The Force has awakened; it has awakened to a new generation indeed!
Let me begin by saying I came to this film with low expectations. That was the purest in me. The main reason I set the bar low was because this story, this universe, was such a huge part of my childhood, the daily escapes into my imagination that I didn’t want to see it tarnished. I was afraid if this movie failed to live up to the expectations of its fans, it would forever be a scar in the memories of those who saw it and be an unfair representation of the franchise to future viewers. I am very pleased to say this is not the case. STAR WARS: The Force Awakens was for all accounts a fantastic reminder of how malleable the galaxy far, far away can be in the minds of many artists, who wish to explore new possibilities.
By the time we see Starkiller, the planet-sized Death Star that drains a star for power (totally not possible but a cool idea), I came to realize this film had taken the structure of A New Hope. I was absolutely fine with this. Hope’s plot line had a simple formula yet is very pleasing to watch and easy to fit in lots of character exposition without sounding too tell-y. It also played in to the nostalgia factor, which made the introduction of new characters and status of the galaxy all the easier for us folks who draw from the previous six episodes. Seeing the old X-Wings, the Falcon, and Team Skywalker (though not all at one time) was really great for me. Seeing them incorporated into this new story was even better. The story as a whole paid attention to character and took its time letting them deal with the difficulties of making big life decisions (Rey and Finn joining the Resistance). I was impressed how Abrams handled bridging the gap between VI and VII with Luke’s disappearance after trying to train new Jedi as well as from the beginning giving the conflict of his absence a seat in the spot light. By doing so, I wanted them to find Luke. Was I a little surprised Luke make an appearance in this one? Very much so. I would have been content with the Falcon flying off into space as the last scene. I think the search on the island was a little drawn out and could have been a post-credits scene if even included at all. Nevertheless, it was. Now we can only guess at what will happen in the next. I will add I was completely confused why the Republic and Resistance seemed to be two separate entities. You’d think if they were against the First Order, they’d be together. I mean Leia wasn’t called “princess” anymore; she was a “general.” Why have a military organization distinct from the government if it wasn’t to help defend it? I don’t understand this divide.
This was a biggie for me. As a writer, I kind of learned that characters, no matter how plot heavy, are the vehicle we use to view the conflict and progression of intrigue. Rey and Finn exceeded my expectations more than I anticipated. Not only did the two characters get on well, I could tell the actors had great chemistry on screen. Friendly, if not a little romantic (not sure I’d ship them), the two challenged as well as complimented each other when they were in doubt or celebration. And the fact that Rey was the Force sensitive instead of Finn (who is always pictured with a lightsaber) I thought was fantastic. She really made me excited to see how she’ll progress with Luke with her clear connection with the Force and aptitude to trust her instincts. I first thought Abrams was adding the gender and race card to the deck in his casting the two leads that they would be nothing more than fan-service in a politically correct-sensitive world. This was not entirely so. I enjoyed greatly the added diversity not only with the humans but other species as well. Maz was in my top five favorite characters of the film. She emulated the wise figure Yoda always championed and provided a voice of reason and comedy to the new and old characters, a perfect balance. The STAR WARS films have in the past displayed a wide variety of races, whether they were main characters or mere starfighter pilots. Not only were the characters funny, they were well-rounded, exhibiting their flaws, be them fear, selfishness, or caring too much about their fellows. Some will call General Husk rigid and two-dimensional, and they would right. But that is what I liked about him. Gleeson did a great job emulating ruthless Dark Side leaders like Tarkin by being single-minded, his conviction to a “T” to their cause. He made a much more impressive at the onset villain than Kylo Ren. Some people I have heard were disappointed at Ren’s lackluster introduction. I think they would have been unfazed by the character if he was a Darth Vader level baddie from the first movie he’s in. Guys, it’s already been done. The exciting thing is we get to see him evolve now and become, hopefully, a great adversary to Rey when they cross blades again. He was (to my prediction) pushed up the ranks of the First Order because he was a Force sensitive, and Snoke wanted him assimilated as quickly as possible. He never had time to acclimate the helm of power he wore, which is one reason why he throws tantrums, waving his lightsaber around whenever he gets really upset. I want to see him trained to be badder than ever now he made his choice by slaying his father, Han Solo, because it’s what he wants. It’s awesome to see characters make such life-changing decisions on screen and how audience react to them just like in books.
Something I was very much looking forward to. I heard Abrams wanted to return to practical effects. It paid off in so many ways. Episode VII (and what I will predict the subsequent films will have) was the combination of two parts, the Trilogy and Prequels. Where the Trilogy had a great story and relatable characters, the Prequels prized CGI effects and expanded the galaxy’s planets on screen. Apart, they lacked what would have improved the quality of the films. Together in Episode VII, they achieved what STAR WARS always could: an engaging story with visuals that could transport us to a galaxy far, far away. Not only did they use practical effects, they were enhanced by CGIs. Instead of seeing the overdone look of the Prequels, I actually felt like I could stand by the lake and watch the X-Wings and TIE fighters do battle in the sky. The imagery was so tangible I simply sat back and enjoyed the perfect blend of practical and technical effects.
If John Williams had not composed the score for this film, it might have compromised the timelessness of STAR WARS. Other films Williams was excluded from never felt right to me. Four through Eight of the Harry Potter films and Jurassic World are two examples of them using small bites of the original score but then branching off in their own attempts to make unique music. While some of the music was a little repetitive in Episode VII, borrowing from what has already been used or styles of it, I would say the score is what it’s supposed to be: a classic component of the greater work. Old themes like the Jedi and Rebel one were merely altered to sound more epic, befitting the scene they accompanied. Though it was nice to get the nostalgia from the Trilogy’s score, I was disappointed at the lack of variety in the never heard of sounds. The First Order and Kylo Ren’s themes for instance did not give that spine tingling vibe that Darth Maul or the Imperial March did. That is one thing the Prequels have more of than the other films. Quite a number of iconic sounds were played during Episodes I-III and still are heard today during shows at Disney or elsewhere.
I believe Episode VII was Abrams (and the other artists involved) saying things are just getting started, testing the waters to see what works, and what they need to work on. I think it’s safe to say they will only get better as the films go on. This is only the beginning.
May The Force Be With You.