Star Wars: The Force Awakens

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?"

I'll make it simple.

I loved it.

When the title crawl came up, I smiled. It felt right. There was no mention of taxations of trade routes. It felt like Star Wars again. And then there was a moment pretty early on that set the tone for the movie where one of the characters momentarily breaks the tension of the scene by injecting a very appropriate joke. This continued throughout the film, though to be clear it wasn't a comedy, but the characters were funny. It never took away from the emotions or the tension, though.

I'm going to start with my biggest worry going in, which was Kylo Ren. He is not a Vader clone. He's a new kind of Star Wars villain, layered and emotional, which isn't why he's different (although I can't say too much more without spoiling). Kylo Ren, along with the First Order (that replaces the Empire) serve as a slightly different kind of threat. A little scarier than the Empire because they're zealots, more Nazi-like than the Empire was. Their goals were not fully fleshed out, but as the main villain I was very happy with them.

Han and Leia are Han and Leia. The actors slipped right back into their roles, they are just thirty years older. It created a really nice continuation of the saga without it feeling forced, pun intended. Finn and Poe, the two male leads, both had a charm and wit to them that made them instantly likable, and they were not Luke and Han analogs by any stretch. The same can be said for Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is not a Leia stand-in. She brought a wide-eyed optimism and genuine likability to the role. It's really hard to explain why she was so good; there is something special about both the character and the actress. The point is, I really wanted to take this journey with these characters, and I wanted more when it was over.

One of the new aliens, Maz (Lupita Nyongo), was probably the only real Yoda-esque character, but she was so different and I liked her so much. Plus she brought a nice new alien into the mix. BB-8 was a perfect new addition to the family, and fit in well with C-3PO and R2D2. The little droid was also a lot more versatile than I thought it would be, and matched Rey in innocence and optimism.

As for the visual side of things, this film both looked like a Star Wars film, and brought something new as well. The way things were shot was almost visceral, with long lingering panning shots of beautiful vistas, and quick energized camera moves that worked with the action. The effects were also amazing, without a wonky looking effect or overly CGI moment (except for maybe the CGI characters). Combined with a loving attention to detail and atmosphere, even the bit characters and background players brought just the right stuff to make the movie feel like the originals. It was a bit prettier, maybe. But still dirty and lived in, as it should be.

The film wasn't perfect. There were some very minor issues with pacing, and the plot was a bit thin. But neither of those things ruined the experience. When I left the theater, I felt like I got Star Wars back.

4 out of 4 wonderful new characters.

[Please note that while the review is spoiler-free, the comments are not!]

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

14 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Can't wait to see it next week. Lovely review, J.D.

Juliette said...

I love BB-8. So cute!

Anonymous said...

Saw it last night (uk) absolutely loved it! Lots of similarities with the OT but that's a good thing right? Rey, Finn, Poe & BB8 are true Star Wars characters, roll on 2017....

Paul Kelly said...

The thing I liked the most is that the five new characters -- Kylo Ren, Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Poe Dameron -- were all characters I cared about, and wanted to know more about. They also integrated really well with the old characters.

The fact that the plot so closely mirrored aspects of A New Hope did annoy me a little, but the rest was so good, I quickly forgot about it. At lest they showed the similar events from a different perspective.

I'm also amazed that the big twist wasn't spoiled prior to release. In fact, the other theories going around (re: Luke, Ren's identity, etc.) served to mask what actually did happen.

ChrisB said...

I loved it! Like you, J.D., as soon as the music started and the title crawl started, I got giddy and couldn't stop grinning. What a treat.

Your review is spot on. I agree with everything you say. And can I just say that BB-8 may be my favorite new character of 2015.

FlopHairedWuss said...

I liked it quite a bit, but it did have some big issues for me. Like Paul said, the similarity with A New Hope is a little too close. However as long as they move in a new direction with the next one and not rely too heavily on callbacks and references, ala Into Darkness, it's not too much of a problem. It was much better than the prequels, which is all I require for now.

The big issue I had though, was how unearned a lot of the big moments felt. The lack of weight given to them was a huge issue. The destruction of the StarKiller Base was met with a shrug, compared to the enormous cheer that A New Hope got out of me. It did make me laugh when they showed the original Death Star right next to the StarKiller Base to illustrate just how much bigger!! this one was.

The handling of Rey's character was especially problematic. While I liked that they made her independent and able to fend for herself, I felt they went to far in that direction. As a result, Rey felt too perfect as she was able to do pretty much everything she was faced with with relative ease. She needed to be more flawed, have moments of vulnerability to make her feel more human. Daisy Ridley is fantastic but I felt there wasn't all that much depth to her character on page. Due to this her big moments, like the scene where she was being able to use the force/lightsaber so easily and compete with a 'supposedly' Sith Master without any training, didn't have the weight they were supposed to.

