— Spoiler-Free and Spoiler-Filled Reviews —
Whether you’ve been waiting nearly 40 years or 10, we’ve all had to the wait the last 3 years the same, but now Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally here! Without a doubt it simply doesn’t matter how long you’ve waited for the film, as its excellently played new characters, rollicking adventurism, sense of humor, emotional heartbreak, nostalgia fueled story, and mythos expanding moments will bring out the kid in all of us. It’s a magnificent film, jolting the franchise with a breath of fresh Force, and it’ll long be debated on whether its the best Star Wars film or not. I don’t have my personal answer to that yet (I’m sure I will eventually), but it’s certainly in my top three and my review covers all the reasons why. (PLEASE NOTE: The spoilers are hidden at the very bottom of the review, even past all the links to my other reviews, so you’ll have to go out of your way to run into them!)
When the first words of the opening crawl mention Luke Skywalker has vanished (some unnamed time before the events of the film), you know you’re in for a galaxy like you haven’t imagined before. However, it quickly becomes clear that as much as the galaxy has changed since Return of the Jedi, much of it has stayed the same, as there’s still evil to face and those with the potential for good to fight it. When Poe Dameron, General Leia’s most trusted pilot of the Resistance, gains the map to Luke Skywalker, the First Order is not far behind. Captured, Poe finds help in the form of a stormtrooper with a conscious named (eventually) Finn, and their escape leaves Finn on his own in the wastelands of Jakku. But when he crosses paths with the solitary but hopeful and resourceful scavenger Rey, and her new droid friend BB-8 (who is everything I wanted from the droid and then some), their fates are inseparable as they flee the First Order and attempt to return BB-8 and his map of Luke to the Resistance. But the First Order, fueled by Kylo Ren’s near obsession to obtain Skywalker’s location first, is always one step behind. And when they unleash the true terror that is Starkiller Base, can the Resistance stop the weapon in time to live to fight another day?
One of the single biggest things that makes The Force Awakens work so well is its cast of characters, specifically the new characters in Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. Poe, the first character we meet, is as cocky as a pilot should be and more devoted than Han ever could be to a higher cause beyond his own skin. He might not get as much screentime as Rey and Finn, but his piloting skills are shown off in several impressive scenes, leaving an impression fans won’t soon forget (thanks to Oscar Isaac’s performance as well). His interactions with Finn definitely warrant them a buddy film which would follow them as they go on adventures across the galaxy together, bumbling through things while still coming out on top. Finn, a stormtrooper who’s first mission leaves him cold to the First Order’s ideals, is the every man character we can all relate to, given life with hilarious near-pefection by John Boyega. Finn’s interactions with every character are a joy to watch, as his determination to do the right thing and save the girl who doesn’t need saving are enduring and funny, giving the movie a new Han Solo character even when it already has plenty of Han Solo.
And then there’s Rey, the lonely, resourceful, mechanically adept, and hopeful scavenger left on Jakku as a little girl. Daisy Ridley is charming in the role, selling all of Rey’s strengths and weaknesses wonderfully, helping aid Rey’s interesting and ever-evolving journey throughout the film. J.J. Abrams and team have truly given a lead female actress the role of a lifetime by making Rey into a real person going through extraordinary circumstances, while her resourcefulness and fighting spirit make her someone everyone can root for. And by the end of the film, fans of all ages and genders will be rooting for her as she steps into her own and accepts the destiny she’s been denying since first being thrust on the adventure within The Force Awakens. She’s easily my favorite character from the film and will be a true inspiration to all fans for years to come (Jason Fry, a very prolific author of Star Wars books, says it better than I), while The Atlantic has a wonderfully written piece about Rey being the first feminist protagonist in Star Wars). Of course there are some lingering questions around Rey, like what’s her last name for starters, and getting to see where the following sequels take her is one of the main reasons I’m looking forward to more Star Wars.
