REVIEW - Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoiler free!)

Well, it's finally here. The most over-hyped reboot/sequel is here with all of it's acquisition related controversy, dark side Jar Jar theories, and crossguard lightsaber arguments has finally landed in theatres. All of these moments, simple distractions to occupy us until the tickets were acquired and the popcorn was buttered. Chances are, you only want to know one thing: "Is it good? No really... how good is it? It better be good... IT NEEDS TO BE." 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't as good as we expected it to be. It's not the film we were promised by the trailers and tv spots, and it's not perfect. 

It's actually a minor miracle, since it's actually better. It is truly, a new hope... in more ways than one. 

Star Wars has an incredibly complicated past. It's landmark original trilogy was beloved by film fanatics and general audiences world wide, and launched an incredibly vibrant commercial brand. The prequel trilogy of the 2000's was mostly panned by critics and fans for it's scmaltzy cartoonish nature, and half-baked attempt to engage with a new generation of fans. Although the prequels were a significant commercial success... the brand was wounded. It wasn't quite the honored name that it had established in the late 70's and 80's. That put Star Wars in a very unique position. Would it commit to its strategy to being a "kids" film? Or would Star Wars return to it's roots as a exciting adventure story with intense dramatic elements? With the Disney acquistion of Lucasfilm, the fans paused for a moment in terror as they realized it would probably not be the latter. 

And it wasn't. It was both. 

This new adventure is both reboot, and sequel. It's for kids and adults. It's a movie, and a sonnet. 

In short, it's precisely what the fans of the original trilogy had asked for, almost to a fault. There are so many themes that are retread beat by beat (particularly from A New Hope), that it can at times be almost a little too familiar. I got to a point where I could almost predict every major plot development, before it happened. There's even a few that aesthetically resemble major plot devices in previous films, and it often felt like pandering. 

But those moments, as large as they are, become dwarfed by the sincerity in the direciton, design, and performance behind every beat. The classic cast provides an A+ performance, in spite of all the fears that their age may get the better of them. To discuss any particulars would give away far too much, but I can confidently, without ruining anything, declare that C-3P0's reintroduction is the best by far (who knew?). The new cast is fantastic as well, giving us a new generation of heroes that we can eagerly look forward to following on their next outing. John Boyega's character is particularly charming and energetic on screen, providing the strongest performance across the whole bill. It's Rey's arc that truly drives the story though, and Daisy Ridley is delightful as the film's main protagonist. It's somewhat of a relief to see a strong female lead in a Star Wars film, which has a rocky history with its female characters. Rey is a new badass that every little girl can look up to. It's in the film's credit that no one really steals the show here either, as each character compliments the others. If there's anything to criticize, it is a surprinsly limited screen time with Poe (Oscar Issac) and Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie). 

I have many positive and a few negatives with regard to the series's new "big bad" with Kylo Ren. He is an incredibly intimidating and immensely compelling character to observe. In many respects, he is a new Vader figure, but several aspects that went in to the design of his character were so strange in conjunction with that role, that I believe that intention in his design works against the movie. To say any more could spoil some significant plot points, so I'll refrain. As a character, he's fantastic. It's even tempting to root for Ren at times, and his motivations make him deeper than Vader in several respects, which is a tremendous compliment. It helps that Driver makes the role his own, adding a significant amount of terrifying charisma (and surprisingly... humor) to this villain. We can confidently and excidedly look forward to his next outing, but let's hope they address the issues in the script first. 

The story is just what it ought to have been, and more. Full of heart, adventure, excitement, sorrow, and laughs (oh the laughs...). You are guaranteed to run an emotional gamut here. There is even a minor horror sequence which eerily resmebles the Alien franchise in several respects, so be prepared and maybe leave the littlest ones at home. There is a significant amount of fan service here as well, but unlike our experience with the prequels, everything seems to make logical and thematic sense within the framework of the story and the universe it takes place in. If you're a fan, you will cheer with delight with each and every call back, of which the film is packed from start to finish. 

Then there is the production value itself. Obviously, everything is immaculatey produced, but what is truly impressive is the level of detail and attachment that JJ Abrams and his production team clearly have with the franchise. The cinematography is immaculate; every frame, truly, a painting. The Costuming even provides significant callbacks to previous episodes, characters, and their respective roles. And, of course, John Williams's score is just as flawless as it ever has been. Your heart will sour as the orchestral strings guide your ears via each chapter, and it's particularly refreshing to hear something so classical and so un-"hans zimmer-ian" can still work in a major blockbuster. And of course, the immesnse love JJ Abrams holds for the franchise shines in his direction, pacing, and attention to detail. I would criticize him and writer Lawrence Kasdan for what I consider a few awkward plot developments that ought to have occured later in the story to capitalize on a stronger climax, but those are minor complaints (and major spoilers) so I can't get into that here. 

In short, this is what we've been waiting for. We weren't waiting for this three years ago when Disney first announced their acquisition of Star Wars, we have been waiting for a Star Wars film of this caliber for over 30 years. This is a style of storytelling that has been completely lost amongst all the shared universes, young adult film adaptations and "oscar baity" drama reaches. It's a simple and compelling call back to classical plot structure with immense heart and humor. It has some small flaws, but it succeeds in precisely what it ought to have done, and gave us a little something extra. Many may walk out of the experience feeling incomplete, frustrated, and disappointed for a very specific concern... but I can only respond by pointing out that this response can only be explained by how truly profound and satisfying the experience actually is, and that the experience must, by necessity, end somewhere. So be aware as you enter the theatre that the euphoria will last right up until the credits, and if you feel a twinge of rage, just remember... you may feel differently when you see the next episode in the next two... long... miserable years. But as you look back and rewatch The Force Awakens with that clarity, you will know without a doubt just how marvelous that experience was. We can confidently expect the same immaculate orchestrations within the franchise's future, because the impossible expectations were met here. 

It's a hope, that's awakened... oh gosh that's awful. Nevermind. It's a good movie. 

*5/5 Stars

*Unless you don't like Star Wars which will probably affect your experience significantly, and seriously what is wrong with you. 


Chris Keyes

Director of Digital Content