnings, middles and endings. The idea that SW is some epic saga is over. A lot of people don’t realize it yet because all we have seen so far is the start of another trilogy. But as spinoff after spinoff gets released and episode XX comes and goes SW is going to stop being a big deal. It will be like Marvel where there are three movies a year and you pick and choose which ones you want to see in the theaters. In a way, something has been lost.

      As for the EU, I heard that Kylo Ren’s lightsaber came from books or comics. That’s all fine and good. By all means, if there are good ideas to be mined, mine them. I was never interested in the EU, but I am not against incorporating elements into the movies.

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  7. On Thursday I went to a day-long Star Wars Marathon in which the theatre played all six original movies on the big screen which led into the premiere of Force Awakens. It was a great time though an extremely long day – it started at 1AM with Phantom Menace and finally ended at about 10PM when the new film ended. Exhausting!

    I don’t know how much this will suprise anyone but the theatre was packed almost to capacity; I’m obviously not the only die-hard Star Wars fan out there. Or crazy person, that could be it too. But I’ve spent so many years watching these films alone at home that it was interesting to experience these films with an audience again. What’s interesting is, the audience was largely seemed to be laughing at -as opposed to with – the Phantom Menace and particularly Attack of the Clones. What especially comes to mind is the “romantic” dialogue between Anakin and Padme throughout Clones, for example “I hate sand, it gets everywhere. It’s coarse and gets everywhere. Not like you. You’re everything soft, and smooth.” The packed theatre was howling and groaning with laughter at such cheesy lines. The absolute worst – or best? – was the scene where Anakin and Padme are sitting by the fireplace, and Anakin says “I am haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. I am hoping that this kiss does not become a scar”, and the whole audience is just groaning like you would not believe. And then Anakin says “If you are suffering as much as I am, please, tell me!”, to which a guy sitting in front of me says out loud “I AM!” I tell you, the entire audience erupted in laughter and clapped in response. It was probably worth attending this 21 hour marathon almost for this moment alone.

    Once we got to Revenge of the Sith though, there was a tidal shift with the audience. The film is much, much stronger than the other prequels and everybody seemed into it. It’s a solid film and huge bump up in quality from Clones. Then, of course, you get to the Original Trilogy which is the reason why everybody is a Star Wars fan to begin with, and those three played tremendously well.

    One thing I joked about with another moviegoers is that I noticed that all six movies had at least one person snoring, which I understood as this was a 21 hour marathon, even I nodded off briefly once or twice by the time we got to Star Wars and Empire (not the films’ fault, they’re great, I just briefly hit a wall and nodded off for a few minutes). And then, we got to be the first to see Force Awakens. I’ll save my thoughts on the film itself for a different post as I have gone too long on this but I will note that the audience was very much into it. Lebeau does hit on something in that the film is lively and entertaining. There were a number of lines that drew solid laughs, and everybody wallked out fairly pleased with it. So that was my marathon experience, it was long and exhausting but I enjoyed every minute of it.

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    • Indeed, their attitude reflects the overall attitude many fans seem to have taken to the prequels. They like Sith. But see Phantom Menace and Clones as inferior adjuncts to the series, ones that can be more or less ignored.

      One thing I was thinking about the other day. When Attack Of The Clones came out, it seemed to be regarded by many as not great. But an improvement over Phantom Menace. Today, it’s seen by many as just as bad if not worse.

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  8. I was wondering Lebeau, will you still be posting another article to discuss the details of the film, to allow spoiler talk? I’m ready to talk about the film in a bit more detail but don’t want to ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet.

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    • I think as long as spoilers are labeled, we can have that discussion here. I’m still going to try to put together that 2nd article but time has not been on my side.

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  9. Just saw it. If the prequels had been done as well as this, Lucas wouldn’t have fallen from God to Antichrist.

    Is it on the level of the original trilogy? No. Like I said above, the original was lightning in a bottle and trying to recapture that often leads to one ending up with fried hair. Here the fired hair is aovided. But the lightning gets away.

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    • You are right Jeff that if this is what Lucas came up with instead of the Prequels he would not have been lambasted to the degree he was. But, I have to play devil’s advocate here and say that many moviegoers are letting things in this movie slide in a way that they wouldn’t have if Lucas had directed it. I’m going to bring up just one thing here, so SPOILER ALERT don’t read any further if you don’t want the movie spoiled.

      What JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan essentially did to some degree was copy and paste the original Star Wars. I did find the movie entertaining, but I was critical of them essentially using another Death Star again. It’s a planet instead of a small moon and can now destroy 5 planets at once instead of one! Yep, it’s just another planet-destroying Death Star. And they even have a trench-run style attack with starfighters to destroy it. Hmmmmm, where have I seen that before? Or twice for that matter?