Rey’s journey might have been my favorite, followed by Finn, but Kylo Ren’s story is the one that leaves the biggest questions and brings emotional moments to all parts of the film. His entrance in the film is both reminiscent of Vader’s but at the same time it establishes he’s more frighteningly powerful (the way he stops Poe elicited a gasp from me) instead of purely menacing in stature like Vader. The conflict he has within, expertly handled by Adam Driver’s acting chops, is central to many parts of the film in exciting, sad, and mythos expanding ways which will leave fans with questions we all hope will get answered in the following sequels. His interactions with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) speak to a distrust rooted in more than just idealism, while their dependence and desire for Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) favor/acceptance should play an important role in the story yet to come. Snoke’s design and the way he presents himself has a similar flair to the Emperor’s, but his goals and backstory are different, or at least as far as I can tell considering they remain a mystery.
As great as the new characters are, they almost get overshadowed by a bravura performance from Harrison Ford in his highly anticipated return as the scruffy-looking nerf herder, Han Solo. You’ll be grinning like a fool even before he shows up on screen, but you won’t be able to stop once he, and the always lovable Chewbacca, gets thrown into the mix. As funny and important as his role is in the film, it’s also fraught with emotional scenes and I couldn’t keep from tearing up a little bit each time he and Leia shared a scene together, hashing out their issues and revealing what the deal is with their relationship at this point. Leia’s role isn’t nearly as big, but Carrie Fisher still has it in the spunky department, but can switch on the feelings quickly. The sense of time these two characters have experienced since we saw them last is palpable, thanks mostly to Ford and Fisher’s acting and chemistry, but also to the dialogue. As for Luke Skywalker, well, I won’t go into that because…well…you’ll know once you’ve seen the movie.
The story of The Force Awakens mirrors A New Hope in broad strokes, but it’s actually to the movie’s benefit rather than detriment. The First Order is simply looking to enforce order on a galaxy it perceives is in chaos due to the New Republic and their unsanctioned Resistance-labeled army, much like the Empire was into crushing chaos with its version of order as it ruled the galaxy. There’s a big enemy weapon that needs destroying (complete with trench run!). A young, naive, and wishful character thrust into a larger world. A small band of rebels fighting against a larger enemy. These moments, and the many callbacks and Easter eggs within, strengthen our feelings towards the characters and their world by JJ/Lawrence Kasdan’s understanding of the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and how relying on what helped start off the originals everyone’s so fond of could be used as the building blocks to get everyone excited for the newest trilogy.
On top of the nostalgia and characters within, the film’s sense of humor, emotions, and exhilarating fun due to its story and the overall pace of events will keep fans coming back for more viewings. It wouldn’t be impossible to leave the theater afterwards giddy and excited over the film and all the new information it throws at viewers, as I certainly left the theater in a daze after getting to talk for a bit with my friends about what we all witnessed. Aiding all the above is the special and visual effects for the film. Never have X-wings, TIE Fighters, the Millennium Falcon, and lightsaber battles look this good before, while BB-8 makes any CGI-disgruntled fan question their sense of what’s real or isn’t due to the excellent editing work done for the memorable ball droid. In fact, even out and out CGI characters like Snoke and Maz Kanata (or those rathtars!) surpassed anything we’ve seen in Star Wars films before, making them believable alongside the actors at a level film technology is finally allowed to do. JJ Abrams has filmed an incredibly fun movie, giving the action the time and visuals it deserves, while hitting emotional moments with both gravitas and a bit of humor.
A quick hit of some of my favorite (in no particular order) non-spoilery bits: the final lightsaber battle; Poe’s big showoff scene above Takodana; Rey throughout, especially towards the end; Finn’s false insistence he’s a member of the Resistance (and how quickly Han smells the lie); Han Solo being Han Solo; General Hux’s speech; the Jedi Mindtrick scene; Leia still being feisty; Who Maz considers her boyfriend; Kylo Ren’s turmoil; Seeing the Falcon in action again.
Here are a few other things:
- Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) is a fun, but somewhat under utilized new character. Her fate is left open, as we don’t see much of her after the First Order attacks her castle, but I’m hoping it won’t be the last time we see her in this new trilogy (or in the saga as a whole, whether its comics/books/video games…whatever). Captain Phasma is also under utilized, though the situation she goes through would lend to some fierce retribution in the next film.
