Review by John Keegan

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens



In the decade since the release of the previous proper Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith, there has been much to bemoan and much to celebrate.  The majority of Star Wars fans, devoted to casual, were disillusioned by the flaws of the prequels and the insistence from Lucas that future installments were not in the cards.  The buyout of Lucasfilm by Disney, and the swift announcement of Episode VII, was a stunning reversal of fortune.  Not everyone was happy about the choice of director or the decision to scrap the vast majority of the Expanded Universe, but one cannot deny that the very existence of Episode VII is a cultural touchstone. 





Setting the story about thirty years later is a smart move, as it allows the existing cast members to pass the torch to a new generation.  The heart of the story is legacy; in fact, one can expect that the entire VII-IX trilogy will be devoted to it.  What will surprise many fans, especially those invested in the close-knit relationships that marked the Expanded Universe, is how badly things fell apart again, and how quickly.  This isn’t a new Golden Age for the galaxy, to say the least. 


For the most part, since this film is the introductory portion of a three-act trilogy, the full depth of the generational rift is only beginning to reveal itself.  That said, once certain relationships are revealed, the biggest twists of the story are rendered a foregone conclusion.  And until the pivotal moments occur, there is a barrage of foreshadowing.  To be fair, this was also true of just about every Star Wars film; it was never a question of how the story would unfold, but what the details along the way might be.  (The best film of the franchise, The Empire Strikes Back, is the only film that truly operated in unknown territory, which is likely why it succeeds so brilliantly.)






If there is a main criticism of the film, it must be the utter familiarity of the overall plot.  It is almost certainly intentional; if the theme is legacy and being trapped in the same old cycles of conflict and hatred, then it makes sense that history would indeed repeat itself.  But one could easily dismiss that thematic intent for sheer laziness; after all, wasn’t director JJ Abrams accused of telling almost exactly the same story in the 2009 Star Trek reboot?  (And ironically, there is a scene that all but lampoons one of the more infamously inexplicable moments of the Trek reboot in this film!)


In terms of the use of the “old” characters, there is a clear intent to evoke nostalgia.  Look beyond that layer, however, and there is a crushing realization that these heroes that toppled the Emperor and Vader were only a handful of people with limited power.  Han, Leia, and Luke didn’t go on to restore justice to the galaxy; they struggled with the reality that they were imperfect heroes in the first place.  The script offers only the most general of explanations; the rest is left to the audience’s imagination.  After the over-explanations throughout the prequels, this feels almost barren by comparison.  On the other hand, it slams home the notion that these heroes have taken on mythic status precisely because they failed to cement their place in history.  The war never ended, it merely evolved.






It also got bigger; without a doubt, Abrams will be accused by the snarky and displeased of simply taking the very first film (A New Hope) and just scaling it up to modern expectations.  There’s some truth to that; action sequences are more intricate and often jaw-dropping, set against a backdrop that is essentially just a bit bigger.  And yet there are some visuals that are absolutely beautiful, and about as far from the sterile effects of the prequel trilogy as one can get.  If there is one element that legitimately misses the mark, it’s the depiction of Supreme Leader Snoke.  It feels like a CGI character from The Hobbit strayed onto the set and wouldn’t leave.  The fact that Snoke is played by Andy Serkis is almost laughably fitting.


When it comes to the theme of legacy, of course, there are two sides to the coin.  If the larger state of play of the galaxy is underwritten, it’s because the story is almost entirely told from the viewpoint of the next generation.  By far, the most successful new addition is Rey, played by Daisy Ridley.  Ridley rarely falters, and even seems to shine when working with more established cast members.  Oscar Isaac is solid as Poe Dameron, playing the role with such magnificent arrogance that it’s often the script that seems like it can’t keep up.  Either that, or the script intentionally mimics some of the questionable dialogue of the previous films.







Adam Driver does a solid job as Kylo Ren, in what is a far more difficult role than one initially might suspect.  If Kylo Ren looks like a wannabe Vader with pretentions of grandeur, that’s because it’s established rather early in the film that it’s an entirely accurate description.  Kylo Ren is, in fact, all the more dangerous for it.  The weakest link, relatively speaking, is John Boyega’s Finn.  There is just something about his performance in a number of scenes that feels less than convincing, as if he’s trying too hard.  It’s nowhere close to the level of painful line delivery that pervaded the prequels, but it can occasionally throw off the rhythm of a scene.  It was so noticeable that one would hear comments from the audience when it happened.