I liked Finn and Poe quite a lot. Finn in particular had what Rey required. He felt much more relatable and human. Making him a Stormtrooper also lent to a very interesting perspective. Kylo Ren was also a fascinating character for the reasons you mentioned. (Although I did find it weird that he was getting inspiration for darkness from Darth Vader who also had the same struggle but inevitably chose the light). I also thought the relationship between Han and Leia was well handled. However despite the characters being very likable, the film moves by so fast that most of them didn't get the development they deserved. I suppose they're leaving all that for the sequels. The problem is that this means that the movie doesn't stand all that well on it's own.

Also what happened with Captain Phasma? The character was just thrown away for the purpose of a joke. It's possible her humiliation will lead to some interesting things in the sequels.

It reminded quite a lot of Star Trek (09) in that it was a very fun and enjoyable movie that didn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny. However, this did have the advantage of having much more interesting characters to invest in and root for. The coincidences and contrivance are also less glaring. As long as they don't make the same mistakes they did with Star Trek, the next one has the potential to be truly special.

Star Wars is good again. Now that the rebooting is out of the way, hopefully it'll become great.

TheShadowKnows said...

I have so much poisonous hate for the prequel trilogy - I felt like every one of those movies was the equivalent of Lucas waiting in the lobby and personally slapping each audience member in the face - that my wife had to twist my arm to even see this one. I'm glad I did though. It was a good flick.

Deborah Gallegos said...

I didn't have any of the problems that FlopHairedWuss had with this movie. I definitely thought it was the best of the 7 movies. I really enjoyed the callbacks to episode 4 A New Hope and didn't feel they mirrored its plot line. I really enjoyed Rey and BB and actually like when we have the now-rare very likable and not-flawed hero characters nowadays.

I really was shocked that I remained spoiler-free until seeing it today, especially with such (to me) shockers with the characters.

This whole movie led me and my family to a lot of avid speculation about the future of all involved and possible explanations and plot lines for future episodes. That's something we haven't done in quite awhile with these movies. I still remember my jaw dropping when I first saw the Empire Strikes Back and then we had to wait 3 while years to find out what happened?!

Way to go, JJ Abrams :)

Billie Doux said...

Yeah, I bet J.J. Abrams is feeling pretty darned good this week. :)

This movie is a huge success, as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure there were flaws, but I was engaged from the first minute to the last, the look and feel was very Star-Warsian, and I liked every new character -- a lot. It's clear that they had to decide between several homages to the earlier movies or doing all new stuff, and they went for the homages. I thought that was smart because it made it easy for us all to connect "The Force Awakens" to the previous six movies. And hey, they can do more new stuff in Episode 8.

While I particularly liked Rey, Finn and Poe (not enough Poe! I wanted more Poe), Harrison Ford was the emotional center of this movie, and you're right, J.D. -- he was Han as Han always was, just older. Carrie Fisher's Leia was wonderful, too. I was very impressed with Adam Driver's work as Kylo Ren, too. The long scene in the snowy woods near the end of the movie was terrific. This movie felt darker and more adult than, say, "Return of the Jedi", and most certainly more graphic with the violence.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing this movie again because while it was rich and detailed, it also moved very quickly. I'm certain that there's a lot of bits that I will savor and enjoy during rewatchings. Like -- Daniel Craig is in this movie! Hilarious. I was so pleased to see Ken Leung from Lost, too -- and Greg Grunberg!

Mark Greig said...

When the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on screen I had a massive grin on my face. That grin never left my face for the rest of the film, save for one or two scenes I won't spoil here. I've heard a lot of people say it was like a rehash of A Ne Hope, but for me The Force Awakens felt like a celebration of everything that was great about the original trilogy. I can't wait to see what Rian Johnson has got in store for Episode VIII.

Freeman said...

Saw it, enjoyed it, wasn't blown away. I can't really think of a particular "wow scene" in this movie. Pretty much every Star Wars movie has them, even the prequels. I found it incredibly predictable, but I don't mind predictability for the most part.

I liked BB-8 and Poe a lot. I think I actually prefer BB-8 over R2-D2 actually. I was worried that BB was just gonna be a weird rehash of R2 but they somehow managed to imbue him with his own visibly unique personality. Poe kinda had that charming rogue thing going on but he was in the movie so little there was barely any time for him to do much except sit in his ship. Hopefully he gets more screen time in the sequels. To me , Han and Leia were the best parts of the movie, Han in particular. He brought a lot of emotional weight to the movie, and even some fun one liners. It was nice that both the Resistance and The First Order were shown to be competent fighters side characters-wise.

I hated Kylo and Finn. Kylo for me is quite possibly one of the most ineffective villains I've ever seen. He like stands around being intimidating but when push comes to shove he just throws a tantrum or just screws up. This guy is the leader of an elite group of Jedi Killers? He couldn't even kill a janitor and a hobo. I dunno what his "training" is gonna be but at least for me, he has to make up for a lot of lost ground. Finn was just a bumbling fool the entire time. He was just like there the whole time. I don't really buy his whole reasoning for his actions, and I really hope there's more to him than was shown in this movie. Hopefully he gets some kind of upgrade in between movies, like Luke did because as of right now he's little more than comedy relief.

