Have you felt it? There has been an awakening…
Today marks the official release date for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. We’ve worried. We’ve speculated. We’ve talked endless theories and bought pounds of plastic action figures. Now that the wait is over there’s really only one question left: Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens good?
The short answer is “Yes.”
The Force Awakens is everything we can ask from a Star Wars film. From the first sentence of the opening crawl to the last second of screen time this is a film that grabs hard and never lets go. Action sequences fly fast and furious, split only by moments of exposition to press the plot forward and the occasional moment of sometimes heavy-handed fan service. The most important thing here is that, from start to finish The Force Awakens feels like Star Wars. This is the film we’ve wanted since walking out of the cinema in 1983 and we finally got it. It’s not perfect, and if you’re expecting a perfect film you will find something to be disappointed in. But if you love that classic trilogy feel, warts and all, then you will love The Force Awakens.
Now, I’m not going to discuss any of the plot points of the film. Instead I’d like to address the performances of the principle cast and the design of the film.
Previously unknown Daisy Ridley anchors our new heroes as the central protagonist of the film. She’s a fierce character who takes guff from no one. She’s proactive, daring and willing to throw down with the best of them. At the same time, her performance and the direction of it don’t try to beat the audience over the head with the fact that she’s a capable character. Rey is who she is. Ridley’s performance is certainly admirable and she’s got a young, energetic charm – but the dialogue is on occasion stilted. That being said, I love Ridley’s performance and Rey is the author’s favorite new character brought into the Star Wars canon, and could easily become my favorite character in the entire setting if things continue the way they’re going.
John Boyega has shown no reservations about his love of Star Wars. He’s been an absolute gem to watch in interviews and press events. His energy is infectious and charming. This genuine affection for the source material shines through on screen. Boyega shows fantastic comedic timing and when coupled with the Finn’s conflicted pathos, it makes for a character that you can’t help but like. Boyega’s Finn, in spite of not being the central protagonist of the film, does serve as the audience’s point of view character. He’s thrown into the thick of the plot and often spends much of his time just trying to figure out how to keep up with the events happening around him before finally becoming proactive and taking hold of his own choices.
Poe Dameron was billed as a kind of swashbuckling pilot in the early media for The Force Awakens, and from what we see of Oscar Issac’s performance that is an accurate statement. Poe is witty, fearless and absolutely lovable – but Issac’s charm is under-utilized in the film and I would liked to have spent more time Poe during the course of the film. What we do get to see leaves us wanting more.
Harrison Ford. Han Solo. The man who made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. Ford’s performance is perfect. He’s still got all the wit and stubborn charm of the original Corellian smuggler, but the mileage is starting to show. I loved almost every moment when Ford was on screen, but sometimes I felt like Han became a vehicle for sometimes obtuse nods to the original trilogy. Nothing as heavy handed as we found in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy of films, but occasionally it did feel a bit forced. Ford’s sly charm, however, keeps it from getting out of hand or annoying.
General Leia is a war-weary, battle hardened woman who has been torn apart by the events described in The Force Awakens and Carrie Fisher uses facial expression and dialogue delivery to show what I can only describe as “motherly tough” when interacting with the Resistance fighters she commands. Whenever she’s on screen, she is someone I would have wanted to follow, to fight for, to serve under – and that’s no small feat.
Now that we’ve got our primary heroes covered, let’s talk about the villains!
Adam Driver as the zealous Kylo Ren gives a menacing performance behind a black mask that is clearly reminiscent of Darth Vader. But Driver’s performance gives us a more conflicted villain than Darth Vader. Where as Prowse’s physique, Jones’ voice and Williams’ score created a Sith Lord who’s mere presence invoked awe and respect as soon as he came on screen, Driver’s character doesn’t so much evoke respect and fear as demand it. Kylo Ren is an impetuious youth, trying to live up to the impossible legacy of Darth Vader and Driver shows that in the rare moments when we see Driver’s doe-eyed face behind an impenetrable black mask.
Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma is woefully under-used, falling victim to Boba Fett syndrome. Awesome costume. Intimidating persona. Minimal actual dialogue, development, or screen time. I really, genuinely had hoped for more.
General Hux feels a bit too old for Domhnall Gleeson’s best efforts. While his character does evoke the an aura of military leaderships, he feels more like a young Lieutenant trying to prove himself and less like a veteran general commanding a great legion. This is no discredit to the actor, who does a fine job – he just feels a bit young for the role. However, watching the interactions between Hux and Ren was truly enjoyable.
Andy Serkis’s motion capture performance as Supreme Leader Snoke is properly done and clearly harkens back to McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine – but where as the Palpatine had a kind of subtle menace to him and gleeful sadism, Snoke comes across as more domineering and angry.
Outside of the central heroes and villains of the film, the stand out character is Maz Kanata, played by Lupinta Nyong’o. She’s got a pathos and warmth I’ve not seen in a long time. It reminds me of Yoda, but she’s not as stern. Maz just feels like someone who would invite you to come sit her kitchen and have a warm bowl of soup to talk about your problems, but also not lie to you about the solutions – always for your own good. I really, really liked the character.
The film is visually stunning, with detailed sets, sweeping landscapes, and backgrounds bustling with vibrant creatures that add life to the galaxy without distracting from the central events of the film. The digital effects used in the film feel seamless except for one glaring scene. For the most part Star Wars felt lived in again. The “straight off the assembly line” look that seemed more present in the prequels is gone, the galaxy has some mileage on it, some life in it.
Finally, I’ll try to talk about the plot and pacing of the film. In short, it’s a Star Wars film through and through. If you love the classic trilogy, you’re going to love The Force Awakens. It has all the charm (and all the foibles) of the original trilogy. The plot of the film is a bit predictable, though – almost to the point of being paint-by-numbers in the third act. But when you sit down to a Star Wars film, you get a Star Wars film. And in the end, that’s all we’ve wanted for the past 30 years: A worthy successor to a trilogy of beloved films, and we got it.
The Force has indeed awakened. So go to the theater, try not to get caught up in the hype and sit down for two hours of fast, funny, emotional, and sometimes heart-wrenching adventures in a galaxy far, far away…