It may seem like The Force Awakens is riddled with problems, but let one thing be clear: this film easily holds up at the same level as films from the original trilogy.  Perhaps not on the same level as Empire, but as a follow-up to Return of the Jedi, it is more than capable and perhaps even a return to form.  As with any film with the tremendous cultural expectations and setting the tone for a revival of a beloved franchise, imperfections will become glaring, even when a reasonable perspective is applied.  The bottom line is that this is about as strong a return to the Star Wars universe as one could expect, and it’s going to be a long wait until Episode VIII!

Our Grade:
B+
Your Grade: A-
(Based on 6 grades)
The Good:
  • At least as good as Return of the Jedi, if not better
  • A solid theme of legacy pervades the entire production
  • The new characters are engaging and largely hold their own
The Bad:
  • John Boyega’s performance is occasionally weak
  • The plot of this film is almost distressingly familiar

John Keegan aka "criticalmyth", is one of the hosts of the "Critical Myth" podcast heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @criticalmyth

Review by - 12/20/2015 3:40 PM5668 views

Your Responses

Flaco_Jones
Flaco_Jones
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: B
Solid outing and while I loved the new cast I was disappointed by the predictable story and very similar plot points to Episode 4. Still now that all of that is out of the way, I am really looking forward to the next film and they did a good job setting that up. I mean they can't continue to siphon more plot points off the original trilogy, can they?
See 5 More Concurring Opinions
skie
skie
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: A-
Who knew that the director of the Star Trek reboot would in fact deliver us Star Wars: The Next Generation, which surpasses the original in many ways, and certainly the animated series (jar jar was basically animated) between it. Extraordinary new characters, in particular BB8. My chief and minor complaint is that the movie was extremely predictable, I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Didn't lessen the popcorn fun, and bring on episode 8.
DarkTetsuya
DarkTetsuya
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: A
I saw it late at night on a friday... gotta say I think JJ really delivered with this one! Everything that you loved about the previous films (blaster battles, x-wing vs. tie fighter dogfights, lightsaber duels) TFA has all of that stuff! Though it did kinda seem like one of those movies that are a sequel and a reboot... but still its an enjoyable ride for any fan of the franchise. definietly go see it!
ssj100matt
ssj100matt
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: B-
I finally managed to see this Friday and successfully dodged all spoilers. I have to say that it was a good start by Abrams on the new series. The characters are interesting and a lot is left open for exploring later. Thankfully it wasn't all about the Jedi's. My main complaints were that it was painfully formulaic and really too similar to Episode 4. But for what it is, it's a solid Star Wars flick. I'll be looking forward to the next movie
TigerClaw
TigerClaw
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: A+
I saw the movie on Saturday afternoon in 3D, and it exceeded my expectations, Star Wars is finally back, and in a big way. The new cast were pretty good, and it was great seeing the old cast back in the this film. This movie is the start of a brand new trilogy, and episode 8 will surely answer some of the questions from The Force Awakens. It's finally great to have Star Wars back on the big screen.
Rageinator
Rageinator
CONCURRING OPINION

Grade: A+
I just saw the movie yesterday (Wednesday 12/30/15) & all I can say is WOW! The movie was E-P-I-C! I loved every last second of it, from the opening scroll to the end credits.... seeing returning familliar faces, plus new characters. And without going too deep into spoiler territory, a "major event" involving a returning character certainly came as a surprise. Additionally, I'm glad that JJ Abrams didn't get a major lensflare boner in the movie & went crazy with it a la Star Trek 2009.

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Comments

TigerClaw
TigerClaw
12/20/2015 4:11 PM

0 0

Reply
I saw the new film on Saturday, Star Wars is finally back, I can't wait for Star Wars: Rogue One, which is the first of a new set of Star Wars anthology films on December 2016.

So there is more Star Wars to look forward to next year. :)
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