STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
2015, PG-13, 136 mins.
2015, PG-13, 136 mins.
Daisy Ridley as Rey / John Boyega as Finn / Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron / Harrison Ford as Han Solo / Adam Driver as Kylo Ren / Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca / Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa / Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker / Anthony Daniels as C-3PO / Lupita Nyong'o as Maz Kanata / Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke / Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux / Kenny Baker as R2D2
Directed by J.J. Abrams / Written by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan
Hindsight is a funny thing.
Back in 2005 when the last theatrically released STAR WARS film saw the light of day in REVENGE OF THE SITH many filmgoers – myself included – thought that we had essentially seen the end of George Lucas’ visionary, pioneering, and iconic cinematic universe.
when Walt Disney Pictures acquired the STAR WARS empire from Lucas back in
2012 and announced a new sequel trilogy to his own beloved original
trilogy, series fans were propelled into a newfound state of giddy
nirvana. Now, with Lucas out
of the picture and ostensibly passing on full creative reigns to Disney,
director J.J. Abrams, and former original trilogy co-screenwriter Lawrence
Kasdan, does (to quote its full title) STAR WARS: EPISODE VII –
THE FORCE AWAKENS still have…the Force with it after a relatively long
period of dormancy?
short answer: somewhat.
no new STAR WARS film – whether it be this one or any of the three
previously released (and somewhat unfairly maligned) prequel trilogy
efforts – would ever be able to re-capture that lightning in a bottle
aesthetic that Lucas so masterfully concocted back in 1977 with the first
film in the saga, which caused an unspeakably large seismic shift not only
in the film industry, but also in terms of our prevailing pop culture as a
whole. The central quandary
that the makers of THE FORCE AWAKENS find themselves in now is how to make
STAR WARS fresh, relevant, and entertaining again for a new legion of
potential fans. The sheer
creative challenge of paying nostalgic respect to the 38-year legacy of
Lucas’ creations is undoubtedly daunting, not to mention the limitlessly
arduous task of injecting a new film with an invigorating sense of intrepid
world and mythology building. On
a level of placating years worth of insatiable fan expectations and giving
them what they hungrily want, THE FORCE AWAKENS is on very sturdy and
assured ground. However, on a
level of truly being audaciously creative in terms of propelling the
series forward, the film is regrettably lacking in storytelling and
narrative ambition…at least out of the gate if one considers this to be
an introductory chapter to the next two films.
true to the classic STAR WARS films of old, Abrams and Kasdan don’t
waste time in the beginning stages of THE FORCE AWAKENS with a slow build
of wasteful exposition (even though some elements could have demanded more
explanation): they thrust viewers knee deep into the new story with a
headstrong immediacy and without ever looking back.
The film is set – somewhat appropriately, but mostly out of
obvious convenience – three decades after the events of RETURN
OF THE JEDI, during which time the Luke Skywalker (the last Jedi
Knight) lead Rebellion repelled and eliminated the vile Galactic Empire
once and for all…or did they? In
the shadowy aftermath of those events, the Empire rose from the ashes and
evolved into the despotic First Order, which definitely takes a
page out of the Empire’s playbook in terms of being a Nazi-esque regime
with universe-dominating delusions of grandeur.
Resisting the First Order is the…Resistance, which I’m assuming
is made up of spare parts of the previous Rebellion, something that the
script neither dwells on, nor satisfactorily answers.
blast it, where was the Tatooine-born farmer turned galactic savoir during
all of this? Revealed in the
opening title crawl, Luke (Mark Hamill) has vanished, leaving uncertainty
and diminished hope within the Resistance.
As a result of his abrupt and unexplained departure from the public
eye, the First Order has been able to lay waste to much of the galaxy, led
by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his right hand man/apprentice
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a cloaked, masked, and strong Force sensitive
being that has a rather obsessive fanboy-esque attachment to former Empire
baddie Darth Vader (depending on interpretation, this could be a
potentially sly meta-commentary on deeply devoted STAR WARS fans).
One of the First Order’s own Stormtroopers Finn (John Boyega) has
become disillusioned by his military’s murderous ways and has decided to
go AWOL with the help of recently captured Resistance pilot Poe Dameron
(Oscar Isaac). The pair crash
land on the desert planet of Jakku (which has a disappointingly familiar
look to Tatooine) and get separated.
manages to hook up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a local scavenger that comes
into possession of Poe’s own droid BB-8, which may or may not be the key
to helping take down the First Order’s new ultimate weapon and locating
the impossible to find Luke Skywalker. In their attempts to leave Jakku in a very recognizable
looking Corellian craft, Finn and Rey come in contact with the ship’s
previous owners, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew),
and the quartet decide to work in tandem with the Resistance (led by
former Princess turned General Leia Organa, played by Carrie Fisher) to
locate Luke and defeat the First Order.
In the meantime, the erratically violent and hot tempered Kylo Ren
tries to make due on his promises to his master to thwart the
Resistance’s plans once and for all…and all while having a very
personal stake in said endeavors.
FORCE AWAKENS is at its strongest on a level of infusing warmth, humor,
and dramatic pathos back into the STAR WARS saga that hasn’t been felt
in the series since its beginnings. The
new characters added to the roster of familiar faces are mostly well
realized on an individual basis and as part of a unified group.
John Boyega has the new film’s most compelling arc as a
conflicted man working on the wrong side that desperately yearns to be righteously good. Rather
surprisingly, he brings a goofy arrogance as his somewhat dim witted, but
wholesome to his core First Order turncoat that craves to the do the noble
thing and be a Resistance hero. Oscar Isaac has a rogue-like charm that’s immediately
winning in his somewhat underwritten role of Poe Dameron.
