*The last paragraph expresses short analysis* This Review is SPOILER FILLED. Click here for our spoiler free episode. If you want to join the dark side of the spoilers, enter here. If you do not, head back to Tatooine where you can you head with your friends to Tosche Station for some power converters. That being said, you have been warned.
I adore how this film begins. Willing to not place the focus on the true main characters until they are needed in the plot is bold and pays homage to the structure of previous films (specifically A New Hope, which we'll get to the comparisons of the two films soon enough). Here we are introduced to the ever likable Oscar Isaac, playing the daring and playful pilot Po Dameran with his puppy like droid BB-8. Max Von Sydow - with a small role which hopefully will be expanded in flashbacks for future films – gives him the “map” to Luke's hide away with all the gravitas you could ask for, and here we go! The pacing in the beginning sequences of the film is electric. Right out of the gate we get to see the menace of Kylo Ren in action as he pulls off a force maneuver we've never seen in the films. This villain is powerful, for sure, but just how powerful?
FN-2187, played by the goofy John Boyega, is having no part of these cruel shenanigans and needs to escape to save his humanity. Po is just the pilot he needs. Here he helps him escape, at least temporally. And with a daring cut, we are taken to the perspective of the stunning Rey. She has been scavenging and making her way on the dessert planet of Jaku, for what we later find out has been at least a dozen years.
We've got to wonder how long they have been searching for Luke, but we don't have time to think about that, as the crash landed FN-2187 (now calling himself Finn) runs into Rey. Here we have the obvious love story, but it is not her who needs the saving but him. Try all he might to be the hero, he keeps failing, and often in hysterical fashion. Rey doesn't need him to fend off some goons, but this character of Finn has a story to be told. “Stop holding my hand!”, she declares as he tries to get her safely away from what I was about to call The Empire, but no! This is The First Order, and they mean business! This is one of the many things the film gets so right. The Stormtroopers are actually formidable and intimidating here. I guess the training is just better this time around (unless you subscribe to the theory that the apparent poor skill of the Stormtroopers in the original trilogy was due to it being an inside job, but I digress). Rey with her force honed flying skill – reminiscent of, I don't know, a Skywalker – makes her way off the planet in spectacular fashion with Finn actually showing some competence in the field of battle.
The delightful BB-8 still needs to get his plans to the resistance. Finn is not all he is cracked up to be, and BB-8 can sense this. After a brief “discussion” between the two, BB-8 accepts this amiably with quite possibly the funniest moment of the entire film with his thumbs up lighter.
Then HAN! And CHEWIE! What a wonderful way to introduce these characters. Them finding eachother though the use of the Falcon was such an amazing plot device and brought warm feelings to my heart. The real question though was whether Harrison Ford could bring back the sheer joy of this iconic character. Have no fear, Han is back with what could quite possibly become Harrison Ford's most iconic film performance. I'll get to more of why Harrison Ford's performance was so mind-boggling later, but we have more trouble on our hands. Chewbacca and him have some old debts to pay. This may or may not be reminiscent of things that may have happened before. After Han claiming he always talks his way out, something foreshadows a crucial moment later in the film, they proceed to deal with all likes of trouble. The cast of The Raid Franchise has well deserved cameo, before they are eaten alive, and the crew of Millennium Falcon makes their jump to lightspeed.
Han begrudgingly has to admit that Rey knows her stuff, and before I go any further I need to stress how amazing Daisy Ridley's performance has been. J.J. has pulled off one of the most amazing casting decisions I have ever seen and it paid off in spades. Daisy Ridley as Rey provides both a competent bad-ass, but an emotional and empathetic character as well. Sure, some of this definitely comes from the script as Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt have shown they can write compelling, fully realized characters; but it would have been all for nothing without an actress who could pull it off.
On to possibly one of the most beautiful planets we've ever seen in Star Wars, Takodana. In through the castle cantina we go! Oh Mylanta! This scene has some of the most creative and out of this world costume designs I have ever seen in film (awards are in order). Maz Kanata is here to greet us, with her absolutely brilliant, fully realized computer generated character. The voice acting from Lupita Nyonga is just as good. Her discussions with the crew bring a light into her intentions and sadly to John Boyega's, Finn, lack of range. Don't get me wrong, I like John Boyega and I think he is a capable actor; and he pulls of goofy and deadpan serious really well. That being said, he doesn't quite have the range yet to pull this character off convincingly. For the next twenty minutes or so I really start questioning the casting decision and it throws me a little out of my enjoyment. Wouldn't Jesse Plemons have been a better casting decision, or Michael B. Jordan?
Though thankfully he is not the main, MAIN character. Rey through and through is at the center of this film and for the better. The Force is calling out to her and with the use of the brilliant editing and John Williams immaculate score we are taken into visions of the past and future as she touches the ultimate Skywalker heirloom, Anakin and Luke's lightsaber. How they found it after it falling off Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back is beyond me, but I guess it called to someone to be found. Her finding this weapon, ultimately foreshadows that she truly is in tune with the force and more than subtly hints that this is part of her family history.
Another person struggling to come to grips with his family history is Kylo Ren, who just happens to be Han and Leia's son. He has serious grandpa issues, and even more serious daddy issues. Adam Driver once again is as excellent as can be, and is everything Anakin Skywalker should have been in the prequels. After receiving a message that the crew is down on Takodana, he heads down in full force. Rey, not wanting to confront her destiny, and showing the acting range which has made her character so special, runs into the forest just before $#!+ hits the fan. We get to see just why every character is so compelling in battle, but particularly Kylo Ren, even if all he does is intimidate and uses one of the coolest force moves ever.
