So where were you when the Science Fiction cinema sensation ‘Star Wars’ took shape and captured the imagination of the massive global moviegoers’ escapist expectations back in 1977? Regardless of whether you existed thirty-eight years ago or not, the legend of George Lucas’ highly-heralded SF blockbuster that shattered box office records worldwide was automatically engrained in your cinematic psyche. Now nearly four decades later, the motion picture phenomenon that took place in ‘a galaxy a long time ago…far, far away’ has come to expand its entertaining promise and prominence even after numerous servings of movie sequels, television specials and other fanfare attributes that promoted the ‘Star Wars’ agenda throughout the countless years.
The modern-day arrival of yet another ‘Star Wars’ edition in the millennium movie-making age of technical and tactical brilliance is quite fitting and filmmaker J.J. Abrams is the right choice to helm this sacred film franchise and present a whole new litany of continuing adventurous narratives for a new generation of ‘Star Wars’ personalities dipping their tenacious toes into ‘the force of goodness’ battling ‘the dark side’ of authoritative evil.
In Abrams’s reboot ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, the anticipation of enhancing and enlightening the reputation and respect of the Lucas landscape of stormtroopers, light sabres and of course the iconic ‘Star Wars’ returnees from the treasured trio of Harrison Ford (Han Solo)/Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) registers with a nostalgic blast of appreciation and exhilaration. ‘The Force Awakens’ is a sheer big screen celebration of majestic impishness and intrigue that will fortify the hunger of both casual and rabid ‘Star Wars’ fanatics. Indeed, the hype is warranted and Abrams, the mastermind of the big-budget movie sequelitis, is in top form as he triumphantly presents ‘The Force Awakens’ on a prized silver platter designed for its surging golden moments of charged ebullience.
In looking at the numbers game that is connected to the overall ‘Star Wars’ universe, it is hard to believe that the last prequel was released just a decade ago. Furthermore, it is mind-boggling that the aforementioned ‘Star Wars’ ‘royalty’ in Ford, Fisher and Hamill have shared the same space on film for the first time in over three decades since they last were featured in a ‘Star Wars’ movie together. Nevertheless, no one can deny that ‘The Force Awakens’ does not take the challenge in combining the remembrance of the ‘Star Wars’ installments of yesteryear with the fresh brand of current upstarts willing to engage in another boisterous saga that begins a whole chapter of compelling wonderment. The mix of veterans and novices in ‘The Force Awakens’ is quite interesting but the familiarity of the storytelling heft of good vs. evil is always a solid sell in the realm of the ‘Star Wars’ utopia.
The good news is that ‘The Force Awakens’ not only serves as a bridge that crosses both boundaries past and present in ‘Star Wars’ folklore but it taps into the masterful mystique that Lucas and company worked so diligently to showcase so historically some thirty-eight years ago. Still, some may have lobbied for a stronger storyline in ‘The Force Awakens’ as they may gently dismiss it as being merely thin in its premise while viewing it primarily as a launching pad to develop yet another series of movies to create the ‘Star Wars’ juggernaut for this current-day climax of warped speed wizardry. For those that want a basic outline of ‘The Force Awakens’ pulse it is as such where the beloved yet aging tandem of standouts Han Solo and Chewbacca (yes, good old hulking and walking hairball Chewie is back) is helping out heroic new bloods’ Rey and Finn (played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega)’ in an effort to groom them for combating the emergence of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a villainous representative from the Dark Side of the Force.
Basically, ‘The Force Awakens’ is a grand and stirring homage to the prolific Science Fiction/space fantasy that dared to soar its ambitious wings while taking the old-fashioned concept of the good guys sparring with the bad guys and spinning a whimsical web of dark imperialism while searching for the intrinsic value of brotherhood. One cannot imagine the vitality of ‘Star Wars’ without the inclusion of notable and favorite characterizations that were instrumental in inviting a ravenous response to this filming phenom that has existed in your pop cultural lives for too many years to recount. In addition to joining top dogs in Ford’s Han Solo, Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, Fisher’s General Leia Organa (the former Princess Leia to all you old school ‘Star Wars’ enthusiasts out there) and Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca, there is the welcomed presence of C3-PO (Anthony Daniels) as well. As for C3-PO’s newest sidekick BB-8, a mechanical rolling ball robot, he is the R2-D2 replacement that should easily win the heart of the kiddies looking for a cute contraption of a companion to treasure on the spot. It should be pointed out that ‘The Force Awakens’ is set 30 years from the last installment and thankfully this update has not lost a magical step since that time.
