The Force Awakens Review

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on DVD and Blu-Ray today and to celebrate this occasion, we have written up our thoughts on the first installment in Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy. Did it live up to the hype? Did Abrams return this franchise to its former glory? Is it worth buying the DVD? As with our Star Wars Rebels reviews, this review contains spoilers, so if you’re that one person out there who hasn’t seen the movie yet and has miraculously managed to avoid any spoilers all this time, I would like to congratulate you for your diligence and warn you not to read it. As for everyone else, please go ahead and

Oky: After watching the trailers which cleverly avoid revealing any important plot points, I was getting quite excited for this new movie. The fact that it looked more like the original trilogy and that it was being made by a Star Wars fan who had already successfully revived another sci-fi franchise seemed to indicate that we were in for a Star Wars sequel that could truly live up to the greatness of the original trilogy, so I got my tickets as soon as I could, rewatched Episodes I-VI,  and got in line a couple hours early for the premiere on Thursday night together with some friends and family who are also fans. We sat in the theater and cheered and laughed along with the rest of the audience. We all had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching a genuinely good new Star Wars movie together. However, after the excitement has died down and I had some time to think about it, I feel like something was missing. The movie had none of the flaws of the prequels and had everything a Star Wars movie is supposed to have which is exactly what everyone wanted, but it also didn’t offer that much new. I think the main problem is the story. As everyone says, this movie seemed to repeat the same plot from A New Hope beat for beat, which is no surprise considering that’s Abrams’ favorite. At first the movie felt fresh as it seemed to be all about finding Luke, but then all of a sudden there is another Death Star that the rebellion needs to destroy and they do it exactly the same way as before by disabling the shields and hitting the weak spot. As Han points out himself, the only difference is that it’s bigger this time. It’s clear that the movie is fully aware that it is just doing the same story again because of lines like this and because it doesn’t focus much on that part of the plot and focuses more on the new characters which is good, but it also didn’t make me care all that much about the battle above Starkiller Base. The battle was still exciting, but I never really felt the tension here that I felt during the Battle of Yavin or even the Battle of Endor. It was just something that happened because it’s Star Wars and we gotta have X-Wings blow up a big ball. Again, not that I minded seeing this happen, I just wasn’t as invested in that part because I felt I had seen all this before. I wish they would have made the story a little more different. I also thought the way R2-D2 came back to life at the end of the movie to give our heroes the missing part of the map felt too convenient.

The vehicles and locations could have been a bit more different as well. The X-Wings only had a minor update to their nose and engines, the Resurgent-class Star Destroyer only has a shorter upper half, a slightly different bridge, and a point that looks a lot like Kylo Ren’s lightsaber from above, and the TIE Fighters are literally just repainted versions of the original. These ships are a perfect metaphor for this movie: an old, familiar thing in a fresh coat of paint. Like with the plot, I didn’t mind the minimalism of these changes as it did feel good seeing X-Wings, TIEs, and the Falcon flying around again and having dogfights, although I would have appreciated a bit more creativity. The only really new vehicles were the First Order Transporter and Kylo Ren’s command shuttle and I wasn’t a big fan of those as the transporter looks very blocky and the shuttle’s ginormous wings look a bit ridiculous, so maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t add more new ships.
The planets were also very reminiscent of ones from the other movies. Jakku was basically Tatooine, Takodana and D’Quar were like Yavin IV or any other forest planet, and Hosnian Prime looked pretty much like Corruscant, although there were some small differences. The Starship Graveyard on Jakku and Maz Kanata’s castle on Takodana were actually pretty cool. The only place that really felt new, though, was Starkiller Base. While it’s disappointing that it turned out to be just a bigger Death Star, it was good that it didn’t look exactly like a Death Star and it was interesting that it was a converted planet that draws its power from the sun. A snowy forest is also not something we had seen in Star Wars before and it made for a great backdrop for the climactic lightsaber duel, so kudos for that.

