After the way the original and prequel trilogy wrapped up the tragedy of Darth Vader, I was left wondering what kind of story was left to be told in this latest trilogy. How has the political climate changed since the ending of Episode VI? Are my favorite characters still okay? While J. J. Abrams directorial debut in the Star Wars universe draws a heavy amount of plot lines and inspiration from Episode IV, it also manages to inject enough flair, passion, and intrigue to capture the hearts of new fans while giving older fans a fun romp through some familiar ground.
Like I mentioned above , the story follows a lot of the same beats from Episode IV. There’s a rebel force fighting a big fascist authoritarian government. The odds are stacked against them. There’s even a hidden technological McGuffin like before. What makes the story different is how it changes these elements to further the political dialogue the previous trilogies started. The First Order reminded me a lot of a Russia post USSR- trying to achieve the strengths of the Empire it used to be. The rebel force is a proxy group – indirectly supported by a Republic that doesn’t want to get too involved. It’s incredibly fitting with the political climate we’re in right now, and as someone who reads the news a lot, I enjoyed the way the confrontation was handled. For those of you not that interested in the politics, rest assured, it’s not in your face and never impeded on the more entertaining elements of the movie.
Speaking of the entertaining elements – I loved the new characters and how much energy and fun they bring into the franchise. Daisy Ridley is great as Rey and I can’t wait to see how her arc continues. She can portray desperate and sullen just as well as independent and assertive and it all feels authentic. You can feel John Boyega’s energy seep through Finn’s actions and I hope he gets more to do in the next movie. His character introduces some much needed introspection into the horrors of actual war. We see bodies hitting the floor in other movies, but watching his emotional rejection of the violence and his decision to defect is great and I love his arc through the movie. However, my favorite new introduction is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver does a phenomenal job at showing the angst and emotional conflict at the heart of Kylo’s motivations and his actions in the movie definitely help drive those ideas home. The older characters, much to my surprise, don’t feel that prominent in the film. I wish they were more incorporated – but I genuinely enjoyed Harrison Ford’s return as Han. I didn’t really like the character in Episode VI and was really happy that he came off as his older self with some wear and tear. His scenes with Leia also tugged at my heartstrings and I really enjoyed the way their arcs were revealed.
Now let’s get to the less than optimal sections of the movie. While the film is shot beautifully , there’s a certain special quality that I felt was missing. Upon closer inspection, I realized that, though John William’s score is great, it never quite hit the mark in this film. In every other movie in the franchise, I felt something when the music played in the background. There was at least a few moments that I could hum along to and really enjoyed. This movie didn’t really have that- the music is good but not memorable. While that’s normally fine, it’s weird to have that feeling in a Star Wars movie.
I said the movie follows a lot of the same movie beats- and as someone who doesn’t hate the idea of soft reboots – this was fine for me. If you’re not a fan of them, this movie might still have something for you because of the editing. Familiar scenes get a different feeling because of their position in the movie. For example, the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Episode IV features near the beginning of its respective film but the callback to the scene happens more towards the middle of the film. The chronological placements make the scenes dynamic enough because they’re imbued with a different narrative tension and overall feeling. However, in spite of all of this, the movie still feels too safe a lot of the times. I was entertained but left wanting more experimentation with the formula. I understand wanting to get a new generation of fans but at the very least thought there should have been more in the film for older fans to get latched on to.
This brings me to my biggest problem with the movie- the lack of explanation of what happened between the end of Episode VI to the start of this story. Yes, this is a problem I’ve had for other movies, but it feels like a bigger issue in this one. We’re left with a feeling of peace and finality after the end of the original trilogy so the abrupt change back to the “status quo” is jarring. The intro sequence doesn’t do enough to make this transition less jarring, so fans of the older trilogies might feel like the past movies had no “impact” in a traditional sense. Watching the machination of the First Order or having some scenes with Leia and other members of the resistance would have done wonders in connecting the stories to make it feel like a cohesive piece. I know there are books that explain the gap, but I didn’t need books to get into the other movies, so I don’t think their existence absolves this film of its duty to at least present part of that information.
TLDR: While The Force Awakens doesn’t revolutionize the Star Wars movies, it’s a great introduction into the galaxy far far away and I think a lot of people can find a lot of fun moments in it. I wish there was more of an effort to explain the events that culminated into the political quagmire we witness, but I still had a blast in spite of that.
Final Rating: 9.2/10. This movie is a great soft-reboot that sets up a lot of interesting political and ethical threads that can be explored more in the future films. I’m excited to see what’s coming next.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!