MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Spoiler-free]

NEW RELEASE – SPOILER FREE ZONE!

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterSTAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Directed by JJ Abrams

“Faster, more intense!”

15 minutes ago, I was sitting in my theater seats.  That’s how fresh this review is!

As mentioned in this morning’s post, Star Wars Episode VII is the movie I really wanted to see, ever since 1983.  We didn’t care about backstory, we didn’t want to see prequels.  All we cared about was “What happens next?  What happens to Han, Luke and Leia?”  That’s one reason Timothy Zahn’s written sequel, the “Thrawn Trilogy”, was so well received by fans worldwide.  But that’s just a book — what really happens after the second Death Star is destroyed?

Now I know, and I am not disappointed.

Director JJ Abrams has re-captured the magic.  The lived-in universe is back.  The wooden, stiff dialogue and exposition are gone.  The new quartet of leads (Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and especially the impressive Daisy Ridley) are everything we wanted out of a new generation of Star Wars heroes and villains.  They will now join the pantheon of characters that live on in our hearts.  The camaraderie and friendships that were never believable in the prequels have finally come back to life.  Without the misguided hands of George Lucas at the tiller, the Star Wars sequel trilogy has begun anew, with life.

Rey is a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku.  The parallel here to Tattooine is unmistakable and obviously intentional, but Jakku has its own charm by being strewn with original trilogy space junk.  In fact, the whole movie is littered with original trilogy callbacks, from certain objects on a familiar starship, to the overall look and deco of the universe.  The galaxy has seen a lot of wear and tear, but a new threat called the First Order has risen, and wants to see the end of the New Republic.  The Republic (which we don’t get to see much of), is defended by a secret organization much like the rebels, called the Resistance.  They are led by General Leia Organa, continuing on doing what she knows how to do best.  How does Rey fit in?  When a droid carrying a secret message for the Resistance (sound familiar?) and an ex-stormtrooper fall into her life, it will never be the same again.


Uber-fans will like to know that there are some shots and lines in the trailers that are different in the movie.

The new characters serve the archetypes that worked in classic Star Wars movies.  You have an orphan on the desert world, a hotshot pilot (or perhaps two), and the cute but witty little droid who helps out at all the right moments, but mostly needs rescuing.  Original?  Not hardly.  The original trilogy, with its familiar set pieces and dialogue, are omnipresent.  Fans have set the bar much lower since the prequels, and a group of re-tread heroes will have the fans satiated.  Then we have the villain, Kylo Ren, the enforcer of the First Order, and face of the Disney marketing campaign.  Much has been made of Ren’s wimpy voice, but in full theater sound it works much better.  Adam Driver, an extremely talented and distinguished looking actor, fit the role like a glove.  His epic temper tantrums rival those of his idol, Lord Vader himself.

But don’t worry.  There aren’t any dreadful “Noooooooooo’s” or lines about sand being course and getting everywhere.  There aren’t wishy-washy speeches about love, although Finn and Rey have a bond that could develop into romance later on.  Writer Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the classic trilogy and knew where Lucas wanted to take this thing, helped tremendously.  From opening crawl to final scene, this feels right.

In many respects, The Force Awakens is Han Solo’s movie.  When he and Chewbacca hook up with our new heroes (in a totally believable way), he takes over the lead and drives the plot forward.  Harrison Ford seems to have turned his “Han Solo” knob up to 11.  The older, wiser and sadder man has seen it all, now.  As another character once said, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage”.  Solo and Chewie’s presence make the whole thing really feel like Star Wars.

My biggest concern going into this was that a Star Wars sequel trilogy would not feel like it was part of the whole; it would feel tacked on to the end.  That is not the case.  While George Lucas had nothing to do with the film, it does carry his wish that a new Star Wars trilogy would focus on a new generation of heroes, while remaining a story about the Skywalker family.  JJ Abrams has done that, in an appropriate and lively way.  The new Star Wars is the most exciting in many years, and what it lacks in originality it makes up in spirit.  I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

My only serious beef is about this new superweapon the First Order have.  Superweapons are a part of Star Wars, and always require blowing up.  This one made no sense at all, especially how it was visually depicted.  We need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to do a pop-up video and tell us just how stupid that thing is.  If you thought the “red matter” and destruction of Vulcan sucked in Star Trek, wait until you see this stupid thing.  Just pretend it makes sense and watch the pretty starship dogfights.

