Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Single Sentence Review: These ARE the droids you're looking for.

The sights! The sounds! The light sabers! Star Wars is back. Seriously. This is a Star Wars movie. I know you’ve been tricked before, but these are the droids you’re looking for! You see, the director, J.J. Abrams, understands what makes us Star Wars nuts tick. He is one of us.

He understands that:

  1. Star Wars is an interstellar conflict between good and evil. And that both sides are captained by space samurai connected to one another by a zen enlightenment called The Force, not by intelligent speaking mitochondria.
  2. Star Wars is about a protagonist who struggles against confusion and against an antagonist. And when you are dealing with something as pretentious as good vs evil, you will probably need a good writer, to help us forget we are watching a soap opera.
  3. Computer Generated thingies are not there yet. They are easily spotted, and when you draw the entire background and half the characters of a movie with them, we cannot take it seriously.

The Force Awakens Rey with glassesTo those ends, Abrams starts by hiring Lawrence Kasdan, the author of little bobbles like Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Abrams has been very good at steering intellectual properties like Star Trek back on course while gathering the resources to modernize them. Along the way he hasn’t lost the fans. And remember this: Abrams had never seen Star Trek, and was not a fan. It was just an assignment for him. But he absolutely adored Star Wars and went into filmmaking directly because of the childhood love he felt for that franchise.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Official Trailer #2

When it comes to lightsabers, Abrams comes down firmly on the side of the original trilogy’s realistic samurai influences, and jettisons the Hong Kong styled wire-fu of the prequels. The result is that instead of the story being written around stunts, the physical conflict services the story.

Abrams crafted many effects practically, including the amazing new BB8 droid. CGI was used where necessary, but ships, cockpits and locations were built of real matter and the love of the craft shines through.

Perhaps even more importantly, JJ Abrams has used his incredible powers to summon forth a female protagonist in a science fiction action film. Oh, and a black male lead. Amid controversy, he’s still insisted on promoting a future for humanity that more closely resembles the way it actually exists: diverse.

Spoilers
Despite the victories, plot holes abound and the film lifts a little too liberally from the original. The heroes are once again searching for data hidden in a droid, in this case a map to where Luke Skywalker is hidden. Why Luke would draw a map to the place he went into hiding is never explained. Reading supplemental material, it appears that Lor San Tekka, who Poe Dameron is searching for in the beginning, helped Luke to find the first Jedi Temple. The map he holds will lead there, to Luke’s likely sanctuary.

The film’s pre-release protection of its secrets was hardly necessary. Those twists are obvious in their foreshadowing and execution.

Somehow the Rebellion is back, re-dubbed The Resistance. This is all very odd, as the rebellion won in the last episode and reestablished the republic. Who are they resisting? The Empire, of course. The new version of The Empire is just like the old one. They’ve even built a Death Star. But this one is bigger. It might have been more courageous to examine the ways which the New Republic had to learn to govern. How even a victory isn’t an instant panacea. But instead, Leia, the only one who can see The First Order as a threat, forms a resistance. This state of affairs is almost as convoluted as the Droid Army, Separatists and Senate of the prequels.

Save BB8
Exacerbating The Force Awakens’ plot holes is the fact that some characters really serve no purpose in this film. Poe Dameron doesn’t make sense in this stand alone film, and is hopefully more substantive in the sequels.

The Force Awakens is the first in a trilogy along with two ancillary side stories, for a total of 5 films, about one a year. The new saga is established. The heroes are clear. The villains have performed horrible acts, and we do absolutely learn what has become of Leia, Han, Luke and Chewy. No Lando.

The cinematography is beautiful, the sound amazing. The facile plot may have found itself painted by the numbers in committee, and the few surprises easily predicted by the faithful… But so what? Even the sometimes hammy acting can’t get in the way of the joy of finally returning to the decrepit world of empires and rebellions. Let The Star Wars begin.

Pre order your blu ray copy from Amazon now.

Plot: 3.2
Directing: 4.0
Cinematography: 4.2
Acting: 3.7
Sound: 4.7
Film Score: 4.0 (Out of 5)
How We Rate Films