I am ambivalent about Rey. My issues with her mirror FlopHairedWuss. There was never any feeling of danger whenever she was onscreen. She was completely untouchable. Even Luke and Anakin had to go across movies and in some cases shows to show their growth. She could instantly fend off Sith Lord's powers, do high level Jedi techniques, use a lightsaber like a pro, she was kind, selfless, brave. The list goes on and on. Where's the conflict? She already wiped the floor with Kylo, barely breaking a sweat, and presumably now she's gonna get some very high level training. It'll feel kind of disingenuous if he's just sort of powerful out of nowhere, training or no training. Her being really talented at flying and mechanics isn't so much of an issue if her lineage is what it seems to be.

Best character in the movie was that Stormtrooper with the vibrostick thing that fought Finn. He was more intimidating than Kylo, and his weapon was gangster.

Anonymous said...

There are just some films that will never be replicated...Star Wars is one of them..Even if Force awakens was perfect it wouldn't be able to replace the Original impact Star wars had. Also Nostalgia tends to cloud even the most logical mind.

Personally i thought it far exceeded the prequels and can sit beside Return of the Jedi...I think because it mirrored alot of A New Hope it cannot be better while Empire Strikes Back is one of the best Sequels of all time. But as the beginning of the new set of films i think it has started brilliantly.

I can understand all the issues people had with the film and several of them bothered me a little but at the same time i could understand why certain things where done. I would say the negatives of this film could become better if episodes 8 and 9 really deliver..

I liked that the Luke and Vader dynamic was kinda flipped on its head Namely with Ren and Rey (Rey while wide eyed and innocent was far more capable then when we met Luke while Ren looked badass and intimidating was far less capable and Calm like Vader)...I found that to be interesting.
The fact that Kylo killed Han makes his character extremely important now. What they do with him now could make or break the entire series. His story and journey has become just as intriguing as Rey's.. I am fairly sure Rey is Luke's daughter, so i think the identity of her mother is the question.

I was surprised and a little disappointed at first that Rey could defeat Ren so easily....After watching the film again..A few things stood out..
Firstly he IS NOT A SITH...YET..Look how he falters without his mask on..Especially in the scene with Hux..His tantrums although funny also told us about his character. Vader this guy is not and i think that was a good move. I like that he is extremely flawed as a villain, i found that intriguing. He is like a more petulant but less whiny Anakin.

While he had training and Rey didn't (OR DID SHE) he is not a master. He just killed his father and was wounded by Chewwies big gun that we had seen blow multiple people away during the film..He was also wounded by Finn who he was arrogantly toying with...Judging from Finns prior fights the stormtroopers have clearly been trained to fight against lightsaber users.

Than if you look at the choreography of the fight both Ren and Rey don't really fight how they did in the Prequels..This was less slick and choreographed and was more raw, brutal and emotional..Finally Ren was not fighting to kill, he had two opportunities to do so but didn't and watching the fight again he was backing Rey up for the majority of it. The question i won't to know is if Rey would have killed him if the ground did not split.

I think that and a few more flaws within Rey will be explored in the 2nd film especially as she is now with Luke. Im really looking forward to watching Rey and Rens paralel story/training over the next few films and the deeper delving into characters like Poe, Phasma, Maz who were likeable but just massive plot devices.

FlopHairedWuss said...

After reading various opinions on the character, I have changed my mind about Rey. I still think her character needed more development and could have been better written, but the points made about Kylo Ren and his state of mind and body at the time of the fight, make it a lot easier to take her ability to beat him so easily with minimal training. Also how Luke was able to use the force effectively with minimal training. The issue was that I felt the seeds were there for a truly great character. It's just the writing that lets her down, making me not as emotionally invested as I wanted to be. Although that was an issue I had with the movie as a whole. As fantastic as the actors are, the movie really needed to slow down at points and take the time to develop it's characters, thereby making their big moments feel more earned.

The stuff about Rey being a Mary Sue (Most people don't really understand the term) is complete crap. It's worth noting as many people have pointed out, that if she was a male character she wouldn't be getting such a backlash.

The positive reaction to her character by children who see her as a role model is wonderful. Especially considering the rarity of that kind of thing in the mainstream, i.e. a strong, female character as the lead of a mainstream blockbuster. With that in mind, I'm willing to let it go but hopefully they improve on her characterisation in the sequel and add well-written to that too.

Kayne said...

When the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on screen I had a massive grin on my face... but then it vanished and I think I was even more disappointed than after episode I.

No plot (well yeah, A New Hope's), the CGI characters as disappointing as the ones from 15 years ago (seriously, what's Gollum doing in Star Wars)? But Freeman said it all.

And really, the nazis, again? And if the soldiers are engineered from birth to become stormtroopers, why do you make a nazi speech to them?

I'll definitely watch the next ones of course, but I hope it doesn't involve Rey training on Dagobah with Yoda...

Meh :/