Star Wars: The Force Awakens (aka Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Director J.J. Abrams has been given the rarest and grandest of opportunities to direct the first Star Wars sequel in over 30 years. He’s had plenty of prep given how much effort he put into rebooting the Star Trek franchise - directing those films the way he would Star Wars. In many ways, he’s the right man for the job aside from being a huge geek for Star Wars. He’s solid at cleaning house on franchises in desperate need of a change (the last Star Wars movie in theaters was a pilot movie for the 2008 animated series The Clone Wars). He has a knack for keeping a picture visually pleasing and always moving (the Star Wars prequels are catatonic in comparison). But, most importantly, he knows what makes Star Wars so much fun.
He starts by creating new and likable characters. Though based on familiar archetypes of the Star Wars mythos, there’s a lot to like about the scrappy junker Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the emotional turncoat Finn (John Boyega). They have spirit, personality and quirk the way they become involved with the new struggle of the Resistance (the new Rebels) versus the First Order (aka the Empire 2.0). The plucky pilot Po Damaran (Oscar Isaac) provides the essential plot development for portions of the picture, but does so with plenty of charisma. Even the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is given a surprising amount of depth - even more than Darth Vader had in A New Hope.
Next, Abrams mixes in the familiar elements. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Han Solo - older and grayer, but still just as fun as he ever was with his furry friend Chewbaca. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has grown stoic as the General for the Resistance and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is spoken of as a legend worth seeking. And if you love the Millennium Falcon, you’ll get your monies worth. From returning droids to familiar creatures, a spoonful of nostalgia helps the originality go down.
Lastly, Abrams injects Star Wars with a fat dose of visual thrills and energy. Using a combination of practical effects and computer graphics, nearly every scene is bursting with excitement. Aerial dogfights, blaster battles and clashing lightsabers flood the screen with a true sense of adventure. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, all these scenes carry emotional drive and weight rather than just being pretty choreography.
But in an effort to keep the movie fun, intense and charming at a progressive pace, Abrams also puts his own stamp on the series with similar flaws to that of his Star Trek reboot. The story echoes quite a lot of beats from A New Hope and even tries to up the ante by making his movie bigger and faster. Remember the Death Star? Now there’s a bigger Death Star and it can shoot multiple planets. Remember how long it took Luke Skywalker to master a lightsaber and learn the force? Rey is able to go from zero to Jedi knight by the end of the picture. The speed of the picture is able to give every character just enough to do, but doesn’t allow for much deeper character development. It also doesn’t give much time to explain the current political situation of which side controls what - not even explained where it usually is in the opening text crawl.
Nitpicks aside, The Force Awakens reignites the beloved franchise in dire need of a dusting. J.J. Abrams has taken the series back to its roots and recreated that true sense of adventure once more. It’s a movie that expands the mythos and gives the audience some new characters to cheer for in this continuing saga. In short, Star Wars is cool again and worthy of its hefty market reach as an exciting blockbuster.