MOVIE REVIEW: STAR WARS - THE FORCE AWAKENS

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...we thought we'd seen the end to one of the most beloved movie franchises in the history of cinema that first began back in 1977 with the original Star Wars created by George Lucas. Return of the Jedi (1983) capped off the fever pitch of anticipation that The Empire Strike Back (1980) so famously set up before it with the infamous "I am your Father" quote from Darth Vader at the end of that film. Expectations were extremely high for what would happen next in the story and ultimately Return of the Jedi did a solid job of tying up the major plot points of the Original Trilogy in grand fashion. The 2nd Death Star was destroyed, Darth Vader was dead and the Empire was ultimately defeated thanks to the heroic efforts of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. All was right with Galaxy...or so we thought.

Now 32+ years later, we have the first true sequel to Return of the Jedi and with it the expectation of what we hope will be a film that honors what came before it while taking us into a brand new era of Star Wars drama complete with all the cinematic thrills we've come to expect from the franchise. After years of sequel speculation and a questionable Prequel Trilogy, The Force Awakens ushers us back into the beloved Star Wars Universe and into a new conflict where old friends from the past join forces with a new generation of heroes for another tale of good versus evil. Is it good? No. Is it great? No...It's FANTASTIC! It's not only the classic imagery of Star Wars that you know and love that takes you back, it's the heart and soul of what made the Original Trilogy so special in the first place that keeps you grinning from ear-to-ear throughout watching the new film. It just "feels" like the original movies.

Chewbacca and Han Solo

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill return to their iconic roles and where we find them all these years later is just one of the many highlights that make The Force Awakens such a treat for longtime fans. This also helps with introducing the newer cast that includes Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren). So what's the basic premise of the new film? In a nutshell, The First Order fills the void left by the Galactic Empire after the events of Return of the Jedi and has become the dominant threat throughout the Galaxy going head-to-head with the Resistance now led by former-Princess now-General Leia. All the while, a scavenger (Rey) from the planet Jakku crosses paths with a former Stormtrooper (Finn) and a Resistance Fighter Pilot (Dameron) as the mysterious Kylo Ren (Driver) and The First Order threaten the very fabric of the Galaxy with a Deathstar-like weapon known as Starkiller Base. What happens next is a high octane adventure filled with action, intrigue, and the revelation of a much bigger story to come as The Force Awakens is the first film in a new trilogy!

The Classic Space Opera Refreshed For A New Generation!

Each of the new characters are complex with shrouded back stories that only hint at possible future events to come. Questions about who Rey may or may not be related to are already popping up along with who Finn is as well. As in the previous Star Wars films, the seeds of a much larger plot are clearly being planted here and they will eventually be revealed in subsequent sequels. George Lucas has said in the past that Star Wars was about fathers, sons and family in general. It is a space opera after all so it's reasonable to assume that some of our new heroes may turn out to be related to certain characters from the past. In many ways, the film feels like a passing of the guard as a newer generation takes the reigns of a franchise that has continued to captivate audiences the world over for decades since the original.

Kylo Ren

"I Will Finish What You Started."

Taking over for George Lucas, Director and Writer J.J. Abrams does a fantastic job from start to finish on The Force Awakens and I was more than satisfied by the end of it. The movie has a truly epic feel and, more than anything, the whole franchise just feels likes its been given a brand new coat a paint with astonishing attention to detail. Everything feels refreshed and the scope and scale of the conflict throughout this film has a real menacing tone that doesn't let up until the end credits roll. I guess the old saying of "everything old is new again" totally rings true here. The iconic Stormtroopers now have a more modern look to them as do most of the familar vehicles and ships you'll recognize from the previous films. This is the Star Wars Universe brought back to life and it looks amazing even if its been many years since the fall of the Galactic Empire! The story does feel like it takes place many years later and that's completely reinforced by the downed Star Destroyers and X-Wings that litter the dessert on Jakku. It's a pretty haunting image every time you see it on-screen. While it's easy to feel a bit giddy with all the callbacks to the Original Trilogy however, and there are many, it's also a little disappointing at the same time and that is just one of the two real issues I had with the film overall.

Death Star 2.0: Original (Above) Starkiller Base (Below)

The Force Awakens follows the orginal Star Wars almost TOO closely right down to the Starkiller Base which plays homage to the original Death Star but with more sophisticated planet-killing capabilities. I won't give anything away here but let's just say that if you've seen the original Star Wars (and who hasn't?!) think of this film as a modern retelling of the original classic but with extremely high tech visuals and a sound experience that'll blow your mind. There's enough NEW to call it new because of the new characters and what they bring to the table, but there's A LOT of the old to almost make it distracting as well. It's easy to get lost in it, however, and when the 3rd Act begins, you're pretty much watching what you already know and love about the original film. It's a fun ride either way! I get the respect this one has for the original but I think it would've been better had it not been so predictable even when they explained how the Starkiller Base could ultimately be destroyed. Shouldn't The First Order have learned a lesson or two from the Empire's failings in designing the Death Star after it was destroyed...TWICE?!

Captain Phasma

The only other problem was the lack of any real story content for a character that was hyped up from the very beginning when Lucasfilm debuted the first The Force Awakens trailer. From the moment that silver Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma, walked towards the camera in slow dramatic fashion, I was hyped and also super excited to find out she was being played by Game of Thrones' Gwendoline Christie. Given her role on that hit HBO show, hopes were high for what that could mean for an evil Stormtrooper Commander with an awesome name like Captain Phasma! Unfortunately, there was very little of this character in the final film, aside from a few rather unimportant scenes, but given the marketing push she has gotten since the film debuted, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Captain Phasma in the next film and hopefully beyond. I'd like to think The Force Awakens was more of an introductory film for various characters and the possible stories behind them that will definitely be fleshed out over time.

In closing, I can honestly say that aside from the couple issues that I personally had with The Force Awakens, the overall film is fantastic and it returns the franchise to a time and place I haven't felt since I was a kid. That in and of itself is reason enough to celebrate the return of Star Wars because it's nostalgia with some awesome foreshadowing of what's come...especially at the end! I watched the film in IMAX 3D and I'd recommend that format to anyone if you want the REAL Star Wars experience. Aside from the amazing scale of the screen, the 3D is subtle enough to not be too distracting and it really does put you into the heart of the action. For me personally, there is no substitute! The Force Awakens is truly the movie watching event of this generation. It restores and honors the legacy of what came before it while pointing us in exciting new directions with the promise of more films to come. If this is a trap, as Admiral Ackbar has suggested in the past, I definitely don't want to be set free!

OVERALL SCORE: 9/10

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