The two film standouts are, by far, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver,
the former displaying a photogenic luminosity while evoking a ferociously
determined and physically and cerebrally empowered hero that will
confidently carry this new trilogy forward (and how wonderful is it for
this new series of films to be headlined by a charismatic and strong
willed female protagonist?). The
most richly multi-faceted and gripping new creation is Driver’s Kylo Ren,
a maliciously driven sociopath that is compelled – and deeply troubled –
his desire to mimic his inspiration in Vader while appeasing his
master’s grand scheme. The
fact that this new villain pays off later in a profoundly dramatic manner
and stands uniquely apart from his past STAR WARS antagonists is both
noteworthy and commendable. If
anything, THE FORCE AWAKENS is definitely the finest acted STAR WARS film
is adept as well behind the camera, utilizing a healthy – if not
sometimes awkward – balance between computer generated fakery and real
life practical sets and effects. THE
FORCE AWAKENS has a richly textured and tactile look and feel that even
the impressively mounted prequel trilogy essentially lacked, which helps
to cement and emphasize this new film’s impressive character dynamics.
THE FORCE AWAKENS’ technological sheen is gorgeously realized at times, but in comparison
it lacks the conceptual design brilliance of Lucas’ films of old.
I applaud the film’s sense of environmental verisimilitude, but
Abrams and company seem a bit too tentative and hesitant in terms of
dreaming up the type of exotic and otherworldly locales that made the
WARS films such lush and immersive universes to get lost in.
THE FORCE AWAKENS has a sense of sweeping scope, to be sure, but
the overall design of its multiple new planets, for instance, has a
repetitive sense of Earth-bound sameness to them.
When the film does indulge in CGI, the results lack imagination.
For example, why utilize Andy Serkis’ formidable motion capture
skills to play a character that sits throughout the film in holographic
form, and one that lamentably looks like a discarded pre-production
concept? Even John
Williams’ legendary music score and themes seem to be puzzlingly muted
and lacking in the propulsively majestic tenor that accentuated the STAR WARS saga
into the grandiose space opera we’ve come to love.
again, repetition and an obvious and nagging sense of deju vu permeates
THE FORCE AWAKENS and subverts it away from attaining greatness.
The original STAR WARS films were engineered to be loving tributes to the gee-whiz innocence of the Saturday matinee adventure and sci-fi
serials that Lucas gorged on as a child.
THE FORCE AWAKENS is quantifiably the first STAR WARS film helmed
by…a fan, which means that Abrams and his crew are attempting, I think,
to lovingly reference Lucas’ original films in spirit and appearance.
On those levels, THE FORCE AWAKENS is an intended success as a grand
homage, and it's
certainly a giddy trip to see Ford, for example, strap himself back into
the role that helped propel him into superstardom without missing a
proverbial beat. Unfortunately, though, Abrams’ intentional throwback vibe
here gets in the way of series innovation and advancement. Upon even modest scrutiny, the overall storyline from THE
FORCE AWAKENS bares a startling resemblance to that of A
NEW HOPE in a multitude of key ways, leaving this new film feeling
like its made up more of recycled parts than it should be.
THE FORCE AWAKENS a trail blazing and pioneering sequel or a thinly
disguised remake of A NEW HOPE? Fans
and critics that have been so overwhelmingly swept up in the hyperbolic
jubilation of seeing a new STAR WARS film seem to be forgetting to ask
themselves this question while leaving the cinema. Abrams has really trapped himself within a thorny Catch-22
predicament: Not enough callbacks to the classic trilogy would potentially
offend fans, but boldly ignoring them altogether would have equally
irritated diehards of the series. All
in all, it’s somewhat dissatisfying to see Disney take the safest and
most pedestrian path possible with THE FORCE AWAKENS in terms of mixing
new and old characters in an overall plot that we’ve literally seen
before. Love them or hate them, at least the prequel trilogy took
calculated risks and gambles and dared to stand aesthetically apart from
the classic films. THE FORCE AWAKENS
is so driven by fan servicing that it rarely feels like it’s propelling
the series forward in truly revelatory ways.
THE FORCE AWAKENS concludes on a positively stirring, but questionable climax that left me asking far too many questions of the film’s logical usage of the Force as an entity in the story (the manner with which, for example, the film plays awfully loose on how the Force operates as a spiritual entity and who can or cannot use it at pressure-laden times seems to distractingly contradict the series’ very mythology). The film’s very cliffhanger ending may prove to be moving, brave, or frustrating (or a combination of all three) depending on your prerogative. To be absolutely fair, THE FORCE AWAKENS does many things exceptionally right. It evocatively recalls the series’ peak glory years while introducing us to a terrific menagerie of fascinating new personas that will help successfully propel us forward to Episode VIII in 2017. The film has a wonderfully nuanced balance between dramatic urgency and light-hearted merriment that’s a pleasure to behold (unexpectedly, this might be the funniest of the STAR WARS films). To his credit, Abrams has made a meticulously and proficiently crafted homage to the STAR WARS films of yesteryear that obviously comes from a deeply personal place from within that will resonate with viewers.
Alas, the limitations of such an approach holds this introductory sequel trilogy episode back from achieving a truly powerful sense of newfound awe and wonder in the underlining material that Lucas magnificently concocted nearly 40 years ago. Abrams uses and mimics the STAR WARS template and playbook well and to frequently exhilarating effect, but he rarely goes beyond it for inspiration.
MY CTV REVIEW:
STAR WARS' LEGACY: