Before walking into STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, which is technically the seventh film made but the fourth chapter in the series, I basically had three criteria by which I would judge whether or not the film was a success.
- Does this movie make me want to revisit the three original movies and watch for the first time the three prequels that I haven’t seen?
- Would this movie stand on its own merits if I hadn’t seen any of the others movies?
- Does this movie make me look forward to more of the force to come?
I am so pleased to report that the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding YES!
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is a grand time at the movies! Director JJ Abrams has succeeded not only in paying homage and respect to the films that have come before him but to do something which might even be more difficult – he creates a new cast of characters that are original, interesting, and potentially able to someday obtain the icon status that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia have achieved.
Before going too far into the review, I should admit that I’m not a Star Wars junkie or a Trekkie or an Iron Maniac or an Incredible Hulkster. I enjoy them as popcorn entertainment; however, I don’t have an obsession for them. If you want to read about a true blue fan, revisit my interview with Fred Saurmann.
That being said, the first STAR WARS will always have a special place in my heart, as it is the first film I ever recall seeing in a theater. In fact, I remember writing a paper on this experience for either a high school or college English class, in which I harkened back to my 4-year old self sitting in the dark theater, hearing the strains of John Williams’ legendary score, and my mom whispering in my ear that words I was too young to read for myself: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
One quick note: This review may contain potential spoilers. In some instances, I will not divulge specific incidents that occur, but I must address them somewhat in explaining not only my review of the movie but parental suggestions. If you want to go into the movie totally spoiler free, I’d way till after seeing the movie to read any further.
THE FORCE AWAKENS picks up 30 years after RETURN OF THE JEDI left off. Even though the Galactic Empire has been defeated, there is a new threat from the First Order, headed by the evil Kylo Ren. The heroine of our story is a young scavenger named Rey, played quite nicely by Keira Knightley look-a-like Daisy Ridley, who is joined by a defector storm trooper named Finn. They eventually meet up with Han Solo and Chewbacca as everyone tries to find the whereabouts of the last of the Jedi Knights – the one and only Luke Skywalker.
I’m sorry, but that’s the best description I can give you. I don’t know if it’s a failure of the movie or a failure of the reviewer, but I can’t keep track of all the different names that are thrown about. I had to rely on Google just to get me this far. Didn’t anyone in this solar system have names like Bob and Mary?
It was an unexpectedly moving experience for me to see the return of the characters from the first films – a little more haggard, a little heavier, but overall looking pretty good. Maybe they have Botox in this galaxy. One main character is noticeably absent for the vast majority of the film, but this is explained by the end. R2D2 and C3PO even put in a couple cameos. I was just dying to see R2D2 and the new lovable droid known as BB-8 get into a cat fight, but it never happened.
Much has been said about the derivative nature of the film, that the director has borrowed a little too much and a little too freely from the previous movies, and in retrospect I see their points. There are plot lines and situations and even camera angles and specific scenes that harken back to the original. That being said, and perhaps this was the point of not doing the films in chronological order, the amount of time between the first STAR WARS movies and this one created a sense of nostalgia rather than deja vu. And there is one scene in particular that harkens back to the original, but there is one character involved rather than two – that brought a lump to my throat. I’m dying to go into more detail, but you’ll just have to see for yourself.
This is pure adrenaline-laced joy, probably the most popcorn-movie fun I’ve had since INDEPENDENCE DAY! As I mentioned, the new characters are very promising. I was especially enamored of Finn, the former Storm Trooper who forms an allegiance with the Resistance. I’m anxious to see if his backstory is expounded upon in the future movies – we don’t know much about him, but there is a hint of a checkered past there. Same with Rey – I have an idea of who she might be, but it’s never confirmed and there could be a surprise as to how she’s connected to the other players in this space opera.
Unfortunately, there are a few flaws that keep it from being a 5-star masterpiece. When The evil Kylo Ren is unmasked, he turns out to look like an Emo teenager resembling a young Severus Snape from Harry Potter. I’m not blaming Adam Driver’s performance – it just didn’t work for me. Also, I wish more had been done with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Her performance is basically relegated to a cameo, and not near enough time and exposition are given to what happened between her and Han Solo. Hopefully she’ll play a bigger role in the future films.
All that said, this is an overwhelming success! And having already become the highest grossing film ever after less than a month of release, the world obviously agrees with me for a change.
As far as the kiddies go, this is a toughie! The film is rated PG-13. My 7 year old nephew Keegan went with me and had no trouble with the violence, which consists mainly of laser guns and light sabers; however, Sara shared with me that her son Paul was very upset by the murder of one of the characters. If your children are easily affected by such things, you may want to keep that in mind. Keegan got a little bored during the scenes in between shoot outs and had two bathroom breaks, so if you have younger kids wanting to see it, you may be better off waiting till it comes to DVD so you can fast forward during the “boring” parts.
JEFF RATING: **** out of ***** (Very good)
PARENTAL WARNINGS: Lots of shootings and killings with laser guns and light sabers – nothing overly realistic in my opinion. There are some scary creatures and villains, tropical of this type of movie. A main character is killed. I don’t recall any bad language – if there was any, it was definitely minimal.
SUGGESTED VIEWING AGE: Depends on the maturity and tolerance level of your children. Younger kids may get bored as it runs over 2 hours. I would suggest 9 years and up.