A really long review about a galaxy far far away


by Wally C. (12)
As a lifelong Star Wars junkie, I’d never been as excited for the release of a movie as I was for the premiere of The Force Awakens on December 17th. I’d been following rumors about the movie’s characters and plot for more than a year, I’d watched all of the trailers and TV spots—dozens of times each—and I felt like I had every reason to believe that this movie was going to be great.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is fantastic. I’m sure there are eyerolls at this point because as a self-professed Star Wars superfan, what else was I going to say? Here’s how good The Force Awakens was. 10 years ago, I watched Revenge of the Sith, the final episode of the prequel trilogy, in theaters. I liked it enough to want to see it again the next day. I was so excited for The Force Awakens that I already had tickets booked for back to back days. After watching it the first time, I loved the movie so much, and was so overwhelmed by the experience that I couldn’t go the next day because I thought my heart would explode. Sound like I’m exaggerating? I’m not.
The Force Awakens is set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and is about two people who are struggling to find their rightful places in the galaxy. They embark on a journey, and along the way learn about their own identities and character. Along the way they also run into some old friends…
The two hour 15 minute long film feels much shorter because the story moves at a frenetic pace, driven by character action and reaction. The action places characters in situations where they are forced to make decisions, choices that dictate the progression of the plot. Old-school Star Wars fans who lament the vague, exposition-heavy nature of the prequel trilogy (Episodes 1-3, released 1999-2005) will certainly enjoy how the main characters of this movie act in response to immediate stimuli, and overarching motives are personal and easily understood. Ultimately, by focusing on the characters, director J.J. Abrams tells a story of discovery that retains the awe-inspiring quality of being set in a galaxy far, far away, yet at the same time is poignant, relatable, and very human.
Abrams also showed a preference for practical sets and effects, which might not sound like a big deal. You mean they filmed desert scenes in a real desert? That’s…cool? Sure, using real life props made the locations and scenes appear realistic, but make no mistake about it: as a Star Wars film, there is a ton of CGI. That’s not to say the practical sets were unimportant—in fact, I thought they were critical in helping the cast deliver the best acting performance in any Star Wars movie to date. I’m no actor, but it seems logical that it’s easier to act convincingly if you’re interacting with life-size ships, actual creatures, droids that move around by themselves, etc., instead of talking to yourself in an empty blue room.
John Boyega’s performance as Finn is energetic, emotional, and even humorous. As a British actor, he rocked an American accent that sounded better than mine, which made me somewhat envious because I’m American. This is the first time we’ve ever had a stormtrooper as a main character. Wearing identical armor and acting solely in response to commands from (usually evil) superiors, stormtroopers are often thought of as being a small step above robots. However, Boyega’s performance made him almost instantly relatable and someone viewers cared about. I have read criticisms saying that Boyega was over-acting in the beginning of the movie, and I can see how one of the early developments of Finn’s character may have seemed slightly rushed. Even so, Finn’s decisions made sense and were necessitated by the situation he found himself in, and the type of people he was serving.
As good as Boyega was, he may have been outdone by co-star Daisy Ridley, whose portrayal of the desert scavenger Rey was compelling and believable. From when Rey is introduced, she is an intriguing blend of sadness and hope, strength and empathy. She is a survivor, and at times displays the unwavering confidence of someone who knows she has the skill and tenacity to handle virtually any situation on her own. Yet in other instances, she seems unsure of herself or her own value, perhaps the residue of being abandoned by her family at a young age. Of all the characters, Rey undergoes perhaps the most drastic character development. In fact, some may argue that her character changes far too quickly, and that the changes aren’t explained enough. However, I think this is by design: after all, The Force Awakens is just the first part of a trilogy, and we’re meant to have these sorts of questions.
Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, is perhaps the most unique villain in the Star Wars saga. He is ruthless, reckless, and has a volatile temper reflected by his flickering, seemingly unsteady lightsaber blade. Without going too far into spoilers, Ren is no Darth Vader in that he is still learning about the Force and still trying to harness his considerable talent. Yet he is plagued by an internal conflict that becomes one of the storylines of the movie. Ren’s masked visage certainly inspires fear, but what makes him truly terrifying is that we come to understand how, by being a villain, Ren believes he’s doing the right thing. Once again, J.J. Abrams scores a direct hit with his casting of
Adam Driver. This is a far more nuanced character than your typical Star Wars baddie and Driver nails it.
Up to this point, I’ve been heaping praise on The Force Awakens, and that’s because I thought so much of it was great. That’s not to say there weren’t some letdowns, though I have to be careful here. Once again, this movie is part one of a trilogy. We are meant to be left with questions and speculation. We’re supposed to leave theaters wishing Episode 8 would come out the next day.
There were two motion capture characters in the movie, and in both cases, I thought they looked a bit too artificial. Though I liked the actual characters and the roles they played, there was a distinct contrast between how these characters looked compared to the creatures and settings created using physical costumes.  
I was also disappointed in the role of Captain Phasma, a female stormtrooper leader played by Gwendoline Christie. Captain Phasma had a lot of potential not just as a movie character but as a progressive statement. She’s the first female villain in a Star Wars movie, and her chrome stormtrooper armor is completely functional and not sexualized in any way. Unfortunately, Captain Phasma doesn’t actually do much in the movie, and there was one scene where another character did something that made me think ‘Captain Phasma should have been the one doing that’.
Starkiller Base (kudos to Abrams for referencing Annikin Starkiller, the protagonist for the original Star Wars script) was underwhelming, not for lack of power, but because it wasn’t treated with as much urgency as I thought it should have. It is a superweapon that can destroy an entire solar system, which is obviously frightening. The scene where the weapon fired is also handled very well. My problem with the base is that it seems like a rehash of the Death Stars from the original trilogy—in fact, one character even says, ‘It’s another Death Star!’ I also feel like as an audience we’re expected to know how devastating and terrifying the Death Stars were, and because of that, we’re automatically expected to understand that this Starkiller base is a big deal. I’ve watched the original Star Wars movies hundreds of times and I still thought there should have been more buildup or elaboration on Starkiller base. I was never truly worried that the base itself would be of much danger to the main characters.
Overall, the movie can be seen as too derivative of the original Star Wars films. Personally, I think critics who call the movie a 2015 version of A New Hope are exaggerating. There are certainly parts of the movie, most notably Starkiller Base, where there was a sense of ‘been there, done that’. Still, I left the theater feeling like The Force Awakens had moments reminiscent of Episodes 3, 4, 5, and 6, and added many elements that I never thought I’d see in a Star Wars film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t a perfect movie, but I thought it was a perfect Star Wars movie. I found very few faults with the movie, and from the characters, to the plot, to another masterpiece score from John Williams, all the things I loved about the movie were tripping over each other trying to get onto the page as I wrote this review. There are many subtle references laced throughout that are only there to make longtime Star Wars fans geek out, but the emotional content packed in The Force Awakens makes the movie one that anybody can enjoy. For all the people who have longed for the return of Star Wars, this will begin to make things right.