Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review: A New Hope All Over Again

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Let’s all just take a moment. Star Wars is back. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are back. However this sequel turned out, there’s a significance here no sequel in history has ever had to live up to. That is, except for The Phantom Menace. Luckily, The Force Awakens is just about everything you could have hoped for.

The seventh film of this mega-franchise is structured a whole lot like the first (er, fourth). J.J. Abrams has achieved the aesthetic of the 1977 film that started it all. Even more impressive, is how he nails that magnetic tone that no other series has ever even come close to. The Force Awakens is funny, goofy, dramatic, and so lovable. Even while it hits a lot of the familiar story beats as A New Hope, the film injects something fresh into them. Emphasis is put on just the right retreads, letting the new take over when it should. These successes are mostly due to the pitch-perfect marriage of the old and the new casts.

It’s a while into the film before a familiar face shows up, which is a smart decision. The story takes all the time it needs, and not a second more, to develop this new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains with everything you need to care about them.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a strong warrior searching for meaning. She’s more self-sufficient than Luke was when we met him, and not nearly as whiney as Anakin. Ridley plays her perfectly, selling her loneliness and fear of the unknown. Rey is the true star of The Force Awakens, which is one of the film’s best qualities.

Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) is a defected stormtrooper just trying to find purpose outside of the orders his evil commanders give him. Boyega gets be at the center of a lot of the film’s comic relief, playing a bit of a Ron Weasley type. This makes him a perfect foil for the more driven Rey, yet not without his own arc over the film.

Lest we not forget BB-8, the new droid in the galaxy you just want to take home with you forever. BB-8 ends up being pivotal in striking that specific Star Wars tone, as he never suffers from over-exposure but is always cute when around.

Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the new big bad in town who worships Darth Vader. I assure you, there’s never been a Star Wars villain like this one. Driver is terrific, horrifying at one moment, then filled with pathos the next. He ends up stealing many of his scenes, with only Ridley able to compete of the newcomers. The times they meet are when Force Awakens is at its best.

But of the new cast, there is one that sticks out as underdeveloped, and that’s Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). He plays a heavy role in the film’s setup only to disappear in the second act. By the time he returns, the rest of the cast has surpassed his importance. It’s a shame because Isaac so clearly knows how to be in a Star Wars movie from his first few scenes, but the script just isn’t sure where to take Poe yet.

As for the returners, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) are main characters in this movie. They fight alongside Rey and Finn the whole time and it is just freaking awesome. Ford takes Han to all the appropriate places considering 30 years have passed, while Force Awakens also has Chewie at his most badass yet. The rest of the old crew have pretty limited roles, but Leia (Carrie Fisher) definitely leaves an emotional impression. She may not be a lead, but Fisher puts so much weight on her scenes, implying the history of the past three decades while maintaining that prickly charm.

But the film isn’t perfect. There are a few nitpicks to be had here and there. Han and Chewie’s first scene is a bit out of nowhere. This movie also has a lot of characters to shuffle, and while most of them come out on top, a few are left to the side, begging for Episode VIII to bring them up to speed. But the most glaring has to be the vague exposition concerning the state of the galaxy after Return of the Jedi. Not that all the talky politics of the prequel trilogy were my favorite, but the factions and what they control could use some explanation. We never really learn how the First Order evolved out of the Empire or how the Rebellion became the Resistance. More casual fans probably won’t care, but it does make this evolution of the Star Wars universe a little less fully realized, especially since it follows the previously definitive conclusion of Return of the Jedi.

Again though, these are nitpicks. The Force Awakens is absolutely magnificent and no one can take that away from J.J. Abrams or Disney. From the opening crawl to its final shot, this is unmistakably a Star Wars movie, and a damn good one at that. The Force has indeed awakened, and it’s with its new creators, its cast of new and old faces, and, most of all, its devoted fanbase that has a series to cheer for again. We’re home. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty


One Response to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review: A New Hope All Over Again

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