As with any movie review, this opinion piece on Star Wars: The Force Awakens will touch on plot points from the film during our analysis of what worked and what didn’t. Now, it’s obvious if you’re a Star Wars fan you will see The Force Awakens, either in theaters or on DVD but mostly like during its theatrical run and you don’t want that experience ruined. Disney and Lucasfilm did their best to keep spoilers out of the film’s trailers and in fact they were so successful that many Star Wars fans began to doubt Luke Skywalker is even in this seventh film of the franchise. But now you’ve clicked on a Star Wars review link so either you don’t care if you read a possible spoiler or you’ve already seen the film and are comparing your reaction to that of critics. Whatever the reason behind your decision to click on this Star Wars review, please keep in mind before reading further that it’s nearly impossible to keep a review completely spoiler-free and the basics of the plot will be talked about. (However, almost everything mentioned can be picked up from watching the trailers and clips, also.) Read on at your own risk. Now on to the review by critic Kevin Finnerty.
–Rebecca Murray, Editor in Chief
“Skywalker has vanished” reads the opening scroll as the film begins. It seems since the alliance defeated the evil Empire 30 years ago a new sinister army has risen called The First Order made up of Stormtroopers and led by a new Dark Lord of the Sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They’re after a map which supposedly reveals the location of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has been missing for years. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), desperate to find her brother and have him join the fight against the First Order, has sent her best pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to a desolate, desert planet to retrieve the map from an ally, Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow). Unfortunately, Poe barely has time to hide the electronic map in his droid, BB-8, before a large army of Stormtroopers invade the camp, killing the residents and capturing Poe. Before leaving the planet Ren orders the troopers to kill all the camp survivors and all but one trooper obeys and slaughters the helpless, unarmed people.
Back aboard the main Star Destroyer, Poe is being tortured and questioned by Kylo Ren about the map. When Ren finally uses the Force to control Poe’s mind, he reveals the map is in his droid back on the planet. Meanwhile, the Stormtrooper who didn’t fire his weapon during the massacre is being investigated for his lack of compliance. He decides to help Poe and himself by planning an escape. Together, Poe and Finn (the now ex-Stormtrooper) steal a TIE fighter and after an exciting but short space battle with other TIE fighters and the guns on the Star Destroyer, end up crash landing back on the desert planet. When Finn (John Boyega) wakes from the crash he finds Poe’s jacket but no sign of his new friend. Not seeing any other choice Finn walks the desert headed for a large town off in the distance.
Meanwhile BB-8 has met up with a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who saved him from ending up being sold for spare parts and tells her through his beeps and whines that he’s on a secret mission for the Rebellion and that he’s waiting for Poe to come back for him. When BB-8 sees Finn, who has just arrived in town dying of thirst he squeals and beeps telling Rey – who like C-3PO understands the droids sounds – that Finn is wearing Poe’s jacket. Rey confronts Finn with her big battle staff and Finn tells her and the droid that he was with Poe but doesn’t think he survived the crash. Rey asks Finn if he’s with the rebellion and he answers yes, not wanting to admit he’s a former Stormtrooper. It’s then that Stormtroopers and TIE fighters attack the town looking for BB-8. Rey, Finn and BB-8 make a run for it and end up running into and taking off in an old “piece of junk” spaceship, fighting and frantically flying to survive. Once out into space the new three friends end up having their “borrowed spaceship” caught by a space freighter. Expecting Stormtroopers to enter, Rey, Finn and BB-8 hide in a hidden compartment but are discovered by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Rey and Finn tell Solo about the important mission BB-8 is on and Solo offers to get them to someone who can help in their quest.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a thrilling, action-packed science fiction adventure that not only brings back the Star Wars franchise but also continues the space fantasy saga in the spirit of the original trilogy. Newcomer Daisy Ridley delivers an impressive performance as Rey, the desert scavenger, loner, and gifted pilot who has been waiting for years since she was a child for her family to return for her. It’s her character who is the true heart-and-soul of the film and has the most emotional scenes, and Ridley rises to meet those challenges.
John Boyega is solid as Finn the Stormtrooper whose programming didn’t take and finds himself on the wrong side of the war, looking for an escape and finally joining the rebellion. He has good chemistry in his scenes with both Ridley and Oscar Isaac. Perhaps the only real flaw with his character is the fact that he is not effective in any kind of fight and has to be saved time and again.
Oscar Isaac is spot-on in his performance as Poe, the tough, hot-shot pilot of the rebellion whose mission it is to bring the map leading to the whereabouts of Skywalker to Leia Organa and the rest of the alliance. He portrays the role with the perfect mixture of seriousness and at times a little tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s too bad his character isn’t in the film more.
Without a doubt the best performance in the film is delivered by Harrison Ford returning as the much older smuggling pirate Han Solo. His entrance into the film infuses it with energy, humor, and sincerity that’s missing in the first part of the movie. Ford’s portrayal of Han this time out has more emotion, depth and heart than the first three films, conveying a man who is still very much a space adventurer but who has suffered some real personal losses and has regrets. It’s an older, wiser but still tough and cocky Solo Ford brings to the screen and it’s great to have him back.
One of the biggest disappointments with Star Wars: The Force Awakens however is how much it takes, borrows, and copies from the very first Star Wars film back in 1977. From having the secret map hidden in a droid just like the secret plans were in Star Wars to the fact the First Order (substituting for Star Wars‘ Empire) is looking for them on a desert planet, and on and on, including a Cantina/club meeting with all kinds of strange aliens and pilots looking for information and transportation to the rebel base. Not to mention a main character being introduced to what a lightsaber is and how to use it which is similar to how Obi-Wan Kenobi showed young Luke in the first film. Then there’s also a big space battle too reminiscent of the final battle against the Death Star in both Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. It’s too bad the writers and director didn’t come up with more new, creative ideas and scenes for this space adventure instead of just re-working and copying what was already done brilliantly in the first Star Wars film.
The action scenes, space chases, and battles are all exciting and well-choreographed but are not in the same caliber as the ground-breaking riveting ones in the original trilogy. The special effects are strong and effective, staying true to what fans of the franchise can and should expect.
Although Star Wars: The Force Awakens is too reminiscent of the first Star Wars movie it still has enough action, excitement, interesting characters, a great musical score, and strong performances to be a worthy addition to the space saga and the best Star Wars film since the original trilogy.
Running Time: 136 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence