Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, is a massively entertaining mainstream science fiction fantasy picture filled with many familiar elements and small but required twists for old and new generation of fans. It is highly accessible, from the well-placed, rapid-fire banters to its crescendoing epic score during key moments, and so one can sit back and enjoy the plethora of wonderful images and action sequences.
A new threat known as the First Order has risen from the ashes of the fallen Galactic Empire. It is led by a mysterious figure named Snoke (Andy Serkis), working for him are two generals Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the elimination of the final Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), is critical to the group’s universal reign. But Skywalker is nowhere to be found. According to some sources, a pilot (Oscar Isaac) who works for the Resistance has just gotten hold of an important clue that may lead to the Jedi’s whereabouts.
The new characters are interesting and worth getting to know further. The partnership between a former Stormtrooper (John Boyega) and a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) is inspired even though the placement of seeds involving a possible romantic connection comes across as a bit forced at times. I enjoyed that the former, Finn, is thrusted into the war between the First Order and the Resistance almost out of guilt while for the latter, Rey, it is almost as if it is her destiny. It is wise that the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt keeps the eventual duo apart for as long as possible. When they are separate, we can feel the pulse of the new myth being born.
It offers a strong sense of place and community. There is a breath of excitement with each environment, from the seemingly endless desert of Jakku to the lush green planet Takodana. Perhaps more importantly, the various creatures we encounter almost always have a personality to them, whether it is through exchange of dialogue, grunt-like noises, or beep-beep-boop. I found myself wanting shots to linger a little longer especially when an interesting-looking creature is shown on the side or the background. I wanted to look at their faces or skins a little closer; I wanted to examine the clothes they wear and the weapons they carry. With some, I even noticed their postures. There is no doubt that we are in the hands of a most capable visual storyteller.
One can argue that a little bit more creativity might have elevated the picture. For instance, the Starkiller Base, capable of destroying entire solar systems with the help of the sun, is too similar to the Death Star encountered in the previous films, only bigger. The young Jedi storyline, too, is a retread. While this is not an unreasonable criticism, it can also be argued such examples—and others like them—are merely plot device. What matters more is the energy and small changes behind the expected elements.
I argue that this is an attempt to revitalize a franchise. And it works. Diverting too much from familiarity might have done more harm than good. But expansion and new ideas are exactly what I will be looking for in the inevitable sequel. This time, playing it safe should be overlooked. But safe does not equal boring. On the contrary, this is an exciting chapter with action sequences that at least rival the originals.