Star Wars: The Force Awakens Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
To ensure maximum enjoyment, my review is free from spoilers and plot details. Instead, the following is mostly my experience as a fan and initial impression with STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (for the record, it is phenomenal).
My experience with STAR WARS, is probably similar to many as it is very personal. The first Star Wars (EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE) was released two years before I was born, yet it is the first film I truly remember watching. Probably because we watched it so many times. Like many kids, RETURN OF THE JEDI was my favorite, not only because of the Ewoks that so many fans have come to hate, but because of Jabba’s Palace, Jedi Luke, and the three battles all happening congruently at the end of the film. As I got older and my action figures moved from the sandbox to being neatly displayed on a shelf, my favorite shifted to the much darker THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I appreciated the big reveal between Luke and Darth Vader (even though I already knew it), the major cliffhanger of Han being frozen in Carbonite, and the tension-filled attraction between Han and Leia. But as a whole, I loved the characters, the spiritual parallels, and the basic struggle between good and evil.
I was an ecstatic college student in 1999 when EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE came out. My friend, a Flix66 colleague, and I loved the world of STAR WARS so much that we were unwilling to be let down, blindly accepting it as great. We both have since recanted that naive opinion from our youth. Of course all three of the films paled in comparison to the originals and George Lucas went from one of the most positive influences ever to ruining our childhood – an absolutely unfair accusation. When creator George Lucas sold the rights to Disney for a bajillion dollars and the directing hands went to J.J. Abrams, a professed fan and established director, “a new hope” seemed to arise.
As the original cast signed on to return and original writer Lawrence Kasdan (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI) joined J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt to pen the screenplay, my excitement grew. The teasers and trailers began to feed the hype machine and the film was becoming impressive. However, I still had a bad feeling about this, so it was with great trepidation that I went into STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS. Critics were informed that we were not getting an advance screening, and why should we? The beast that is STAR WARS has no need for us to inform the public. But a week ago, I received one of the most cryptic emails full of demands: “Do not share this information with anyone. You must respond back to get a subsequent confirmation or this email is void. Your location will be disclosed in a second email the day before the event. You must come alone. This message will self destruct.” Under other circumstances that might give me enough fear to lead me to the dark side. But this was an invite to a special screening of quite possibly the most anticipated movie of all time, three days before the release date. Of course we were sworn to secrecy that we could not divulge any information until it is released. Not to friends, family or even (gasp!) social media. To be honest, this was the COOLEST email I have ever received. My excitement level jumped several midi-chlorians (yeah, I don’t know what that means either) and I thanked the Lord for my good fortune of being a film critic.
As the Star Wars opening crawl began with the familiar John Williams score behind it, my heart pounded and goosebumps budded. What followed was an unexpected return to my childhood. It has been 32 years since RETURN OF THE JEDI and somehow, THE FORCE AWAKENS manages to not skip a beat, melding the cast and story to near perfection. There is a reason for all the secrecy as the story and characters have some reveals and surprises. Some are a bit more obvious than others but all will have fans giddy with intrigue. The action is exhilarating, the characters are interesting, and the story keeps moving at a healthy pace. There is a good dose of humor and plenty of call backs to the originals that are done tastefully without feeling forced (no pun intended). Seeing Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon had me smiling and the very mention of Luke Skywalker gave me chills. Weaving the old characters with the new, everyone comes together in a way that makes sense and furthers the story. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega do an absolutely amazing job leading the cast for a new generation and the old cast slips into their old characters with ease. J.J. Abrams clearly cares about the details, even enlisting many old film tricks that provide an authenticity to carrying on the series. Background character creatures and character development are all on point as the Star Wars universe is firmly brought back to life. The critical eye might point out a few dramatic lulls, some easy dialogue, silly character choices, or a very similar plotline to the original, but as we know history repeats itself, and in this case, I’m glad it does.
THE FORCE AWAKENS is obviously not the ground breaking special effects film that the older generation experienced with A NEW HOPE, but it is an incredible continuation that unexpectedly touched me emotionally on several occasions and brought back some rare feelings from childhood. I only hope that the younger generations can have that same experience. I for one can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the lightspeed space ride again.