- If you want to know a little more about the First Order, the StarWars.com databank expands on their history, and the Empire’s, a little more than the movie tries to. The mention of members of the Empire gathering in the unknown regions to consolidate power is something we’ve seen in both Lost Stars and Aftermath, and its something I theorized a bit about as the moment where we might get a canon version of Thrawn. In fact, all the databank entries contain a little more background info regarding some of the broad moments of the last 30 in-universe years, like how Leia founded the Resistance and how the New Republic feels about it.
- Starkiller Base seems like a mix of superweapons from the Legends-verse, as it can shoot through hyperspace like Centerpoint Station and it takes power from suns, effectively destroying them like the Sun Crusher did, which took out whole solar systems.
- Having read the Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens short story collection, as well as The Perfect Weapon short story, it was cool to see those characters in the film and already know who/what they are. The Frigosians probably got what they deserved when the First Order visits the castle.
- Snap Wexley (played by Greg Grunberg), who does the recon flight of Starkiller Base (off-screen) towards the end of the film, isn’t just related to Temmin or Norra Wexley from the Aftermath novel….he is Temmin! Too bad there wasn’t a sighting of Mister Bones with him!
- I don’t think this possibly deleted scene isn’t as major as Den of Geek’s headline suggests, but it certainly would’ve been cool to see Chewie finally do that on screen!
- There was some back and forth if Daniel Craig had a cameo in the film and EW has sources which confirm he did. And, being a big Bond fan, a second viewing definitely allows me to independently confirm Craig is in the film.
- As I had theorized, the Resistance is born from the New Republic’s need for an army, as they followed through on Mon Mothma’s ideas to demilitarize the government. Something the film’s novelization and Visual Dictionary confirm, according to Story Group member Pablo Hildalgo.
- As of this writing, The Force Awakens‘ TomatoMeter sits at 95%, one whole percentage above both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, in case you care about that type of thing or want see how they ‘rank’ critic-wise. In the end though, we’ll all personally rank it however we see fit and my review so far should tell you where I might end up ranking it.
- Andi Guiterrez at StarWars.com has some fun questions for the cast and she gives them all lollipops of their characters. Some of the most fun I’ve seen the cast have in interviews!
- JoBlo Movie Trailers has featurettes on the BTS of TFA, regarding shooting in Abu Dhabi, the story, and the stunts. (via ClubJade)
- The entire soundtrack is on Disney’s Vevo YouTube (with ads) so if you want to give it a listen, especially say Rey’s Theme (another bona fide hit from John Williams) then head on over. Overall, Williams delivered as one would expect him to do.
- New Republic: Bloodline sounds like a possibly way more interesting book after seeing the film, considering it takes place 6 years prior and could star some characters vital to TFA’s story.
- There is no reason Rey should be considered a ‘Mary Sue’ and io9’s Charlie Anders proves exactly why, while asking everyone to stop spreading it.
- Prior to TFA‘s release, I created a song for Rey which parodies Frozen’s, “Let it Go,” and the lines hold up pretty well after seeing the film.
- UPDATE: The film was more than likely going to break some box office records, but it basically broke every single one it could in an opening weekend. Now the waiting game to see how much it makes overall! PART 2: The film broke Avatar’s domestic record in a blazing fast 20 days to become top grossing film and will become the first to cross $800 million. It likely won’t beat Avatar’s worldwide gross ($2.7 billion), but it could at least come in second over Titanic ($2.1 billion). Only time will tell. The folks at StarWars.com thanked all the fans for helping propel the film to such box office heights.
- UPDATE: The Dejarik chess board cameo? Not CGI!
While Star Wars hasn’t been “gone” in the last ten years thanks to the excellent animated shows The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels (as well as books and comics), the potential for so many people to think it’s “back” again means The Force Awakens has done the job it set out to do: start off a whole new era of Star Wars, bring back fans who left, and encourage more consumption of the Star Wars saga no matter the form it takes. Engaging, thrilling, and unforgettable, The Force Awakens is a return to form and can comfortably sit among the top films of the saga (though which ones those are for you might be different for everyone else. Such is the nature of being a Star Wars fan).