Oh, and Luke Skywalker?  Some will be disappointed, but those who love Star Wars will have the same goosebumps that I did.  Mark Hamill is the man.  Luke is back, looking weary but powerful and wise.  There are a lot of loose ends to tie up.  Get ready, galaxy.

4/5 stars

Don’t forget to tune in tonight at midnight (ET) for Rob Daniels’ Visions In Sound, when he and I will be playing the brand-new Star Wars soundtrack composed by John Williams!  Tune in locally on your FM dial to CKWR 98.5, or elsewhere, just click “listen live” via their website!  The show runs from midnight to 2 am (ET).  Coffee?

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EDIT: Stream the whole show here!

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41 comments

  1. I just got home after seeing the movie. I would give it 4 1/2 out of 5. I think your review is right on otherwise. Luke looked just perfect. It is certainly a copy of the original Star Wars movie in just about every way but, as you say, it’s what we have been waiting for. I can hardly wait for the next installment.

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  2. I’ve been pretty much resisting any excitement and anticipation for this. Don’t want to get too invested, and therefore risk disappointment. But I’m starting to get excited now… your review is positive and trustworthy so I’ll allow myself a bit of excitement at last! Plan to go see it after Christmas when the fuss has died down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t wait too long because word is going to leak out about the plot. It would spoil the movie for me if I knew what was going to happen before I saw the movie.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thanks HMO. I have read a lot of “fanboy” reviews with complaints about the movie, but most of it is nonsense. Uncle Meat and I were talking earlier today and his big problem is how much the plot resembles A New Hope.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t know what your experience was like Robert, but the theater I was in, nobody pulled a “Homer Simpson” (I know the reference you mean). The people coming out were all visibly excited and I heard a lot of “better the second time” and “can’t wait to see it again tomorrow”, but nobody was discussing plot out loud. Which I thought was great!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. We are going again on boxing day (26th) and a few more times after that. Hehe. Yes, people have been pretty good not spoiling it. So has the media too. I think we both will enjoy it again (if not more) the second time around.

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  3. Sometimes it feels a little tricky to separate the delight in a new slab of Star Wars that is actually worth watching from the actual quality of the film. Certainly the look is fantastic. I just loved the beached spacecraft that Rey scavenges. There were moments when I felt my buttons being rather crudely pushed by the writers but I guess that’s forgivable – they want to reach the largest possible audience and that usually means popularism is rampant. Just ask commercially successful rock acts!
    Anyway, it was fun and I’d go again. And that has to be worth 4 stars, eh?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There were a lot of buttons being pushed Bruce. I just bought the “Art of the Force Awakens” book yesterday afternoon. I read it cover to cover last night. All of the button pushing is 100% intentional. There were more buttons left on the cutting room floor!

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  4. I still haven’t booked to see it yet. Although the original trilogy just ruled my whole world for years, I got badly hurt by the prequels and I’m finding it hard to get caught up in the whirl of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Let me say this, and I do not mean to be controversial,

    But I am not overly keen to go see it in cinemas because I am waiting for the DVD and/Blu-Ray so I can re-watch it. Plus, there are a lot of films coming out next year.

    I dunno. I’m prepared to wait.

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    1. Well Nick I can understand that but be careful about spoilers. They are going to be very, VERY hard for avoid. The DVD comes out in April. I’ll be posting a full spoiler review when that arrives, but avoiding spoilers that long will be hard!

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  6. Just home from seeing it. The gang I was with was discussing it immediately afterwards and I just couldn’t do it yet. I need time to think.