Here is where the story begins to slow down big time, and not for the benefit of the film. Sure, it is amazing to see Princess (um, I mean General) Leia and that is awesome; plus C3PO's interrupting Han and Leia's moment is even better. But after that, most of the scenes from then on are just setup and quite frankly spoil the OH CRAP moment that happens later in the film. Yes, we need character interaction between iconic characters, but if there were no fans of Star Wars I really think this could have been a better film. The pacing becomes too disjunctive from paying homage to much; but in the end this isn't to huge of a gripe, because at least it is mostly enjoyable to see these interactions even if they take away from the pace and overall story.
What we need to see is more Kylo Ren and we do! His interaction with Rey when she is held captive is one of my favorite moments of the entire film and shows just how brilliant of an actor and actress Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are. The look of horror in his eyes as he realizes that he can't tame her is upper echelon level acting. Her resistance of his manipulation is just as amazing. Kylo doesn't know what to do, so he once more has to confront his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (aka Jar Jar Binks with his ears cut off and a scar across his face). Andy Serkis relishes his time in this role, and it truly will be fascinating to see his background in further films. Darth Plagueis might be too predictable; but whatever it is, odds are it will be incredible with the under-recognized Rian Johnson penning the next two films with Abrams producing.
On to the story, we get an absolutely hilarious cameo from Daniel Craig (95% sure about that) as Rey starts to come into her own with her force sensitivity. Everything from here on out is really flat out brilliant. Sure, complain all you want on the similarity of the plot of Force Awakens to A New Hope, which there is plenty of similarities I won't go into just on length of time I could be here. Ultimately this film though is about telling something old and combining it with something new. The way the story was told is obviously intentional. The writers wanted to pass on the torch to a new generation, and do that in a shocking, thrilling and satisfying way.
This story much like A New Hope is the beginning and end of different story arcs. A New Hope had the beginning of our favorite characters ever and the “end” of Kenobi. Here we get all the brilliant acting and zany, lovable character, but ultimately the end of a legend.
The film had to come to this point. It was set up, and the moment Han chooses to no longer be part scoundrel, but a true hero is ultimately his last. He can't talk himself out of this situation. He comes close though. You can see the fight in the eyes of his son “BEN!”. He'll do anything to help his son, but Kylo in the moment is too far gone. Whether or not this moment will have long term effects on his character is something to think about, but more than that BRAVO Harrison Ford. You we're absolutely, One Hundred Percent phenomenal in this role, particularly in this film as you gave it your all. What Harrison Ford has done was quite simply put: breathtaking, and his final look as he holds his son's face before he meets his demise will haunt me for a long time to come.
Chewies not having any of it! No scope kidney shot from a good hundred feet away: 300 points! Time to get off this planet/space-station/both (crazy cool idea by the way). Before we can do that though we need to have one of the most viscerally exciting lightsaber duels in Star Wars lore. I can't emphasize how much I loved this fight enough and it's one of the reasons I chose to make this review spoiler filled, instead of my typically exercise in spoiler free territory. The duel between Finn and Rey against Kylo combined what was so brilliant about the originals: the gritty intensity and simplicity; with one of the things that was actually cool about the prequels: the immaculate choreography (if overly stylized and ultimately without the same emotion). Here we get both! Kylo knows how to use this weapon in "all" its capabilities and Finn knows just enough to not get utterly slaughtered. It is stylized. It is emotional. It is beautiful! Of course we have the question of whether Finn is force sensitive. That is definitely a question to think about for the next year and a half. For him to even last that long and put a blow on Kylo was definitely impressive. Rey though is the one who steals the show once again, and doesn't need saving. Here the fight goes from being exciting, to me wetting my pants. The shot of the lightsaber wiggling in the snow, then flying to Rey brought a shiver down my spine. Using her prior knowledge of combat with the force raging through her, she puts up a fight for the ages. Kylo is too weakened at this point and the test of killing his father took too much of a toll. This round belongs to Rey.
Of course more things happen from then on out, but that is the high, euphoric moment of the film (The planet turning into a sun afterwards is also definitely cool). We don't get that level of emotion until Mark Hamill finally makes his appearance as the war torn Luke Skywalker. I don't really know what to say about that moment, other than it sent some tears down my face. Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill's supreme acting ability, with John Williams score showering down upon me with that shot of the lighsaber was too much.
This is a film for the ages. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a cinematic experience like no other this year. Sure, it may not be a perfect film, but there are very few that are. In the acting department we we have Harrison Ford, who quite frankly may have just given the best performance I have ever seen of him on screen (certainly one of the most memorable). There is also at the other end, Daisy Ridley who pulls of such a special, one of a kind character we rarely get to see on screen with heroines. There is no half-assing here. Everyone gave there all and then some. The production design is the best of year, and maybe the best of the last decade (Sorry, Fury Road), the costume design is mind blowing, the cinematography is amazing, the action is exhilarating; but more than that, J.J really pulled it off with such a tender, and beautifully realized construction of this world. For that, I say thank you and may the force be with you. . . unless you're directing a trek film.
Personal Preference: 5/5
Critical Analysis: 4.25/5