      Many moviegoers are letting this movie off easy right now because it is entertaining, but I swear to you if George Lucas had directed this same movie and delivered the exact same results, moviegoers would be ripping Lucas (and the film) apart and ready to nail him to the wall for copying the first Star Wars movie so heavily. And that’s the truth. JJ and Kasdan are getting a pass for what Lucas would have been ridiculed for had he done it.

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      • Agreed, the more i think about it and after discussing it with a few other people. This is a loose remake of the original with elements of Empire and Jedi thrown in for good measure.

        Looking at Abrams overall filmography this isn’t surprising. You have Super 8, a homage to Spielberg films of the 70s and 80s, a Mission Impossible movie and a Star Trek movie that are entertaining. But heavily cannibalize their predecessors and another Star Trek movie that’s a loose remake of the most highly regarded film in the series. Therein lies the prime thing about Abrams: He tends to often rework the tropes of previous films instead of doing what Tarantino and Whedon do and figuring out ways to make them their own.

        I suspect there might be a backlash at some point. Not as severe as those which swamped the prequels. But there will come a point when this one isn’t as highly regarded as it is right now.

        I’d argue that there are plenty of ways to continue Star Wars without falling back on what was already done. At the same time, I can understand the trap Abrams and Kasdan were in. Deviate too far and there will be people pissed off. Do a remake and that presents problems. Star Wars presents more opportunities for new stories than does say the Terminator series. But whether or not people are willing to accept them is another matter.

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  10. I loved it! I consider it a tying together point. Get all of the familiar stuff worked in, including the feel of a real Star Wars movie, ya know? The fun of those originals. Once they’re tied together, expand. I sure hope that’s what they will do in the next one. They have some great characters with which to do that. I am in love with Rey.

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    • I love Rey too. To give credit where credit is due Abrams and co. did a terrific job in casting. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are wonderful as Rey and Finn. I’m looking forward to seeing Rey’s story unfold in Eps. 8 and 9, so far she’s a terrific protagonist.

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  11. 2 days later, my overall thoughts:

    I’d give The Force Awakens *** out of ****. Enjoyed a lot of it. It felt more like a Star Wars movie than the prequels.

    However, I agree also with the point of view that this is also a loose remake of A New Hope with elements of Empire thrown in. This isn’t surprising coming from JJ Abrams. His previous film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, was a loose remake of The Wrath Of Khan. His best film, Super 8, is a well-done synthesis of elements from movies Spielberg and his buddies were making in the 70s and 80s. His other two were based on TV shows (MI: III and Star Trek (2009)),

    That’s the basic thing about Abrams. He’s a very good director. But he tends to often reuse well-done tropes in his movies and unlike a Tarantino or Whedon, doesn’t seem to have much idea about how to make them his own or find new ways to use them.

    So this is a good movie. Don’t know if it will be on my year-end top ten (honorable mention most likely). I am looking forward to the next one because Rian Johnson will be writing and directing. Recall that his prior credits include Brick (a very good movie that successfully used the tropes of film noir in a high school setting) and Looper (the best film of 2012 and an excellent sci-fi film).

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    • I hate giving movies rankings. 3 stars out of 4 seems fair. Maybe even generous. I think as some of the excitement dies down, the movie’s flaws are going to become more and more apparent. I don’t think this movie is going to age well. It definitely would not make my top 10 list were I to make one. I equate it to Jurassic World. Fun, but dumb and completely devoid of original ideas. As such, an unnecessary sequel made solely to milk cash out of a beloved franchise.

      By the time I saw Looper, I had heard so many rave reviews that I was actually very disappointed in it. But I am glad Abrams isn’t sticking around.

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      • So Lebeau, you don’t think this film is worth collecting on DVD/Blu-Ray? More of a one time shot and then ABC ya later?

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        • If I were still collecting, yes, I would most likely add it to my collection. I would most likely wait until the new trilogy is collected in a super special edition box set with all the bells and whistles. I like to buy a movie once so I will wait for the best version. A lot of my purchase decision would depend on episode 8 and 9. TFA doesn’t stand alone. The whole trilogy needs to be worthwhile for me to want to watch it multiple times.

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        • I agree about collecting movies; there’s like a gazillion editions (“The Exorcist” extra 11 minute edition strikes me as needless) a lot of times. Good to know about the new Stars Wars film; let’s see when things are headed.
          Oh, and Happy Holidays everybody! This website has like the nicest people:-)

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