The Force Awakens (2015) Review: A NEW New Hope
I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, I’ll start out with that. I watched the movies when I was younger, it didn’t really register with me the same way something like Terminator or Spider-Man did. I thought lightsabers were cool and Darth Vader was bad ass but for whatever reason, I could always take or leave Star Wars at the door. Having rewatched the films in preparation for Episode VII, I don’t think that’s changed, but I think I do “get it”.
It’s a classic good vs evil story, not very nuanced, kind of loud, and pretty damn fun when it’s good. Of course, I’m of the opinion there are only 2 good Star Wars films, of which one is half of A New Hope and half of Revenge of the Sith, so maybe I’m not the best judge. Regardless, I went into ‘The Force Awakens’ not too hopeful, but I wasn’t down on the movie either. At the very least I was happy to be back in a galaxy far far away.
And for the most part, the movie did it’s job. It got me invested in the larger plot of it and it gave me moments that felt like Star Wars at it’s best. The story goes that 30 years after the events of the Return of the Jedi, The First Order has risen from the ashes of The Empire. Kylo Ren, the new avatar of the dark side sees it as his personal mission to wipe out the light. On the other side of things, new additions to the cast are Rey, Finn and Poe, who serve as the new generation of heroes to fight in The Resistance against The First Order and restore balance to the galaxy. Again.
There are a few familiar beats, in fact, there are a lot of them. The parallels to the original trilogy are strong with this one and sometimes it works as a nice call back, but then 10 minutes later the familiarity becomes uncomfortable. In my review for Creed I talked about how that film had a perfect way of blending in references and themes of the old films, and incorporating them with all the new content. ‘Force Awakens’ has a few moments like that, but it always feels like it’s being held back by it’s gargantuan history. The movie actually works best when it lets go of it’s past, which is interesting considering the movie contains themes of…letting go of your past.
Those new things that work are peppered throughout the film but they’re never given time to come into fruition. Perhaps the most notable new is the younger cast. Oscar Isaacs, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver make up the new star kids on the block and for the most part they all do a great job selling their roles, and giving us reasons to care about this new adventure aside from the fact that it’s Star Wars.
Daisy Ridley is very much the main character of this tale and while she is good, I felt like I lacked something from her character. There seemed to be something that the movie didn’t want me to know until a later installment, which is fine for the franchise, but for this movie itself, I couldn’t help but feel like the television tactics of flashbacks and vague descriptions wasn’t enough, especially when it’s another 2 years until the supposed payoff.
I also have come to the conclusion (after a night of constant deliberation) that I flat out did not care for Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Adam Driver as an actor is someone who I’ve had disdain for since ‘Girls’ but that’s neither here nor there. Without delving into his character, I thought the way they explained his motivations and his portrayed his “evil” was so obvious and shoddy. The way he acted was like a parody of any villain without any proper backstory, even though Kylo’s backstory is the best thing about him.
Boyega is good in his role of Finn, the stormtrooper with a heart of gold, and while his character is an interesting idea, his development is sort of lax and kind of asks you to dig for it. Oscar Isaacs is definitely my favourite of the bunch as he gets to show a little bit of why he’s so revered and plus he’s Oscar Isaacs. The general problem across the board with these character is that the movie moves at such a brisk pace that there isn’t really enough time to get to know them. The down moments it does have are used to lay vague groundwork for the rest of the new trilogy. That aside, I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other and felt a sense of camaraderie among them and thought that while individually their development was lacking, it was cool seeing them all together fighting the good fight.
It probably seems like I didn’t like the movie. I did. It’s just there were some gripes with character and originality that have stuck with me more than anything else in the film. That’s exactly the problem with it. It doesn’t have a moment to make me forget the things that bugged me. Overall though the film is very well made, the action is very well done and is shot in a way that really puts it on display as a spectacle and lets you see every frame of the action coherently and clearly.
One thing I thought was interesting was just how funny the movie was, not that the Star Wars movies were devoid of humour, I just noticed there were quite a few direct jokes in the film instead of just snappy dialogue. I don’t quite think it fit with the movie I was watching, but the movie dispatched with the quipping whenever it would’ve sapped away the needed tension.
The best part of the movie is definitely Han Solo. Harrison Ford is doing his best job in years for playing the old scoundrel. There isn’t the lingering feeling that he’s outgrown his character like there was in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Aside from that Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, all the old guard feel organic with a new story and don’t distract you from the new things like the real best part of the movie BB- 8. I know I said Han Solo was definitely the best part of it but he’s not, it’s BB-8. BB-8 has the perfect blend of humour, utility and heart for a droid. He’s like the more emotionally stable younger brother of R2-D2 and C-3PO.
I’ll close out by saying that this movie has it’s issues but it’s in no means a bad movie. It’s in fact a very good movie and it’ll probably be discussed ad nauseum for the years to come, but it’s not a perfect movie. It’s problems will probably be rectified and explained in later episodes but as it stands for this film of 2015, they’re still there. The problems though can be overlooked in the overall escapade of the film as the movie gives you an adventure you can follow and a spectacle that definitely deserves to be seen on the big screen. I can’t think of a better film experience than sitting in the theatre that cheered at the opening crawl and the return of John Williams’ classic theme.
Rating: Big Screen Watch