Thirty some odd years have passed since the Empire was overthrown by a few rebels and an army of teddy bears and now, a new threat to the galaxy called The First Order has risen from the ashes and is seeking the location of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi who has vanished without a trace. When his location is discovered by General Leia’s Resistance, it is squirreled away by a droid called BB-8 and thus the adventure begins.
All right, kids, rest easy… it’s a good movie. It’s better than the prequels (keeping in mind that I’m not a prequel hater at all) and serves as a rousing adventure that is both exciting and emotional. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you say… Hey, this story is awfully familiar.
But we’ll get to that later. Let’s talk about all of the good stuff instead!
The good stuff is that The Force Awakens is a movie that has a practical physicality to it and, out of everything, I think that’s what I’m happiest about. Keeping in mind, still, that I am not a prequel-hater, the prequels did have a constrictive artificiality to them. The locations, despite their special effects wizardry, were corny, cartoony, and never felt real and the actors looked like they were captive in them. In The Force Awakens, we have actual forests, actual deserts, actual snow… it gives this movie a presence and a weight that’s been missing from Star Wars since George Lucas learned what a computer can do. Sure, Naboo was grand and Geonosis was amazing, but they never felt real… not really. Jakku felt real. Starkiller base felt real.
I also have to commend the acting. In particular, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Ridley delivers a performance just dripping in humanity and Driver, surprisingly, is not only able to act through a face-covering mask, but also manages to become more than just a bad guy. This is a guy who is almost desperately torn and it makes Kylo Ren an interesting antagonist.
John Boyega is a lot of fun as well and injects some much needed humor into the movie. I liked his character because he went in a totally different direction that I was expecting and I found it refreshing.
The adventure is great, the action is great, the actors are great, and the locations are great.
What’s not great is that this movie feels like A New Hope all over again and, as much as I love A New Hope, I’ve already seen that movie and want to see a completely new one. So much of Episode IV’s beats are copied – and I have no nicer word for it besides “copied” – into this new movie that it almost becomes humorous. You’ve got an analogue for the Mos Eisley cantina, you’ve got Death Star 2.0 (or is it 3.0 by now?), you’ve got a trench run, you’ve got everything that A New Hope had and, to be honest, it’s annoying. It’s as annoying as seeing the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi and thinking, “Didn’t we already do this?” I anticipate that Screen Junkie’s Honest Trailer of this movie will rip this aspect to shreds (as it rightfully should!)
There are also a lot of instances when what should have been big moments are allowed to fly by as if the characters just shrug and say, “Well, that happened.” I don’t think it’s too big of a spoiler to mention that the Starkiller Base is tested (think Alderaan) and explody bad-things happen to a lot of people and the impact of this event is just dropped before the tumbling body parts in space have a chance to cool. It’s not like this all the time — The Force Awakens does allow for the viewer to catch their breath several times – but it’s an odd choice. This was kind of a big deal and it’s not treated like a big deal.
I would chalk it up to the movie trying to do too much in too little time. It can’t afford to dally on too many moments because then the movie would be three hours long.
Still, despite its faults, this is a great adventure and space fantasy movie. It’s wonderful to see Han Solo, Chewie, Leia, and C3PO again, it’s wonderful to return to the world of Star Wars without wincing at unnecessary silliness, and it’s wonderful to see the CGI toned down. The humor in the movie feels natural and not forced, the characters are wonderfully complex and layered, and, although the movie ends at a place that feels natural and right, I would have been perfectly fine if it went on for another twenty minutes because I was that hooked and that engrossed.
After three decades of waiting for a proper sequel to the original trilogy, The Force Awakens isn’t a disappointment even with the massive hype propelling it up your bum. The Force Awakens is a movie that made me laugh, made me smile, made my heart race and, yes… even made me cry a little. Sure, it’s not a perfect movie and, if you’re expecting the greatest movie of all time, you’re going to be let down, but that’s really your fault. The Force Awakens is imperfect, but the good far, far, far outweighs the bad.