Anyhow, the First Order’s solar system mechanism needs to be destroyed and must be eradicated by the young talents in spunky and pretty Rey (think the athletic female version of Luke Skywalker) as she teams up with former stormtrooper Finn, a warrior with an uncharacteristic compassion for not killing any designated weak soul as instructed. Naturally, this duo (while under the tutelage of the mature and ragged-looking Han Solo) has their hands full as they clash with the nefarious General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson from ‘Brooklyn’) and his Special Forces protégé Kylo Ren that strikes an immediate comparison to ‘Star Wars’ most notorious bad boy in the deliciously ruthless Darth Vader.
Daisy Ridley's Rey and John Boyega's Finn are having a blast as the touted twosome out to save the day in J.J. Abram's celebrated STAR WARS reboot THE FORCE AWAKENS
Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn are having a blast as the touted twosome out to save the day in J.J. Abram’s celebrated STAR WARS reboot THE FORCE AWAKENS
Thankfully, the majority of the audience may recall similar elements in ‘The Force Awakens’ that was touched upon in ‘Star Wars’ editions such as ‘A New Hope’ and ‘Return Of The Jedi’ where the same structure and theme of the plot points are somewhat revisited. As charming and stimulating as ‘The Force Awakens’ appears in its glorious presentation of being a beautifully shot and visually vibrant popcorn piece, the real find in Abrams’ spectacular space-aged spectacle is Ridley’s heroine Rey, whose emotional and physical commitment to this futuristic fable feels grounded in genuine suspense and praise. Ridley has legitimate game and carries this hot and heavy galactic actioner on her sturdy shoulders with the overwhelming pressure of headlining a cinema giant looking the re-enter the consciousness of rabid ‘Star Wars’ aficionados everywhere. Clearly, we are invested in Ridley’s Rey whose feistiness never undercuts her feminine convictions or courageousness. She runs circles around her male co-stars in fellow ‘Star Wars’ newbies Boyega/Finn and Driver/Kylo Ren and her sense of empowerment is what drives the authentic Force behind Abrams’ inherited ‘Star Wars’ workload.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ gleefully ignites the flashy flames of giddiness that we all associate with George Lucas’ indomitable big screen creation. The signature flourishes from composure John Williams’ commanding musical score to the stunning and innovative technical tweaking to the mixture of the old and new guard in front of the camera all make for an eventful and exciting return to the universal staging for a movie-making moment that will stand the test of time, the immense pop cultural movement at the movies known as ‘Star Wars’.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
2 hrs. 15 mins.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Peter Mayhew, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels and Max von Sydow
Directed and Co-Written by: J.J. Abrams
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction/Action and Adventure/Space Fantasy
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2015
**The Force Awakens: A New Hope 2.0**
The highly-anticipated follow-up to the Original Trilogy treads through familiar waters, taking the "safe route" approach. Though The Force Awakens has its fair share of phenomenal moments and is definitely an improvement over the Prequel Trilogy, its reliance on using the Original Trilogy (mainly A New Hope) as a template feels nothing more than an imitation of events that occurred prior.
At the end of Return of the Jedi, the Empire suffered a great loss, with the destruction of the Second Death Star and deaths of The Emperor and Darth Vader. It was implied that Luke, the last surviving Jedi, would restart a New Jedi Order (based on Expanded Universe media, which has been declared non-canon by Disney). That is indeed what happens; however, a rogue student of Luke's slaughtered his peers, seduced by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order and adopts a new identity as Kylo Ren. In summary, the Jedi Order did indeed happen (off-screen), but gets wiped out (off-screen, again), leaving Luke the last surviving Jedi and retreats into exile (off-screen... seeing a pattern?). The Empire is basically resurrected as the First Order, with the Rebel Alliance becoming the Resistance, and once again, they're tasked with destroying a gigantic ball of death. Sounds an awful lot like A New Hope, as a modern-day "soft reboot."
Droid carrying top-secret info? Check.
Villain dressed in black with mask? Check.
Protagonist lives on desert planet? Check.
Discover that they're indeed Force-sensitive? Check.
Han Solo and Chewbacca escorting our heroes to destination? Check.
A cantina featuring a cantina band? Check.
Mentor figure (Obi-Wan in ANH, Han Solo in TFA) killed by villain? Check.
Battle of Death Star (Yes, I'm calling Starkiller Base a Death Star)? Check.