Where the movie really shined, though, is in the characters. It was nice seeing the original cast reprise their roles, even if none of them except Han and Chewie are given much to do, and seeing them interact with the new cast was great. Ford did a great job playing Han Solo again as he didn’t just go through the motions and it really felt like we were watching an older version of Han. His interactions with Chewie were great as always. Rey is a very believable and likable character. Sure, she’s yet another orphan from a desert planet who discovers she’s force-sensitive, but she is a strong female lead like no other we’ve seen in these movies before, and unlike Anakin and Luke, she didn’t even want to leave her home at first. She made a great journey from holding on to her past to embracing her destiny as a Jedi. I can’t wait to see her train with Luke. Finn was also a very interesting and relatable character who went from a cowardly rookie stormtrooper to being a hero. John Boyega delivered a very energetic performance. Him and Rey had some nice chemistry together and there seems to be a relationship building between them, although that didn’t really go anywhere (yet) in this film. Finn also creates a nice friendship with Poe Dameron who is built up as “the best pilot in the resistance” throughout the movie and he sure proves that he is. It seems like Poe will replace Han in the coming movies and I’m okay with that since he is also very likable and even funny at times. Although my favorite new character would have to be BB-8. This little guy is the most adorable robot since WALL-E and had a real personality. I’m glad they didn’t make him too cutesy though. It’s a bit of a shame that he is an obvious replacement for R2-D2 who was literally left standing on the wayside for most of the movie, but he is just as lovable, so I don’t mind too much.
The bad guys were a bit disappointing though. The main villain, Kylo Ren, looked pretty cool when he had his mask on and his force abilities of “freezing” things and reading people’s minds were impressive. The way he simply walked off a shot from Chewie’s ridiculously overpowered bowcaster is nothing to scoff at. But the more we saw of him the less I liked him. He just seems like an emo kid who throws a temper tantrum any time something doesn’t go his way. The fact that he killed off one of the most beloved characters of the franchise doesn’t help either. The reveal that he is Han and Leia’s son was a good twist, even though it was clear from that moment on that Han was going to die. It was interesting to see such a conflicted villain, but we were never given any motivation for his turn to the dark side. He clearly wants to step into the footsteps of Vader, but why? I wanted him to be more like Vader too, but so far he has been acting more like Anakin. Captain Phasma also had the potential to be a cool female villain, but turned out to be very one-dimensional and wasn’t given much screen time. General Hux wasn’t very intimidating either and there’s not much to say about Supreme Leader Snoke except that he’s an obvious Emperor stand-in with bad CGI and a silly name.

There were several plot holes and the movie opened up a lot more questions than it answered, but those will hopefully be explained in the next two movies or the EU. That along with the fact that it was so similar to A New Hope made it hard to get truly invested in some parts of the story, even though it was overall still a very enjoyable film. Many movies nowadays make the same mistake of trying to set up future sequels and/or playing it safe by sticking too closely to the elements that made the original movie in a franchise so popular, although it wasn’t as bad here as it was in, say, Batman V Superman or Jurassic World. I hope that they only did this in this movie to gain back the confidence of the people who got burned by the prequels and will be a bit more creative in Episode VIII and IX. Despite this, it was a pretty good movie with great acting, directing, and visual effects, and I’m curious where this new trilogy is going. For now, all the open questions will give us plenty to discuss and speculate about until the next movie comes out.

BEAVeR: The title, the time period and the recurring characters. That was everything I knew about The Force Awakens when John Williams’ horns filled me with excitement and crawl began unfolding in 3D. That’s right, I did everything in my power to avoid seeing anything before going into theaters. I looked the other way passing the posters in the train station, I squinted my eyes every time I visited a Star Wars related site and fell crying on the floor when that TV spot almost ruined all of my hard work. Why would anyone want to do that, especially if they’re writing for a blog all about the very same subject matter? Well, I wanted to see the movie without knowing a thing about it, without waiting for “that moment from the trailer that hasn’t showed up yet”. I wanted the new movie to hit me with full force, not with a bunch of tiny punches spread over the course of a year. And to be honest, I wanted to keep my expectations low just in case…

I could have spared myself a lot of trouble, because even if my expectations were five times the ones I had, the movie would have topped them. It had all the things I wanted to see, like great characters, a compelling story, stunning locations, breathtaking action, screen wipes, a Wilhelm scream, a swooping soundtrack and that humor and heart that inspire any good movie. It even gave us a whole bunch more, like more new species than I could have ever imagined, the best mechanical character ever, a lot of lovely unanswered questions and not merely great, but down right awesome! characters. I had a hard time sleeping that night, with so many things to process, ponder about and enjoy. And that on the day before New Year’s Eve…

So yeah, I loved it. Not all of it though. You have to be blind not to see the many parallels with the Original Trilogy. That coupled with the low amount of inspired new vehicles left me wanting for the innovation Star Wars always brings to that department, especially since those ships are what pulled four year old me into that galaxy in the first place. Characters like Captain Phasma or Lor San Tekka (if you even know who that was!) were way underdeveloped too. Then there are those moments that could have had some more oumph. It would have helped if we had known of the existence of those planets more than a few seconds before they vanish. And instead of crying over Han Solo’s death, I found myself more intrigued by his son’s motivations. And then there are all those plot thingies, like Artoo conveniently waking up, the Resistance somehow existing when the New Republic should be in power, Rey so easily besting Kylo Ren… You could fill an entire library with everything that has been said about those details. But it are only details, and most of the time, there’s a different way of looking at them – that’s what my nearly sleepless night told me.