    I liked it well enough, though. This just may be the first time in a long time I haven’t had immediate thoughts and babbling about something. Gimme time.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Nah it’s OK, I just had this overwhelming feeling, right afterwards, that after all the hype, all the anticipation, I just did a two-hour Matrix-like download of SW material into my head after a lot of years of nothing new to be had, and it took me a while to unpack it all.

        I liked it. The new characters are good, the old characters were welcome. I had plot point problems, but that’s every SW movie too. It answered enough questions, and posed a ton more. They left it WIDE open for Ep. VIII.

        In all, it was good. I won’t go back to the theater again, but I’ll get the DVD when it comes out.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Glad to hear this. And the kids?

          When they do the DVD I will re-review. And then we can discuss specifics! I believe you can already pre-order. Is there anything you can’t pre-order? I remember when Amazon listed Episode III before the movie was even made. There were some pretty funny mock-reviews on that though. “It was a shock to find out Chewbacca is Han Solo’s father”, etc.

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      2. We ended up not taking our son this time. My lovely wife (she was right) decided we’d better screen it for him before he sees it. And there are a couple of scenes that might be too much for him, so she probably made a good call. Of course, he’ll see it when we get the DVD anyway.

        I can try to talk specifics, but I think a lot of people onlne are already covering a lot of what I thought already. Not too much I could add, probably.

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        1. Here’s the thing though. I don’t give a crap what 99.9% of the internet has to say about the movie. But I DO care what you think, and I really do look forward to hearing more of your thoughts hopefully when I post the DVD review!

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  7. I am shocked it only got a 4/5 on the Lebrain scale. For something you have been waiting for since you were a young lad, I would have almost expected a 5. Too bad. Still, it must be awesome. I think I will see it in the next week or so. Hopefully the theatres aren’t as crowded by then.
    Maybe the number dropped off a bit since you had to watch Chewbacca hook up with new heroes. That can’t be a pretty picture.
    Meesa say if Jar Jar Binks had made a reappearance, yousa would have been bumped up to a 5. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just got back from our Boxing Day showing and man what a blast was had! While sure there were some questionable moments and agree the Episode IV blueprint was a tad too evident (and was it just me or once Kylo Ren lost his faceless mask did the whole First Order take a slide in its badness stakes?)… but The Force Awakens was otherwise everything had hoped it would be made more special by having my own teenage son watching with me bringing back memories of my old man taking me to the original movies about the same age! \m/

    Looking forward to yer followup review fer this one Mike.

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    1. Oh, and 4 stars minimum, The Force Awakens redeems the franchise after those terrible TERRIBLE prequels (the kick ass Darth Maul being the one exception of course ;)

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    1. Here’s the thing J — I reviewed Phantom Menace by in 99 and gave it 5/5 stars. Some of my buddies may deny this today, but they loved it too. Mostly! I remember watching it at Tom’s place on widescreen VHS tape.

      So I wanted to proceed with caution, having seen this movie so freshly. 4/5 seems fair. BUT, I will do a full-on spoilerific Blu-ray review of this movie in April. I’ll go over all my thoughts and analysis as well as talking about the Blu-ray features and deleted scenes etc. That will give me a chance to see if I feel a higher score is warranted. Stay tuned for April.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw Phantom Menace a few times in the cinema and on DVD. Initially i was unable to seperate it from the excitement of Star Wars, but i also found it difficult to get with it – to believe what I’d seen was what I was excited about. As the rest of the prequilogy arrived I disliked it more. Eventually I grew to thinking that Phantom Menace is the worst film I’ve ever seen. Ever. Harsh? Perhaps, but there was so much that frustrated me. Same could be said for the rest.

        … I shall look forward to April (feel free to enter into email discussion before then, of course!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Watch Phantom Menace again, today. It’s interesting how I hate it less now that I know there are better things coming. Watching it as backstory, as how the universe was before it all went to shit is a good way to look at it. People talked and acted stiffly before the Empire took over :)

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        2. Oooft! No thanks. Too many things about that film I just don’t like. The two sequels were ever so slightly better, but that first one is like a cartoon … I just can’t.

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