The Force Awakens Review – J.J. Abrams returns and the force is with him!
The Force Awakens Review
The Force Awakens has finally been released in cinemas. I managed to view it yesterday evening, the 18th, amidst a large crowd of arguably ‘young’ middle-aged fans whose dress-code is questionable. Sadly The Force Awakens (TFA) was over before I knew it. My initial reaction was gratitude that it did not suck like any of the prequel movies. Yet it wasn’t until this morning that I even dared to write down any firm words of judgment. The short of it is that TFA is fantastic. It is everything I hoped it would be. Sure there are a few issues, but neither the original Star Wars nor the Empire Strikes Back was as perfect as some fans seem to remember. The movie is a definite must-see, but in doing so there is a real threat of wanting to see Episode 8 as well when it releases in May 2017.
Story summary – SPOILER ALERT!
The story of The Force Awakens is set some 30 years after the Return of the Jedi. The remnant of the old Empire is organized into the First Order. Luke Skywalker has disappeared after his apprentice Kylo Ren destroyed the Jedi order. Both the First Order and the Resistance, a small wing of the Republic try to find him. Resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) finds part of the map to Luke on the planet Jakku. Before the First Order destroys the settlements on the planet Poe manages to hide the plan in BB-8, his astromech droid. Poe is captured and tortured by Kylo Ren(Adam Driver), a dark knight. Yet, First Order Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) saves him. Together they escape in a Tie Fighter to Jakku. Here BB-8 has found Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger woman who has been waiting for years for her parents to return. Finn and Rey attempt to escape Jakku when the First Order launches an air assault. They do so in the rundown Millennium Falcon. After it breaks down they are found by Han Solo and Chewbacca. On the planet Takodana they meet Maz Kanata who can take them and BB-8 to the resistance.
At the Starkiller Base, a deathstar type weapon able to obliterate solar systems, Kylo Ren is reminded by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke that to save himself from the light he needs to kill his father, Han Solo. General Hux unleashes the weapon to destroy the Hosnian star system, seat of the Republic Senate. Kylo Ren manages to track the gang to Takodana. Rey is drawn to a vault and finds Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. She receives a mysterious vision and recoils in horror, fleeing into the woods. The First Order attacks Takodana. Han, Chewie, Finn and BB-8 are saved by Poe and a squadron of X-wings, but Rey is captured by Kylo Ren. After his attempted torture Rey uses a Jedi mind trick on a Stormtrooper and flees. On D’Qar Han is reunited with Leia, now a general with the Resistance. As the First Order prepares to destroy D’Qar a plan is drawn up to destroy Starkiller Base. Han and Chewie will attempt to infiltrate the base with the aid of Finn to lower the shield allowing Poe and his squadron to attack the weapon. After the plan is set in motion they find Rey on the base. Han (Harrison Ford) confronts Kylo Ren. Kylo admits to having doubts about remaining with the darkside, but after appearing to hand over his lightsaber to Han he ignites it and kills Han. Han’s body falls down into the reactor chasm. Chewie detonates to explosives which lower the shield. Kylo then attempt to fight Finn and Rey. He manages to defeat Finn but not Rey. Rey injures him before a fissure opens on the Starkiller Base that is disintegrating around them. Snoke orders General Hux to abandon the base and bring Kylo Ren with him. Back on D’Qar the Resistance celebrate their victory, but Leia, Rey, Finn and Chewbacca mourn Han. R2-D2 then awakens from years of slumber to reveal the remainder of the map found by Poe and carried by BB-8. With R2-D2 and Chewbacca, Rey follows the map to an island on an ocean of a distant planet, where she finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and presents him with his father’s lightsaber.
The character development is a true strong point of TFA. At first it may seem as if the viewer is overwhelmed. Both Finn and Rey make a rather sudden turn to becoming Jedi acolytes. Yet, both already have a considerable backstory. Finn as the disgruntled Stormtrooper who is force sensitive while Rey is a survivalist. If you compare that with Luke Skywalker who made the journey from farm boy to galactic hero in one movie it is not that absurd. A lot of the secondary characters have remained underused. Yet that can hardly be called a failing. Giving Snoke, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and the others more screen time now would ruin the suspense and lengthen the running time without any real return. It is enough for now to know that they will return, as will Luke Skywalker.
Some story-telling elements from TFA can be readily recognized as a repeat from the original Star Wars. I did not mind them, though I know some people have cried foul. History tends to repeat itself. If I were stretching the argument I would say Rey can be seen as the new Luke Skywalker while Han Solo played the role of Obi-Wan, guiding the youth. By using common story-telling elements Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams have anchored the story firmly and allowed it to grow into a new direction on its own. If episode 8 were to be a rehash of Empire I would cry foul as well, but right now I think J.J. made the right call.
If I must mention one problem with The Force Awakens it is the soundtrack. While it is passable it is not as good as those of the original trilogy. I missed the sound cues from Empire a lot. I have wondered why John Williams has not reused them. A lot of the music of TFA lack their own melody. Only two songs on the soundtrack: Torn Apart and The Jedi Steps really jumped out. It is a shame they weren’t used more often in the movie.
To get an impression of just how good The Force Awakens is I will try and rank it next to the other movies from the original trilogy. I know many think The Empire Strikes Back is the best but my vote goes for the original Star Wars from 1977, followed closely by Empire of course. The Return of the Jedi has always been a hard movie to judge. It has always been considered the runt of the litter. When I was young it was my favorite: lots of action scenes, lots of Darth Vader (and Emperor) plus Princess Leia in a risqué bikini. When I grew up I understood the deficiencies of the movie: the Ewoks were a mistake and should have been Wookies. Also the middle part of the story is weak and should have allowed for more character development for Han and Leia. To some the rot had set in with ROTJ, if you see things in such a negative light. George Lucas had a difficult time with drafting ROTJ as he had to consider carefully how the original trilogy would end. I think TFA is better than ROTJ, even if there is not much in it. TFA feels fresh and opens the possibilities of a whole new exciting trilogy. From that point of view ROTJ may have been judged too harshly.
You can judge The Force Awakens in a negative light as well. It is not as good as Star Wars or the Empire Strikes Back, even if you consider people’s memories of those two may be colored by time. Yet, TFA strikes home the idea of a new story, a new generation and a new trilogy. I like it, I understand it does borrow elements from Star Wars and Empire but I don’t care. If the story is engaging than I can hardly complain about the elements it has in common with previous movies. George Lucas lifted the story of Star Wars straight out the hero’s journey and Akira Kurasawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Now that J.J. Abrams has started this Star Wars trilogy I desperately want to know how it ends. I can’t think of higher praise.
Star Wars will return in December 2016 with Rogue One: A Star Wars, a standalone story. After that episode 8 will be released in May 2017 and Episode 9 some 18 months afterwards. In the meantime there is also a Han solo anthology movie in the works. This was my The Force Awakens review. I hope you enjoyed it reading it.