Note: This is a relatively spoiler free review.
The Force Awakens is a wonderful ride. Even if it were a standalone movie not connected to the Star Wars universe, it would work on its own merits of over two hours of slam-bang, non-stop action adventure.
However, it is part of Star Wars, taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi and that’s both good and bad. First, good point is it barely references the abominable prequels. It stays in the original Star Wars universe picking up after Return of the Jedi.
Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher return and are absolutely wonderful both separately and together. In one of the wisest movie decisions ever made, each is allowed to look their age, not younger or elderly. Carrie Fisher is a general and carries the weight of command very realistically. Harrison Ford is Hans Solo grown a little older and up to all his old tricks as a sort of space pirate with his sidekick Chewbacca. Every scene they have is marvelously good. Maybe I can save space by saying the acting is universally good.
Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) star as nobodies who are suddenly thrown into the action and proceed to steal the movie.
The Force Awakens is about the force awakening in those two, especially Rey. A running joke is that Finn keeps rushing to rescue her but before he can, she rescues herself. She learns to use the force and even a light saber with such lightning speed you know there’s a huge backstory awaiting us in the next movie.
I’m trying to stay away from spoilers here. If you’re wondering where Mark Hamill is, that’s the driving force of the plot the search for Luke Skywalker.
All this is so good that the movie works at this level of pure action. So the question is whether it is Star Wars.
I said there’s good and bad. The bad is that it isn’t really Star Wars any more than Star Trek Into Darkness was Star Trek (see my review here). In each case, the movie is an Abrams’ action adventure that is perfectly done but the feel of the original isn’t really present. The Force Awakens stays closer to the feel of Star Wars than the other did to the original Star Trek.
It has so many references to other characters and plot points that the accusation has been made that it’s just a reworking of A New Hope. I myself disagree. While Rey could be seen as a new Luke Skywalker, her adventures and growth are different enough to keep this a new movie.
The Darth Vader character is handled very cleverly. Just as we wonder why he dresses like Darth Vader, we find out he’s an immature jerk, a wannabee who desperately wants to not only be Darth Vader but be even better, even more evil. This is a brilliant way to bring in a villain. I could spend a lot of cyber ink commenting on how this is a sign of the change in society. Darth Vader was a typical old fashioned villain. He was using his power to fight for the dark side. One felt he never did anything out of sadism but simply to further his cause. The new Darth Vader is truly evil, a psychopath lashing out in all directions. The original would have squashed him in a minute.
The Force Awakens ends up as simply a fun adventure ride that leaves you wanting more which is always the mark of a successful story. ~~ Marian Powell
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