+ New characters are excellent additions to the saga
+ Outstanding acting from both the new…and the old
+ …but also emotional (tears of sadness and joy are expected)
+ Story opens up galaxy and leaves many questions to be answered and debated
+ Nostalgia and Easter eggs
+ Stunning CGI and practical effects
JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
THE SPOILERS AWAKEN
This is the final warning: go no further if you don’t want to be spoiled
Alright, can’t say I didn’t warn you!
So, you want some The Force Awakens spoilers hey? Well, lets dive right into the big one/two!
A) Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. How crazy/cool is it that Han and Leia call their son Ben, much like Luke in Legends called his son Ben? But what isn’t crazy/cool is what Ben has done to become Kylo: destroy Luke Skywalker’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order. I believe the vision Rey has when picking up Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber contains a glimpse of that scene (and other cool moments), where Kylo and the Knights stand over slaughtered bodies in the rain as seen in the trailers. While it seems Supreme Leader Snoke drives Ben to the dark side, what else factors into it? Han might’ve had something to do with it, or at least didn’t help the matter, and he suffers for it. I’m still pretty emotionally distraught over the idea of just getting to learn about Han and Leia’s son only for him to end up killing Han Solo (who I HIGHLY doubt survived his fall and the subsequent implosion of Starkiller base in case anyone is still holding out hope) and the way the light plays on Kylo’s face in that scene is utterly brilliant. At first the light reflects the conflict within, but when the sun outside vanishes and his face is bathed in red, you can guess what comes next (first time seeing it someone yelled, “Nnnnnnoooooo!” and the second time the theater was in complete shock and silence). Can Kylo be turned back to the light, after killing his father? Or is he too far gone now? Him screaming traitor at Finn certainly sounded more fearful/jealous than angry, as he’s definitely doubting his actions and frustrated doing the right thing didn’t come as easy to him as it did Finn (Tumblr user Cailin Grace makes the same point). The final question, if he’s to be turned in the end, could Leia be the one to turn him back, with Rey and Luke’s help? Tune in for Episode VIII and IX to find out!
UPDATE: JJ sheds some light on why Kylo turned and Mr. Hildalgo confirms his age. UPDATE #2: JJ, Kasdan, and Arndt reveal why they chose Han Solo to die in the film and why Kylo had to be the one to do it.
One more Update: I’d like to add mention of two Tumblr posts, which are two among many, many, many posts which have given voice to some very sane and interesting interpretations of the film – #1: A BTS shot revealing a Kylo scene was originally helmetless makes for good evidence that Kylo was brainwashed by Snoke. #2: A look at how Kylo’s world is upside down due to whatever Snoke used to convince him of it (also covers brainwashing) and a little more behind Kylo’s offer to Rey to train her.
B) Rey’s vision, after picking up the lightsaber, covers some interesting moments. The first scene I argue is from Luke and Vader’s duel on Cloud City, there’s the footage of Luke seen in the trailers putting his hand on Artoo (likely saying goodbye for now), I’ve talked about the dark and rainy scene above, and we get to see her dropped off on Jakku as a child (which are the screams she hears that calls her to the weapon). Why does she have those specific visions? Because Luke imprinted those moments on the saber or does she have the psychometry ability like Quinlan Vos? What I also found interesting relating to her possible past is the interrogation scene aboard Starkiller base, when Kylo “Ben Solo” Ren reveals she dreams about an island and lots of water, which just so happens to be where Rey finds Luke Skywalker at the end. Could she have been there before? And why was she there before? All that adds up to the biggest question: who is Rey? Is she Rey Skywalker?
It’s entirely possible she was simply a kid of one of Luke’s students, but Luke’s reaction to seeing her at the end certainly makes a case for a father seeing his daughter for the first time in a while (especially after thinking she might be dead). But if she was Luke’s daughter, you would think Han and Leia might say something, unless they didn’t get a chance to know her/know her name/her name changed from something that wasn’t Rey initially/think she died a long time ago. I think whoever dropped her off on Jakku, they did it as Ben was destroying Luke’s Jedi Order, figuring leaving her at the backwater-ist planet of them all would be a better fate than dying (Update: There’s a great theory from Pete Morrison of MakingStarWars.com and at the end of point #4 he makes a case for Kylo being the one to drop her off. It’s my favorite theory so far!) Could her connection to the lightsaber signal her relationship to Luke or is she just that powerful in the Force? Either way, Rey is already my favorite character from the movie and I can’t wait to see where this trilogy takes her next.
