Star Wars: The Force Awakens is familiar yet satisfying
The review has no major spoilers.
My expectations were low, anything better than the prequels and I would be pleased. Thankfully Force Awakens easily managed to deliver that. J.J. Abrams succeeds in making the most heartfelt and entertaining Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi. We live in a rehash obsessed culture, both music and film pay homage to the classics. Mad Max, Spectre, Creed, Star Trek, Star Wars, there is no end to the recycling of old ideas in a fresh packaging. Force Awakens is one of the best homage movies of the year.
Most things work, the action, special effects, comedy and especially the performances of Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley shine. The script might just be the most amusing of the whole franchise, with Harrison Ford firing one-liners like we are back in the 80s. The screenplay certainly has enough quotable moments for the movie to be rewatchable.
For the rewatch I’m curious to give the soundtrack a closer listen, which is one of the few things I think Phantom Menace did better. The Force Awakens soundtrack has the familiar score we know and love, but the new compositions I barely remember at all, and the end credits music was bland. Rey's Theme is the stand out.
While relying on practical effects and old school storytelling, Force Awakens also feels very modern. It really is the year of the female action heroine(Charlize Theron, Rebecca Ferguson), and Daisy Ridley gives an award worthy performance as the feisty female lead. Force Awakens actually has multiple female characters and passes the Bechdel Test. Throw in John Boyega in a major role and you can tell it’s politically correct and they wanted to please women and people of color alike. Of course the cynically inclined my accuse Disney of trying to attract the broadest audience as possible to boost ticket sales.The new and the old gel well together, and the new cast is equally as likeable, which was a pleasant surprise.
You don’t expect deeper character studies in a Hollywood blockbuster, but a minor quibble is we are hardly given any back story. I wondered what had happened to the old characters in the intervening 30 years since Episode 6. I hope the filmmakers explore that in Episode 8 and give the next film some contemplative moments and much needed depth. The relationship between Leia and Han Solo is vague to the point that I wanted to know more. Even the new characters Rey, Kylo Ren, Snoke, Poe Dameron, Maz Kanata, General Hux, we barely know anything about, which is what makes the film feel quite simplistic and innocent. Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope (1977) fleshed out the main characters a bit better. Force Awakens has to juggle so many actors that it’s tough to give depth to all of them. Although the humanity of the leads is evident in how they face the problems they encounter, so despite the vagueness I cared about their journeys. The indefiniteness gives the story an air of mystery and anticipation about future installments.
The new addition to the series isn’t packed full of never-before-seen ideas like the original trilogy was. To me the Stormtrooper aspect and hand weapons are the only new things. Avid Star Wars fans may feel Force Awakens is too reliant on pre-existing formula, but J.J. Abrams delivers a fun ride with laughs and surprises, which could win over even the most skeptical. Bring on Episode 8!