The Force Awakens Receives the Torch with Plenty of Ambition

*Potential Spoilers Ahead: Be Warned*

As a twenty-year-old, I obviously have no idea how it felt to watch the original Star Wars: A New Hope in theaters when it was new. Watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens today can’t be quite the same, considering all of the throwbacks and tributes to the original series, but I can imagine that the sense of excitement, wonder and imagination was very similar to what I felt watching the Millennium Falcon roar back into my life. Though at times the throwbacks were a little too much and the surprises a little too quick, J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens has taken the torch George Lucas lit and is running with it towards a future far, far away.

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Thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star and the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, a new organization, The First Order, moves to overthrow the Republic and restore the Dark Side of the Force to ruling the galaxy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a member of The First Order, captures one of the Resistance’s best pilots, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who has information about the long missing Luke Skywalker to deliver to his superiors. Dameron sends the information with his droid, BB-8, to deliver back to the resistance. BB-8 is found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on Jakku, and rogue Stormtropper FN-2187, or Finn (John Boyega). Together, Rey and Finn traverse the galaxy to bring BB and his puzzle piece to the Resistance in the hopes of finding Luke and restoring balance to the Force.

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When The Force Awakens was first announced, plenty of big names were thrown around for our new main characters; for Rey, I heard Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Olsen, Shailene Woodley; for Finn, Zac Efron, Alex Pettyfer, Michael B. Jordan.  Hugo Weaving and Michael Fassbender were thrown around for Kylo Ren. Part of the magic of the first movies though was the relative anonymity of the cast. Carrie Fisher had a career, sure, but Mark Hamill was almost unknown and Harrison Ford was “that one guy from that one movie”. Not having a predetermined view of these people gave us a clean slate for the characters, and doing the same for the next installment of this franchise was a great move. The new kids are fun to watch, and though they are taking the place of the originals, they have their own personalities and quirks. Finn is basically a little puppy, easily excitable and doing his best to help. Rey is haunted by memories, waiting for her family to return to her, and when she discovers BB-8 (really it’s amazing how much emotion a robot that can’t speak can have) she proves to be a knowledgeable and powerful ally. Both Ridley and Boyega prove they are completely capable of carrying on this series, and I’m excited to see how they and their characters develop.

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That is not to say that we’re not happy to see our old friends back- time has been good to the original trio of Star Wars. Harrison Ford still pulls off the rugged Han Solo, but a Han Solo who has lived for thirty years, lost his friend, his ship, and only has his Wookie first mate to rely on (though Chewie has definitely aged the best of everyone, he must be dying those roots). Fisher’s now General Leia also embodies the tired soul of someone who has been fighting for far too long, yet never giving up on the ideals she was just as passionate about in her youth. They know what will happen if The First Order takes over, and they will do what they can to keep it from happening all over again and make sure these new kids know what they’re getting into. And, hopefully, find Leia’s long-lost brother.

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The First Order itself is a little more fear-inspiring than I remember the Empire being- sure, the scene where Stormtroopers burned Luke’s farm to the ground was graphic, but they soon developed a reputation for being easy to kill and likely to miss. The first scene of The Force Awakens, the new and frankly improved Stormtroopers raid and town and though some are still the cannon fodder they always were, others shoot and DON’T MISS. The sheer number and ferocity of the new Stormtroopers definitely makes the First Order seemed like it should be feared, particularly with shiver-inducing leaders like Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), even if the latter was drastically underused for how cool she could have been.

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The movie does tread a very thin line between homage and just plain cheesy. The opening credits roll with a sense of nostalgia, and hints to the original movies pop up in unexpected places- Chewie and R2’s hologram game, for example- but some references are less subtle and almost annoying. The three main planets almost directly reflect Endor, Hoth and Tatooine (if anyone thought we were going back to Luke’s home planet after the trailers, I’m afraid I must disappoint- that’s just Jakku. One sun here, folks), and we know even less about them than we do about the original planets they reflect. We are treated to a scene reminiscent of the cantina where we met Han and Chewie for the first time, but all it does is remind us of the cantina and makes us want that back.

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The main issue I had while watching this movie were, sadly, the biggest moments. Without naming names or moments, the spoilers came flying at us fast and early, and it felt too soon. Even in the original trilogy, we were given big moments, but there weren’t dramatic reveals or secrets until The Empire Strikes Back– with what we learn during this movie, it almost makes me wonder what we could have to look forward to in the movies to come. There also a few moments that made me feel like I was watching a Marvel film- the leader of the first order, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, in his usual CG glory) is large and just seems odd with all of the humans and humanoids surrounding him. In this world where we suddenly have vulnerable villains, it’s odd to have one that isn’t human, but rather almost Thanos-like. Sure, this is a big universe with many creatures, but most of them move and seem real- for some reason, Snoke just feels like he wandered onto the wrong film set and any second now, Thor is going to come flying in to smack him with a hammer.

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Overall, this film manages to get back to something that I was worried they’d lose- in this larger than life universe, somehow it still feels small and personal, something intimate for fans and newcomers alike. The Force Awakens is poised to reach a new generation of Star Wars fans, and not everyone has been exposed to the franchise in its entirety. Even fewer have tried to understand the expanded universe in books and comics and shows. For the movie to be understood by all is something that’s hard to do, but I think even the most inexperienced in the galaxy far, far away can understand and even enjoy The Force Awakens.

4/5

I do recommend a second or third showing- 2 hours and 15 minutes isn’t the longest a movie has ever been, but there’s so much in it that you may want to see what you missed.

Honorary Jedi Knights- we’re home.

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