Sidenote: is it just me or did it sound like Obi-Wan who said “Rey” towards the end of her visions? James Arnold Taylor did provide additional voices in the film and he’s best known for Obi-Wan in the Star Wars-verse…UPDATE: Taylor says he did read lines but was replaced by none other than Ewan McGregor! MakingStarWars has the report and they seem to agree Rey was the only new dialogue. UPDATE #2: Obi-Wan’s full piece of dialogue is: “Rey, these are your first steps.” Entertainment Weekly has the details straight from JJ’s mouth: It turns out Ewan spoke the line, “…these are your first steps,” but they managed to changed a recording of Alec Guinness’ voice to say “Rey.” BOTH Obi-Wan’s got to say the lines in the film! And Yoda was in the scene too, but I’ve felt his very hard to hear/understand in all 3 of my viewings.
UPDATE/Sidenote #2: The planet Luke is hiding out on has been revealed! Star Wars Post first reported on a leak of the Writer’s Guild of America version of TFA‘s script on reddit, which included the name for the planet: Ahch-To. It now has a Wookieepedia page, but whether it’s a temporary name or not is still up for debate.
C) Supreme Leader Snoke seems to be pretty common knowledge, especially to Han and Leia when they discuss his role in their son’s turn, and it opens up tons of questions about what his backstory may be. Did Han and Leia (and Luke) know of Snoke before he turned Ben? What caused Snoke to become disfigured? Is he truly as large as he appeared in the holograms? What’s his connection with the Force? What does he want? Again, we’ll have to wait for Episodes VIII and IX for those answers, but for now I can say Andy Serkis does a good job here!.
D) Why did R2-D2 wake up when he did in the film? My theory is Luke maybe installed a chip or something into his lightsaber so that when it came into Artoo’s vicinity, it was time for the droid to awake and reveal Luke’s location (which Han says might be the first Jedi Temple) to bring him back into the fold. Jedi Master Luke would definitely trust in the Force, and would it not be the Force that has brought Rey into the fold and his saber back to him? The Force works in mysterious ways sometimes. UPDATE: It might not be such a mysterious thing afterall, as JJ Abrams, Michael Ardnt, and Lawrence Kasdan elaborated on R2’s awakening (Rey’s being the one mentioned in the title, of course): it seems when BB-8 first mentions to Artoo that he has the map, it just takes awhile for Artoo to come out of lower-power mode/depression. This is all from another EW report, and besides answering the Artoo question and revealing just how much data Artoo accessed when he plugged into the first Death Star, there are some reveals on what the story for TFA could have been, including an underwater quest to the wreckage of the second Death Star.
E) Who does Max Von Sydow play? Lor San Tekka, who according to a children’s book (via Wookieepedia), is a follower of The Church of the Force. Who and what they are, no clue, but it sounds like they appreciate the power of the Force and those who wield it for good, if he’s been holding onto Luke’s coordinates just to give them to the right person (and not anyone aligned with the dark side). How did he know Kylo back when he was Ben?
F) In Aftermath, the book which takes place just after Return of the Jedi, the New Republic is setting up shop on Chandrila and thinking about the Hosnian system for the long-term. In The Force Awakens, the New Republic has found a home for its government and Senate on Hosnian Prime…until Starkiller Base destroys it (and a few other planets in the system). How the heck the First Order built a weapon which harnesses the power of the sun, I don’t know, but damn is that a deadly ass weapon. And how amazing was that explosion/implosion, where it seemingly becomes a sun itself (replacing the one it killed to power itself)? While it’s somewhat disappointing the threat of Starkiller Base is gone (and I doubt we’ll see a second one in this trilogy), there’s enough hints here that the major conflict will be on a more personal level this time around anyways.
G) I don’t believe Finn is actually a Force-sensitive, but only time will tell. Either way, hope he’s not in a coma for most of Ep. VIII!