(4 / 5)
Before we begin, I’d like to assure you, my wonderful reader, that I will not abuse your trust with spoilers of any kind. I’m writing this review only three days after the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and there are death threats flying through social media against anyone who posts spoilers. I hereby declare my review TOTALLY SPOILER FREE.
Episode IV begins a considerable time after the end of Return of the Jedi. Luke has disappeared entirely, leaving only one cryptic clue as to his whereabouts – a partial map, which depicts a star system no one has ever even seen. The Galactic Empire is long gone, the Republic is in its death throes, and the great past orders of the Force are gone – including both the Sith and the Jedi, of course. A new threat has arisen from the Dark Side: a group that calls themselves the First Order.
The Order’s head, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – a cryptic character in a familiar long black cape and black mask – will stop at nothing to recover the map fragment that promises to lead him to Luke. Through an unusual series of events, that particular prize is in the hands of a skinny little desert scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a defector from the Order’s rank and file (John Boyega).
This video strings together all the official teasers and trailers leading up to the movie — there is some scene duplication, so just watch however much you need to get the idea. Note that not all scenes or quotes you see in the teasers actually made it to the completed movie.
The one thing that really made me want to see this movie (aside from finally knowing what happens next in the Star Wars universe) is the amazing ability of modern technology. Special effects are just so much more “special” than they were in 1977, or even in 1983. Yeah, yeah, I know – we got to see cool effects with The Phantom Menace, The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith. That’s all well and good, but seriously, I wanted to see it in the same context as the original movies. Besides, even Revenge of the Sith was 10 years ago…that’s pretty much forever in the CGI world.
Prepare to be blown away on visuals: they were indeed quite awesome. My son and I got to see this in all its 3D glory in the theater – and honestly, if you have the option, just pay the extra surcharge for 3D. It’s so worth it. In case it’s been a while for you, just rest assured that there are no more chintzy red and green glasses or anything like that. Space scenes are breathtaking with high-contrast HD ships practically landing in your lap, and the pilot’s-eye battle view is just about enough to give you motion sickness. My son even confesses that he forgot for a split-second that the light saber couldn’t actually cut him.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end – or slow down into not such great things. For as seamlessly as new Star Trek movies have been added to the market, I honestly thought that Star Wars would manage something a little more original and well thought out. Perhaps it’s just that they wanted to give Star Wars fans of all ages a hint of familiarity after the trilogy of prequels, or perhaps the screenwriters were just happy to cobble together old ideas and give them a fresh coat of paint. Either way, the story line was sadly predictable and extremely familiar. This is really the only down point of the entire production – I still loved it, don’t get me wrong, but it was much more of an average 3-star story that used too many devices and plot twists from its predecessors.
Pacing was also off by quite a bit. The entire show builds up to the inevitable epic battle and final confrontation. Like, out of the 135-minute run time, a full two hours goes to introducing all of the new characters. You get to know and love the new leads, get to spend time with “old friends” from the original trilogy, then – make a two-minute plan to destroy the enemy, and execute that plan. Enjoyable to existing Star Wars fans for sure, but maybe a bit too much “class reunion” and not enough of the “explore the galaxy and defeat evil” that made Star Wars such a lasting and beloved franchise.
What it boils down to, I guess, is that I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of new worlds, new aliens and such things that made the other movies so much fun. The first time through each, you never knew what kind of creatures would pop out of the woodwork. Seriously, who saw Ewoks coming? Or even Gungans, for that matter? The Force Awakens offers a few new faces, but no true creative surprises.
I’ll admit, it’s great to see familiar older faces in the roles that, quite possibly, were the first place you ever saw them. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew all make an appearance to some degree, as well as a smattering of other originals. Don’t get your hopes up as to how much you might see the older characters, though…some of the trailers were fairly misleading on this point. As for the others – Ridley and Boyega are relative unknowns, and Driver has only a few more credits under his belt, but it is so easy to see these three as the faces of the next wave of Star Wars movies. Ridley especially portrays a particularly fierce personality that seamlessly moves her from a junk scavenger to someone who is ready to save a galaxy or two.
As a lifelong sci-fi junkie, I went into this movie totally prepared to love it wholeheartedly and then come home to rave about its merits. I still certainly liked it and will watch it again, but it just didn’t touch the same place as the previous movies. Even during what should have been totally gut-wrenching or heartfelt scenes, nothing. It was fun, it was enjoyable, and it may have made five stars as a standalone sci-fi movie. Because it’s Star Wars and we all walk into the theater expecting greatness, it is a tiny bit of a letdown.
Definitely still go see The Force Awakens, but expect it to feed nostalgia and that desire to see Star Wars in the kind of visual glory it was always meant to have. Don’t expect it to add a lot to the story. On a potentially happy note, it left off with a wide open storyline that promises a Star Wars: Episode VIII in the relatively near future.