I remember my first interaction with Star Wars as a child, it was around 1986-1987 and Return of The Jedi was playing in a hospital room I was visiting as a little dude. I was engrossed by the whole Endor forest scenes and being that age of course the Ewoks, leading to a rabid addiction to the short-live Ewoks cartoon series.
Now, coming from that perspective I was already versed in many things Star Wars, when The Phantom Menace came out, having well established myself with the universe and some of the expanded universe via the decently produced audio books, and was one of the early adopters that the new film sucked hard.
Drugging through the prequels it seemed that we’d never get to have that movie magic back, with these cold reading actors relying heavily on the unseen digital effects to be put in later in post. However, once Disney finally took over the franchise there was finally “a new hope”, pun intended.
The Force Awakens, does rely heavily on what the original trilogy did plot-wise. We have another space weapon looking to destroy planets, and the Empire, now dubbed the First Order reasserting themselves as the space Nazis we remember them to be. It’s just seen through a different lens thanks to J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, and yes I’m giving Kennedy much of the credit here.
It’s familiar enough that people can absorb these new characters, who are indeed the main focus of the film. No matter what you had previously though, the mantra had always been new heroes would be the driving force of the film, which they are.
We first get revealed what this First Order is capable of and the heroics of Poe, a spunky fighter pilot, who might become more of a military figure in future films, but none the less a good addition to the lineup.
The main main character is Rey, a scrapper on a backwater junk desert planet Jakku, who just happens to quickly learn the ways of the force, with deep connections to both new villain Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker himself. Daisy Ridley’s character is equally charming and the one we were rooting for the most in the film, taking zero help and having no time for romance, it’s the kind of female heroine that Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel should be inspired by. Ridley’s performance being the key standout of the film, along with John Boyega’s Finn.
Finn, a life-long hostage of the First Order, turns sides as his discovers that he’s more hero than villain. Another character that was compelling, while the prequels gave us nothing like this, it was a bit overwhelming that we actually started to become invested and care about their journeys within the film. I thought it was a bit of a fake-out leading us to believe he was going to be a jedi, even though he was wielding that lightsaber mostly well.
It’s revealing to learn that Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo, a mash-up of Ben Skywalker and Jacen Solo. Not surprising, considering Lucasfilm excluded the expanded universe via the books, giving them a bit more wiggle room to create strong characters, and give twists we may not see coming.
Rey, seemingly looks to be the daughter of Luke Skywalker, which would explain Ben Solo, as they would need a female Skywalker to push the film forward. You might not know this, but originally Luke was going to be girl in the original film, and was changed last minute. It speaks to it’s new inclusive nature, that I think will make many Star Wars fans happy and could help open doors, Hollywood studios have felt the need to shut.
Luke’s location being the McGuffin (item of interest or search) film didn’t feel as tacked-on, as some would have you believe. I think it was well done keeping him in the shadows, and having the original cast act as support, rather than taking it over.
Sets, effects, and models were mostly practical, and it was impressive to a high level. You could tell a majority of the budget was placed on screen, and gave us a good warm environment for these characters to be inhabiting, it didn’t look like Abrams’ Trek films, which I was really worried about. It was Star Wars, not Abrams presents Star Wars. Although, some of the creature designs did feel more like leftovers from Trek.
The digital characters which were limited, did look good for the most part. Maz being the most with emotion and depth, while Snoke was horribly designed and looked like a reject from Middle-Earth concepts. I would have much rather seen him as a giant snake dude to be honest, his scenes actually took me out of the movie and I’d hoped they would fix that somehow for Episode VIII.
The action was great, and a majority of the jokes landed well. A bit cheesy at times, but they didn’t fall flat on their face, like the prequels did. I think a lot of people are going to anticipating the next phase of Rey’s journey in the next installment, and her jedi training.
I’d have to place it slightly above Return of The Jedi, if only because it’s a similar film, but done a bit better. It’s not quite Empire or Hope, but I’m sure Episodes VIII and IX will have something else to say, adding to this new wave of the franchise. It feels like a close cousin to Empire, and this feels like a real Star Wars film when the prequels did not.
I’ll also be quite interested to see how well received Rogue One will be, as it’s another Star Wars film with a female lead hero and comes out next, I’d rather not see some overlap with these two films. Focusing on bounty hunters and the military should help things, but I’ll still be curious to see how fans react.