Film Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoiler-Free Edition)

by Brian Surber

In the coming days there will be hundreds if not thousands of articles written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is a different kind of review for a couple of reasons: one, there will be no spoilers of any kind (I’ll post a review/recap with spoilers later), two, I am not an enormous Star Wars fan (I have an appreciation for the franchise more than anything), and three, we have never had a film event of this nature (at least not in my lifetime). The journey to this film has been a wild ride. And luckily the ride itself takes you on an incredibly journey.

Hype this big can sometimes influence reaction and even as a casual Star Wars viewer, I was hyped. Years of speculation, casting announcements (John Boyega AND Adam Driver?!?), teases (“Chewie, we’re home.”), and cross promotion (Eat Subway, See Star Wars. Use Verizon, See Star Wars. Wear Makeup, See Star Wars and look good doing it!) have lead to the most anticipated cinematic event I can recall. So when sitting down at 9:00 on Thursday evening you can’t help but have the creeping thought, “Life after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens is about to begin.” It sucks you in. I will try to be as fair as possible with my critique but I must admit the excitement is tenaciously infectious and so is the film.

Onto the film: it delivers. Star Wars: The Force Awakens simultaneously acts like a greatest hits album from your favorite band but your new favorite band that you never knew existed played the songs. Much of the structure of A New Hope is used here. Plot points and beats are played out noticeably similar to those in the film that started it all. This strategy works for the most part and is used most effectively as a reminder.

After crashing and burning on the 1999-2005 prequel trilogy, George Lucas is nowhere to be found here. And with all due respect to him and his work, that’s a good thing. Just as the creator leaves, the series plants its feet in its roots. By keeping the structure to A New Hope, The Force Awakens reminds us of what was once great about the franchise. Fast paced, action-heavy, and character specific, this new Star Wars feel like the Star Wars of old in the best possible way.

The structure also keeps the film from forging its own path and creating its own identity. Using character arcs, plot devices, and situations from the pervious film, while helping the film nostalgically, at times hurts it for being so obvious in its homage. Nothing too detrimental but now that it’s out of their system, let’s try something new for Episode VIII.

The cast is big, expansive, diverse, and excellent. While it’s fun to see the returning cast members (who, I have to say, seem a bit rusty) the standouts are the future of the franchise. John Boyega (so great in Attack the Block, which you all need to see), Adam Driver (the honest breakout of Girls), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llweyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings films, King Kong, Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time and Ex Machina), and Daisy Ridley (her first film role). It’s an incredible cast that absolutely shines, and the star that shines most is that of Ridley.

Her performance as Rey is refreshingly big-eyed. Rey is strong, earnest, adventurous, and innocent but in an unconventional way. As a scavenger she is use to desperately looking for things of value in more ways than one. Her journey is the strong center of the film and first-timer Ridley is a joy to watch. Her partner in crime, Boyega (sadly ditching his English accent for an American one), is just as good. Boyega brings an intensity and wider-ranging arc that he carries with humor and effortlessness. If this is truly the new cast of Star Wars then it’s in good hands.

The film works wonders with its pacing and storytelling, no matter how familiar. Scenes fly by and jump from one location to the next in such an organic way that it rarely draws attention to itself. Humor abounds and new droid BB-8 is destined to be a classic sidekick. The action is furious when it needs to be and whimsical in its wonders. The mix of live action set pieces and real creature work is breathtakingly innovative just as it was all those years ago.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a blockbuster classic that sets the series right and steers it forward while leaning slightly too much on its past. It’s the Star Wars movie everyone talks about seeing way back in 1977 while remaining a Star Wars movie in 2015. Breathtakingly fun and exciting, it will make you feel like a kid again. Director J.J. Abrams has fueled the movie with an emotional heartbeat that been lost from the series for over 30 years and at the same time provides his audience with a throw-back classic that not only will reinvigorate the Star Wars franchise but will also make audiences worldwide believe in magic.

Whether you are a Star Wars fan or a casual passerby, The Force Awakens is everything you could have wanted.

Rating-    

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