Does big ball of death get destroyed? Check.
Rey is indeed a Force-sensitive individual, but throughout the movie, she is just as good a pilot as Han Solo, is able to use a Jedi mind trick with ease, and easily overcomes the villain (Though it could be argued that due to Kylo Ren's injury from Chewbacca, he was weakened). There better be a damn good explanation as to why Rey is so strong with the Force when The Last Jedi is released. Anakin and Luke required training to become a Jedi, Rey is basically a pro with little to absolutely no training.
Finn... Though I did enjoy the idea of a Stormtrooper defecting from the First Order and eventually helping out the heroes, Finn got annoying quick. From cringe-worthy lines to his constant "Gotta get away from the First Order" state of mind, he should have been a more battle-hardened individual who eventually became disillusioned with the First Order. His more cowardly approach to defecting wasn't very well-executed. But I gotta admit that the relationship between him and Poe Dameron was well-done. Didn't feel forced, just felt natural. Him standing up to Kylo Ren in a duel made me respect his character a lot more. His battle with the other Stormtrooper was just amazing. I'm honestly hoping his character develops more in The Last Jedi.
I liked Poe Dameron from the get-go. From being a smart-ass to Kylo Ren to taking out multiple TIE Fighters, Poe is definitely a welcome new character to the Star Wars universe. Especially BB-8, just an absolute ball of cuteness. BB-8 was one of the two new characters that really stood out to me. Funny how Star Wars manages to make you like the droids so much.
Han Solo and Chewbacca play a substantial role in this film. Han Solo's death was beyond tragic, just seeing an iconic character we saw develop from a selfish, Force-denying individual to taking charge in dire times (putting his life on the line). Once Han Solo yelled out his son's name, I knew his time was up. Leia, now a General, doesn't really get much time to shine. She and Han have been broken up for some time now (I'm guessing since Ben Solo became Kylo Ren), but their bantering still remains. C-3PO (now with a red arm) and R2D2 (in low power mode due to Luke's departure) are basically given minimal roles in favor of BB-8. Luke Skywalker made an appearance in the very final moments of the movie, but does not utter a word. Just seeing his expression when Rey hands him his father's lightsaber was more than enough.
A quick summary of other characters: Captain Phasma, a more useless female version of Boba Fett. Maz Kanata, a color and gender-swapped Yoda who somehow manages to obtain Anakin's/Luke's lightsaber. Supreme Leader Snoke, a mysterious figure leading the new Empire (sorry, First Order) and first appears as a hologram (like the Emperor). General Hux, deliverer of a Hitler-like speech to his space Nazis.
Kylo Ren. In my opinion, Kylo Ren is the best part of the entire movie. Sure he worships his deceased grandfather Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and flips out into extreme tantrums, he is more than just an ordinary one-dimensional villain. He worships Darth Vader because he wants to carry on his legacy of killing the Jedi and achieve his intimidating status of being a ruthless individual. He is torn by both sides of the Force. He is indeed strong with the Force, stopping blaster shots in mid-air, freezing people in-place, and can probe the minds of others as a method of torture. His unstable crossguard lightsaber is appropriate for his uncontrollable anger and conflicted state of mind. Once he killed Han Solo, there is no hope for him returning back to the Light. He became a full-on evil person. I'm ready to see the damage he will do in The Last Jedi.
The action/set pieces were very well-done and that opening sequence with the raid on the Jakku village is one of the best and most chilling moments in all of Star Wars. The Battle of Takodana and the resulting battle was phenomenal and seeing Poe take out multiple TIE Fighters make him an exceptionally skilled pilot, even moreso than Luke. The final battle between Rey/Finn and Kylo Ren didn't feel choreographed at all, just felt like a battle between novices, unlike the highly-choreographed kicks and flips and lightsaber-twirling present in the Prequel Trilogy. Rey and Finn leaving Jakku in the "garbage" ship and the whole sequence through the Star Destroyer graveyard was beyond phenomenal.
Though The Force Awakens does indeed take steps forward to move the franchise forward into a new direction, it takes several steps back into familiar territory. And yes, it feels as if I have been ripping on this movie, but in my honest opinion, The Force Awakens is a solid entry to the Star Wars franchise. The action set-pieces were so well-done, the nostalgic factor of the Original Trilogy is prevalent, Kylo Ren proved to be a well-developed villain with room for improvement, and the relationships between the characters feels so organic and fluid-like, as if they're all cohesive with one-another.
My Rating: 7.5/10.0