Review: Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens – A NEW New Hope

Written by Jesse Gelinas December 19, 2015

 

The signature opening crawl for Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens

I am a member of an unfortunate demographic. I wasn’t alive to see Star Wars in theaters. We are a sad species, trapped in a never-ending cycle of watching re-mastered DVDs full of badly rendered CGI aliens blocking every single shot. And a travesty of a musical number in Jedi that makes you want to punch yourself in the throat. Lucky us, we got the prequels… Enough about that. The biggest and baddest sci-fi opera franchise is finally back! Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens finally gives us young ‘uns a chance to experience the mystery and majesty of George Lucas’ greatest achievement in imagination. And this time, thankfully, without George Lucas at the helm.

The Force Awakens picks up about 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker is missing, and with him, any evidence that the Jedi were ever real at all. Rising from the ashes of the Empire, the First Order, under the rule of Supreme Leader Snoke, now fights to tighten its grip on the galaxy and obtain the total control the Empire once held. With both the First Order and the Resistance searching for Luke, a droid containing the map to his location becomes the McGuffin of the day. The droid, along with a young scavenger, a defecting Stormtrooper, an ace pilot, and a few familiar faces, must cross the galaxy to join the Resistance and defeat the First Order and its dangerous commander, Kylo Ren.

“It’s true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It’s all true.”

To get the nitpicky stuff out of the way (because it can’t just simply be ignored), Episode VII is not without its flaws. Fans of the original trilogy (OT) will quickly notice that The Force Awakens is a rather blatant rehash of A New Hope. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is the beginning of a new trilogy after all, and first films tend to follow a formula. That said, we have the plucky young protagonist alone on their desert planet, a beep-booping droid containing super secret data, a giant planet killing sphere of doom, a shadowy holographic overlord, a masked main antagonist, clear Nazi parallels, and a dog-fighting blow-em-up finale. It’s all there. But what matters more so than the familiar content is just how well executed it all is. Everything just works.

The First Order utilizes familiar Stormtroopers in Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens

Our new heroes begin with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young orphan scavenger from Jakku. It’s she who first encounters our beep-booping R2D2 stand-in. Rey is a wonderful character, who commands the screen from the moment she appears. One might get a distinct Hermione vibe from her, but that may be intentional. Joining Rey is Finn (John Boyega), originally known as FN-2187, a Stormtrooper. Finn is the first trooper to be given even a hint of a personality, and he soon reveals himself as a likable, roguish fighter with a heart of gold. The ace pilot role is filled by Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, a Resistance fighter, and all around cocky punk. It’s a terrific young cast that manage to exude the same charm and (hesitant) comeradery of the original film.

“Well, this is what we look like. Some of us. Others look different.”

Of course, we can’t forget our returning champions. Han Solo, Chewie, Leia, and C-3P0 are all accounted for by the halfway mark. I do have to say, I found myself tearing up slightly when Han and Chewie made their entrance. The jolt of being suddenly pulled right back to the feeling of wonder and intrigue of the OT was a lot to handle, and it paid off incredibly well. Harrison Ford has managed to recapture Solo’s trademark slickness, appropriately aged and roughed up. Carrie Fisher’s Princess-turned-General Leia adds much appreciated class to the second half of the film. And of course, our favourite bickering droids are just the cherry on top.

Han and Chewie back together for Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens

“Chewie, we’re home.”

Where the film succeeds, and even surpasses the original is its villains. Let me qualify that; Darth Vadar is not at risk of being dethroned as the baddest baddie in the galaxy. But The Force Awakens has a number of interesting, memorable villains, most of whom we can expect to explore further in the following episodes. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a perfect wildcard villain. He’s a dangerous force user who believes wholeheartedly in the First Order’s mission. Yes, he may come off as a weak, wannabe Vadar, but that is exactly the point. He is. This is a young warrior, desperate to live up to an iconic legend of the dark side. His unstable nature is reflected in his almost primitive lightsaber. Together with Ren is General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), the calculated, single-minded commander who seems ready to burn down the galaxy as long as the First Order can rule the ashes. The pair make a frightening, viable threat to our heroes. A huge step up from the likes of Count Dooku or General Grievous.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

The Force Awakens hits all the necessary beats with such vigor and enthusiasm, it’s easy to see the hidden fanboys within the creative team. I was cautiously optimistic regarding J.J. Abrams helming a Star Wars film after what he did to the Trek franchise (I’m not a fan). But together with Lawrence Kasdan, they’ve managed to capture the magic of the universe, without being too self-indulgent. There is indulgence, to be sure, but for the fans alone. The film is packed with subtle and not-so-subtle throwbacks to the OT, from returning minor characters, to classic lines, and exchanges. Erring on the side of caution, these references are spaced out, and never come off forced or gratuitous. And with one scene at the end (a normal scene, not post-credits), the film managed to stir more hype and anticipation in me than any recent MCU film.

Finn has a bad landing in Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens

In the end, The Force Awakens breaks very little new ground. But honestly, a decade later fans still have the bad taste left from Lucas’ prequels. J.J. Abrams is allowing us to indulge in some much needed nostalgia, a return to the charm, grit, and occasional cheese that made the OT so damn classic. The call backs are natural and appreciated. The style is refreshing but respectful. The adventure is real and engaging. This is Star Wars the way Star Wars is supposed to be. And yes, it may be A New Hope 2.0. But that also means we’re gearing up for another Empire

My Rating: 8/10

Theatrical poster for Star Wars Ep VII: The Force Awakens

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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