Review: Star Wars: 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.