Hype can make or break a film, and the new “Star Wars” movie, subtitled “The Force Awakens,” had more hype surrounding it than any other film in 2015. Director J.J. Abrams reluctantly took the helm from George Lucas after the conclusion of the subpar prequel trilogy in 2005. I say “reluctantly” because it took months of negotiations before Abrams signed on to the project, understanding its cultural significance.
Backed by an acclaimed director, the writer of two of the original “Star Wars” films and a production team with a preference for practical effects over computer generated images (CGI), this movie would have had no excuse if it turned out to be bad. Luckily, it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was better than I had anticipated.
The film picks up about 30 years after the fall of the Empire in “Return of The Jedi.” A new group called The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, and intends to finish the work of Darth Vader. A scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku, played by Daisy Ridley, a rogue storm trooper, played by John Boyega, and the best fighter pilot in the galaxy, played by Oscar Isaac, make up our new group of heroes who band together with some familiar faces to take on The First Order and the evil Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver.
The biggest compliment one can give to “The Force Awakens” is to say that it just feels alive and fun. This new film aesthetically feels more in line with the originals from the 1970s and 1980s. The use of animatronics and puppetry along with actual locations instead of CGI and green screens give the film a sort of grit that has been missing from the franchise for quite a while. Impressive camerawork and subtle lighting techniques masterfully pulled off by Abrams helped to immerse me in this new, yet familiar, “Star Wars” universe.
The prequel trilogy received backlash for its mundane writing and snail-paced story lines. The return of Lawrence Kasdan, writer of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” injects a much-needed dose of excitement back into the saga. “The Force Awakens” moves so swiftly that one never gets a moment to rest. In some movies, this is a bad thing, but character development and witty dialogue are interlaced throughout intense action set pieces, insuring a nonstop good time.
That’s not to say the film is perfect; almost no movie is. There are instances in which nostalgia can overpower the storyline. The film follows a similar story pattern as the original “Star Wars” movie. The most prominent example of this is the Star-Killer base, which is virtually just another Death Star. It makes sense that the Disney corporation would want to play it safe after just recently acquiring the rights to the franchise, but in future installments, hopefully the production team will take to the story in a different direction.
Where the movie stands out and makes its own mark is in its new lead characters. I can easily see Ridley’s character Rey becoming an instant fan favorite. I was, at first, a bit skeptical of the casting department’s decision in choosing an unknown actress for the lead role. Within the first few minutes of the film, it became apparent that Ridley is not just a pretty face. She brings depth to Rey. Ridley gives an expressive, well-balanced performance and I’m curious to see what she does next.
The film is also backed by standout performances from Harrison Ford and Driver. The rest of the cast gave good performances and really seemed to be cognizant of what this franchise means to people. The only performance I didn’t particularly like was that of Domhnall Gleeson, who seemed to be doing a half-baked Nazi general impression. Also, the character of Supreme Leader Snoke didn’t seem to fit. It’s not the fault of the actor, Andy Serkis, but the character was created through motion capture work, so he looks extremely fake and cartoony compared to the ultra-realistic look of the rest of the film.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a “Star Wars” movie without a stellar score written and composed by John Williams. All of the old ques are back, intermixed with some new tracks. “Rey’s Theme” is a personal favorite of my mine. I’ve been humming selections from the soundtrack over the past month.
Despite not being a flawless movie, “The Force Awakens” is certainly the revival the series needed and a great setup for the next two films. In the eyes of most audiences, it has lived up to the hype and is already on its way to becoming one of the biggest movie of all time with an astounding $247 million opening weekend. It’s doubtful that “The Force Awakens” will surpass the box office records of “Avatar,” but thanks to a production team primarily made up of “Star Wars” fans, the force is once again with us.