Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

force-awakens IMDb

Ben
When Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney in 2012 and announced there were new Star Wars films coming, it’s safe to say that I was excited. I was finally going to get new Star Wars films, something I thought was over when Episode III was released in 2005. The expectations would be huge, but who cares? I was getting new Star Wars films and that was great.

Everything that Lucasfilm did seemed to point towards a company that understood their fan base and were determined to make their extended wait for new movies worth it. Their first move was hiring sci-fi fanboy and uber nerd J.J. Abrams to direct it. The man who made Star Trek cool by making it more like Star Wars was going to get to play in the sand box that he’d always dreamed about. They also announced there would be an emphasis on practical effects, rather than the CGI that left many fans frustrated with George Lucas’s prequels. Episode VII seemed like it was becoming a love letter from Lucasfilm to the fans for sticking around all this time, but would it deliver? Would it satisfy a rabid fan group that were so depressed after a lacklustre prequel trilogy?

The short answer is ‘yes… emphatically’. The Force Awakens does a fantastic job of bringing classic characters back into the fold, while also introducing us to several new ones that the fandom have embraced like they’ve always been there.

Episode VII picks up 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The evil Empire has risen again as the First Order, while the Rebel Alliance have now become the Resistance. Several years earlier, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) vanished after the Jedi school he set up was destroyed by one of his own students, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Leia (Carrie Fisher) is searching for a map to her brother’s whereabouts and dispatches her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to the desert planet of Jakku to obtain a clue that might lead to Luke. Poe hides the map to Luke in his faithful droid BB-8, who finds its way into town and befriends a young scavenger called Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey is helped by an AWOL Storm trooper (John Boyega) and they escape Jakku in the Millennium Falcon. They come across its previous owner, rebellion hero and former smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who can help get the droid back to Leia and the Resistance.

Easily the best character in this movie is Rey. She is the centrepiece of nearly everything that happens and I was very much in love with her character by the end. I can’t wait to see what Episode VIII has in store for her. This series has always managed to create strong female characters, from Leia to Padme, and Rey is no different. She is determined and smart. Her past is completely mysterious to the audience so we have no idea about her parentage. This is one of the things that I’m hoping Episode VIII will clear up. Ridley gives such an amazing performance in a movie where there must have been so much pressure. How do you possibly headline a new Star Wars film and live up to the standard created by Carrie Fisher all those years ago? It must have been a daunting experience, but one Daisy grabs with both hands.

The biggest complaint about this film and that it too closely follows the plot of Episode IV. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I can see similarities, but there are enough differences and new characters that it still feels fresh and fun. I also feel like copying the previous Star Wars films that worked was an intentional move to get the fanboys onside. It is a move that I feel was successful given the almost universal praise that this film received from both fans and critics.

The biggest compliment I can give this film is that it feels like a Star Wars film. It reintroduces us to a galaxy far, far away like we never even left it, and I can’t see myself leaving it any time soon.

Rating: A+

Note: I have deliberately not gone into spoilers for this film. The other movies were over 10 years old so I felt like the statute of limitations had well and truly passed. For this film, it is much more recent so I wanted to keep something secret. I also remember how much more I enjoyed the Force Awakens not knowing anything going in. It was a lesson for me to try to avoid as much as possible. With Episode VIII coming out in a few days, I’m glad to say I know nearly as little about that film as I did about this one walking into it. Here’s hoping I can avoid some spoilers for the next few days, so that my viewing experience is as good as it could possibly be.


Sally
When it was announced that there would be a new batch of Star Wars films being released, I was skeptical. Many of the CGI enhancements made to the original series left a bad taste in my mouth. The prequels were mostly disappointing. Did I really want to test my affection towards the series any more than I already had?

The answer of course would be a yes. Living with Ben means seeing most films in theaters, and there was no way he would let me miss Episode VII. But by the time we entered the cinema, I was ready. A slow trickle of details and trailers had primed my excitement.

There are so many reasons why I love The Force Awakens. Anyone who knows me well (or has read the blog closely) may have already guessed that I’m a big fan of the casting. Episode VII gives audiences not only a female lead in Rey (Daisy Ridley), but also two men of color backing her up (John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Po Dameron). This would already make the movie more diverse than any of its predecessors, but the filmmakers didn’t stop there. Resistance fighters in the background are a delightful mix of genders and ethnic backgrounds. The inclusiveness feels natural, never forced, but is so significant in a series previously dominated by white men.

Not that the white men included aren’t great. Adam Driver is perfect as new baddie Kylo Ren. I am predisposed to hate him after watching the first season of Girls, but even so, Driver is excellent. Then of course, there is the return of Han Solo. Getting Harrison Ford back on the Millennium Falcon was a bit of coup, and I’m so glad Lucasfilm/Disney were able to pull it off. Many of Ford’s recent roles felt a bit like he was phoning it in, but not here. He actually looks like he’s having some fun.

And of course, there’s Carrie Fisher. I thought I loved Leia before, but I had no idea until this movie. The simple act of showing her as an older woman feels delightfully subversive. When last we saw her, she was on full display in a certain gold bikini. Now she’s got wrinkles and gray hairs, is General of the Resistance and dressed to matched. Guess what, guys? Not only are women taking over, but we age too!

Of course, all of this would be moot if the story was shit. It’s not. Force Awakens may hit many of the same story beats as Episode IV, but there’s enough originality to make it fun and fresh. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I highly recommend it. You will be entertained from start to finish.

Rating: A+

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