In general, the movie wasn’t very predictable, but there were moments where the parallels to the Original Trilogy made it so, and that pushed me out of the movie a bit, sadly. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint I guess, because it’s the safest. But there’s an upside as well. The parallels give the Star Wars story that almost mythical quality. And since there are parallels, there are differences as well, which carry that much more meaning because of the other things that are the same. Let’s take the Luke/Rey analogy for example. Both live on a desert planet when one day a droid with some plans shows up and they end up being the hero of the Rebellion. But their motivations are wildly different. Where Luke just wants to leave his old life behind and departs because he longs for adventure, Rey doesn’t want to leave and only does so because she strongly feels helping the Resistance is the right thing to do. That point of difference gets much more meaning because of the many parallels, and therefore makes for a stronger character development. Something similar can be said of Kylo Ren in comparison to Darth Vader. They both command an army, are incredibly powerful, look bad ass and threatening and have no trouble killing off their own men in rage. But the real reveal comes when Kylo Ren takes off his mask and proves to be everything you didn’t expect. At first, I thought it just was wrong, but the more I think about it, the more excited I am. That intimidating outfit compared to the rather boyish face, in such a strong contrast to Darth Vader, and the fits of rage compared to his feelings for the Light Side make for an extremely dynamic character of whom you never know what to expect. Not in episode VII, and not in the future. The characters are extremely interesting to begin with (and brilliantly portrayed by the actors!!!), and this adds on top of that.
Of course the parallels go beyond the characters, with the New Order clearly clinging to the Imperial aesthetic to inspire the fear that the old evil has returned, even resurrecting it’s most feared weapon to paralyze the people. I certainly don’t want to excuse the excessive parallels, but it goes to show that the movie did a great job employing them for more than just nostalgia’s sake, to give more meaning to the plot, and to give yet another reason to watch the entire series all over again!

The lack of new exciting LEGO sets vehicles is only relative of course, and is in part compensated by the amazing locations and creatures we got. Many people think Jakku could’ve just as well been Tatooine, but in my eyes it was great to return to a location that felt familiar but doesn’t make you feel like “Tatooine again?!”. They did a great job making it look like a different planet too. The same goes for Takodana, which might look Naboo-ish, but looks absolutely gorgeous from outer space and features lovely architecture and a host of new creatures. So many even, that I was slightly disappointed not seeing the familiar faces again. But later on, there were GNK droids and Sullustans to fix that, luckily. On top of that, you have the great visuals. I don’t need to mention the spectacular opening shot or the Falcon chase. There were other gems, like the Starkiller’s ray slowly progressing through space (didn’t look like the speed of light to me :tongue: ), the X-wings soaring over the water and through smoke, the shot of the steps in the end or when you see the lights of the X-wings fade as they shoot of into hyperspace, a small touch of something we hadn’t seen before. And finally, the absence of new vehicle forces you to focus more on the characters, which it is all about in the end.

There truly are too many things to say about this movie (that’s why I got so little sleep that night). I could elaborate on Rey’s and Kylo Ren’s amazing characters, delve into how awesome Finn was, explain how this was the funniest movie since The Lego Move, tell how the soundtrack has grown on me, declare my love for how they found new ways to play with the Force (stopping laserbolts and mind fights for the win!), praise little things like Chewie getting injured or Rey taking place in the Falcon’s cockpit, once again sing praise of every actor involved, address some other minor issues… but that would just take too long and I’m confident you have enough to say about those things yourself. Only one last thing needs addressing.

It’s the last thing I mentioned way back, four paragraphs ago. It are those little plot thingies. When watching the Original Trilogy or even the Prequel Trilogy, it was immediately clear what the galaxy more or less looked like, but this time, I spent a great deal of the movie thinking about how the First Order can be so huge when actually the New Republic should control the galaxy, and why there is still a need for a Resistance somehow: I was actually missing a little bit of politics. And what’s the deal with these Knights of Ren? Or how did Luke’s lightsaber end up with Maz? I’ve never heard of an awakening, so is it something new? And how can Artoo wake up so suddenly? All of it bothered me at first, to have a movie that feels so incomplete in certain places. But then I realized part of why I kept thinking about this movie are exactly those question. The Force Awakens was a great movie in its own right, but works even better in the saga, as it drives you mad with questions and makes you excited to see the next movie or delve deeper into the galaxy, because believe me, most of those questions already have a thoughtful answer available! It’s so awesome because this movie succeeds in pulling you in more and more, making me think about it every day for the past month. Well played there.
The only downside with all of those questions and mysteries, is that you can feel something has to be important, like who Rey’s parents were if she’s so great. With Luke you weren’t even expecting for him to have a special father, making Darth Vader’s reveal that much more impactful. But who knows, the future might have a grand surprise for us in store…

All of that to say it’s an incredible movie, motivating you like no other to watch, rewatch, investigate, fantasize and travel to the deepest corners of the galaxy far, far away: The Force Awakens is so much longer than 135 minutes… So there’s plenty of sleep to loose now that the Force has awakened, and until the story continues in two years. Until then, I give this movie a solid BB-8 style thumbs up.

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