For the last few months, I’ve been praising the marketing department at Disney for the way they’ve handled the marketing of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. They’ve meticulously given fans a taste of what’s to come without revealing any major spoilers or giving us a clear plot. All we knew was it involved a stormtrooper with a guilty conscious who meets a young recluse, both of whom are thrown into the middle of a brewing war led by a sinister Darth Vader worshiper. All of this secrecy led up to the ultimate question:
Where is Luke Skywalker?
There have been a massive amount of rumors and speculation as to why Disney and director J.J. Abrams have been hiding Luke from all marketing, including the trailer, the poster, the toys and even the press junket. Based on early pics of Mark Hamill in his Jedi beard and the infamous table read shot, we all know he’s in the movie, so what’s the deal? It turns out, his disappearance is just another genius marketing device, not only because it got fans excited for Luke’s ultimate reveal (what are they hiding?), but it drives the central plot of The Force Awakens. As John Willaims’s most memorable score (and that’s saying something) begins and the title scroll emerges, we learn Luke Skywalker is missing, and everyone — good and evil — are looking for him.
Thus begins the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, a breathtaking return to the essence of a franchise that, although I still immensely enjoyed the prequel trilogy, did get a little sidetracked with fun new toys and visual effect giddiness. Here, Abrams’s promise to return to using practical effects, make-up, animotronics and puppetry paid off immensely, immersing us into a new world in a way the “fakery” of the prequels didn’t allow for. Yes, there are plenty of CGI characters and elements within the building blocks of the universe, but because they’re limited to necessity rather than the focus of every living scene, they are hidden within the magic of what’s around them.
But that’s just eye-candy. What really matters are the characters and their journeys, and how well they would connect to the audience. Before even one word of the script was written, we knew The Force Awakens would be set some thirty years after Return of the Jedi and would mix new heroes and villains with those of lore. The question was, would the new crop of upstarts be as fun, charismatic and resonate with fans the same way the original cast did back in 1977, and would the old-school regime be as remarkable as you remember them? Fortunately, the answer to both is a resounding YES! The new and old mesh together like peanut butter and jelly, providing us a classic tale of lost souls reconnecting to who they really are and what they’re meant to be.
We begin our journey on the planet Jakku, where hotshot pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), one of the leaders of the resistance against the rising First Order, has found new information as to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Poe doesn’t get a lot of attention throughout the film, but from the moment we meet him, Isaac expertly balances the leadership qualities, the excitement, the one-liners and the drama that once upon a time made Harrison Ford a household name. When Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), one of the sinister leaders of the First Order (alongside Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a perfect successor to Grand Moff Tarkin) who want the information to track down and destroy Luke once and for all, captures Poe, their first interactions together set the stage for what’s to come, both in tone and visual magnitude.
During this stunning opening sequence, we also see the “awakening” of a stormtrooper, FN2187 (John Boyega). Plucked from his family as a child to be programmed to become a by-the-numbers trooper for the First Order, Finn (as he’s dubbed later in the film) sees what evil truly is and breaks from his training to escape their clutches. At the same time, Poe’s astromech droid, BB-8, has taken the information into hiding. He eventually runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley), an orphaned scavenger of mechanical parts whose just as handy with her tools as she is her fists. She knows the little droid has important information the resistance needs, but it isn’t until she gets caught up with Finn (and is subsequently marked as an enemy by the First Order) that she reluctantly decides to leave Jakku and return the droid to his rightful owner.
Both Ridley and Boyega give outstanding performances, connecting with each other on a brother/sister level, clashing with each other while remaining respectful of each other’s talents and emotional turmoil. Harrison Ford only adds to the mix when he joins them in getting BB-8 back to the resistance. At this point in time, he’s just as lost as his young counterparts, and to see him look on Rey as a protege rather than just another piece of cargo is a joy to watch. He’s matured, but sees a lot of his younger self in her, especially after she steals the Millennium Falcon from a junkyard to escape the First Order, an action sequence that looks incredible and feels majestic in its artistry. Abrams really touches on what made the action sequences in the original trilogy so fun and breathtaking by not trying to do anything too fancy, though there is one exception that occurs approximately halfway through the film. I’m not sure what it was, but the scene felt more like something out of Galaxy Quest or Men and Black than it did Star Wars. It just didn’t strike the right chord with me at all. There are also a couple of emotional beats that didn’t quite click, but those are very minor issues when compared to the emotional beats that do work, one of which is devastating in its simplicity and its honesty.
Take this review with a grain of salt, if you must. I am a fan of the entire franchise (when someone asks me what my favorite movie is, my answer is the Star Wars Saga), and the movies will always set the bar for all other movies. But taking a step back from that, and doing my best to be objective, The Force Awakens does everything I hoped it would, and flaws aside, delivers on its promise to give us a satisfying, respectful, rip-roaring adventure for a new generation.
My Grade: A+
Next week, new movies include The Hateful Eight, Daddy’s Home, Point Break, Concussion and Joy. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.