By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 9 out of 10
Note: I will do my best to ensure that this is a non-spoiler review, but read at your own risk in case you can analyze between the lines.
Taking our seats in the theater roughly an hour before the 7:40 p.m. showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I spent some time thinking about every first showing of a Star Wars movie that I’ve experienced. The wonder of seeing A New Hope for the first time on a big screen in 1997, my first exposure to a galaxy far, far away. Watching The Phantom Menace when I was nine and covering my eyes because I knew something bad was about to happen to my favorite character in the movie, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Three years later, sitting in the same seats at Rome Cinema 8 for Attack of the Clones and watching as one of my best friends saw his favorite character, Jango Fett, not make it through the final battle scene. Being engrossed in Revenge of the Sith from beginning to end. All of those emotions and experiences came back as the minutes ticked away until the beginning of The Force Awakens.
When the Lucasfilm logo shined across the screen, the crowd in the packed theater at Cinemark 17 and IMAX in North Dallas started to cheer. When the first note of John Williams’ famous score echoed across the speakers, a smile came to my face, a smile that didn’t leave until well after the credits rolled.
Star Wars is back, and The Force Awakens is a dynamite resurgence to the franchise. J.J. Abrams has quelled the doubters and delivered the best Star Wars movie since 1983, returning the feel of the original while debuting a slew of new characters that steal the show and can carry the franchise to new heights for years to come.
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens follows the adventures of Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) as they are thrust into an intergalactic struggle between the First Order, marshaled by the mysterious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Rey and Finn’s journey leads them on a collision course with destiny, the legendary Millennium Falcon, and its pilots, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
The success or failure of The Force Awakens relied directly on the capacity of the newcomers to the franchise, all of which have their moment in the spotlight and knock it out of the park. The star of The Force Awakens is, unquestionably, Daisy Ridley as Rey. A dominating force on screen as soon as she makes her first appearance, Rey’s journey throughout the film is a sight to behold, and is perfectly handled by the young Ridley.
Adam Driver also makes a tour de force as Kylo Ren. Ren is easily the most complex character in the film, toeing the careful line between calculated evil and outright craziness to a degree that leads to unpredictability. The spotlight is firmly placed on Rey and Kylo during The Force Awakens and for good reason, these are the two characters that are going to pilot this new trilogy and fans can be assured that the franchise is in incredibly capable hands.
One surprising outcome of the movie is how many comedic moments there are, many of which flow through Boyega’s turn as Finn. A former stormtrooper turned resistance fighter, Finn’s character arc is fascinating to watch throughout the movie. He is, by far, the comedic center of the film and has some phenomenal moments, especially during the third act. The same can be said for both BB-8, the droid that almost makes us want to break up with R2-D2, and Chewbacca, both of which have their memorable moments.
Despite all the fresh faces in the mix, it is Harrison Ford who has the time of his life taking another ride in the Millennium Falcon. Having several members of the original trilogy in the mix was great to see, but it’s Solo who has the most time in the spotlight and does the most with it; the hero that we all have come to know and love is back and brings all the nostalgia of the original, including several verbal references to memorable moments of A New Hope.
A surprising casualty of the immense character development paid towards, Rey, Finn and Kylo is the attention paid towards some of the other characters who have been strongly promoted throughout the development of the film. The obvious victim is Captain Phasma, who has surprisingly little screen time compared to the remainder of the cast. Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) is another case, although he does have a solid amount of time on screen
In regards to the super secretive plot, it’s safe to say that The Force Awakens isn’t a film that you watch, in stark contrast, it’s a film that you experience. The plot moves swiftly from scene to scene, and there is a lot of information to process, necessitating multiple viewings. Obviously without dipping into spoiler territory, The Force Awakens is an emotional journey, especially for die-hard Star Wars fans. Those same fans will be able to draw parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope, which could upset some looking for a purely fresh experience.
One scene in particular will jar die-hard fans to the core, but follows one of the most heartbreaking moments in the history of the saga with an immensely heartwarming moment, an exhibit of how well J.J. Abrams handled the volatile weapon that this new Star Wars movie could have been. There are several of those moments throughout the movie, moments that will leave the fans thinking and eager to re-watch the movie just to get another clue of where the franchise is going next.
And perhaps the ambiguous aspect of The Force Awakens is the best part of this new chapter in the Star Wars saga; there are so many questions left over once the credits roll. It’s so easy to forget, with all the hype and circumstance attributed to this new film, that it’s a part of a new era of Star Wars, and The Force Awakens will leave you eagerly awaiting Episode VIII.
We live in an age where a handful of franchises are rebooted on an annual basis, many of which fail. Several have become bannisters of a franchise re-boot done right (i.e. James Bond, Star Trek, X-Men, Batman), and now Star Wars can be added to that list. The Force Awakens is a success on nearly every level and will satisfy a majority of Star Wars fans, all but those who are looking for faults in J.J. Abrams’ new space opus. A fresh cast, plenty of nostalgia and an amazing story will leave fans eager for the next chapter in a galaxy far, far away.