Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Return to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

(Apologies again to my dear readers for the lack of content these past few days. For the sake of clarity for this post, there will be no spoilers of the film. However, there will be a description of the plot provided along with discussion of the overall story. If you wish to avoid even that, then simply know that I quite enjoyed the film. If you wish to know more, then read on.)

Back on May 25th, 1977, a film came out that would forever change the movie landscape. That film was Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, a space opera written and directed by George Lucas. Telling the epic tale of farmboy turned Jedi knight Luke Skywalker and rogue smuggler Han Solo joining in the rebellion against the Empire and the villainous Darth Vader, the film was a massive success. Wearing its old-school swashbuckling and sci-fi serial influences on its sleeve, the movie was a shining piece of entertainment that not only brought special effects and filmmaking techniques to a new level, it ushered in the world of the blockbuster picture. It would go on to spawn six films, numerous video games, several animated shows, and untold amounts of merchandise. With such a passionate fanbase for these films, it was only natural that there would be all eyes on Disney when it was announced that they had acquired Lucasfilm and were gearing up for a new Star Wars film. The passion became more focused as J. J. Abrams, himself an admitted fan of the franchise, would direct this movie. For the first time, the movies would be out of the hands of their original creator. Would this new film live up to the hype that has been stirred in the months counting down to its release? Frankly, I think it would be hard for almost anything to live up to such hype. Even if it may not totally match such high expectations, Star Wars: The Force Awakens proves to be another fun entry in the franchise.

The Empire has been destroyed, but all is not well. Legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker has disappeared, and from the ashes of the Empire has arisen a new organization known as the First Order. General Leia Organa leads a resistance force against the First Order, while the First Order includes the likes of a new villainous Force user named Kylo Ren and the ruthless General Hux. Both sides are spurred on in their conflict when information is discovered that could lead to the location of Luke Skywalker, with top Resistance pilot Poe Dameron sent to recover the info. However, Poe is found by the forces of the First Order, leading him to send his droid BB-8 away with the map while he is taken. BB-8 ends up wandering the desert and finds itself in the company of a junk scavenger named Rey, while Poe is saved by a defecting Stormtrooper named Finn seeking to get as far from the First Order as he can. Their paths converge as they find themselves pulled into the grand conflict between the Resistance and the First Order, along with the discovery of secrets and newfound abilities.

Frankly, I thought that this film was a fun ride. The new characters introduced in this movie make for excellent new additions to the franchise, whether it is the determination of Rey, the everyman nature of Finn, or the interesting study of villainy in Kylo Ren. They not only were good characters out of the gate, but their development and change over the course of the film was displayed naturally rather than just trying to use dialogue to say how they have changed. Returning cast members also worked well, particularly Harrison Ford once again playing the iconic role of Han Solo. It’s clear that he is giving it his all and he delivers on every moment of it. The humor is also effective in this. Rather than trying to force a singular comedic relief character or relying on goofy antics, the humor that does crop up arises naturally through fun one-liners. Most of all, the film really brings things back to the old-school derring-do of the original Star Wars trilogy. The action sequences are thrilling, but also help to move along the plot and show off the capabilities of its characters. Even the lightsaber duels bring things back to capturing the visceral power behind these weapons. Now, for all my good buzz, there is one area I feel was kind of weak.

When it comes to the story, I felt it was a bit thin. it felt like there were moments when it could have paused to explore certain characters or events more deeply, but instead chose to keep on moving itself forward thanks to its sheer forward momentum. Not only that, but it felt like a lot of the story beats of this movie were pulled from the earlier Star Wars films. In fact, a fair amount of these similar story beats seemed to have been pulled from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The result lends it the feel of being, in a certain way, a remixed version of A New Hope. However, when it does come to the story, I don’t blame Disney or J. J. Abrams for making the choice that they did. Considering the very different approach of the prequel Star Wars trilogy and the general response to their flawed execution, it makes sense to play it safe on this entry. With such a major film franchise in their hands, they would want to assure moviegoers that Star Wars will be in good hands. As such, it is completely understandable to make a film that would hew so close to the original trilogy. After all, the story may be a bit thin, but the overall work brings back the fun feeling that most think of when they think of Star Wars.

Despite my issues with the story, the fact of the matter is that engaging characters and thrilling action help to bring back that old-school fun and feel to Star Wars thanks to this newest entry. Now that we’ve had a familiar entry that does a good job of setting the mood and feel for the main series, I will be interested to see if the next episode will shake things up a bit with its story.

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