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The Force is Strong With this One

I’m going to start off a little controversially by saying Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t need to exist. Return of the Jedi ended the story of Star Wars on a very satisfying note that not even the prequels could diminish. Until 2012 it didn’t look like we’d be getting any more Star Wars and that was fine. That original trilogy had already proven its timelessness and its status as one of the great motion picture sagas. Bearing that in mind, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very welcome.
J.J. Abrams you may know as the director of the recent Star Trek films, but Star Wars is much more his comfort zone. And he really is able to capture the tone and emotional resonance of Star Wars while also letting it feel fresh and new. It’s a great balance of old and new, and I think it really succeeds. This is clearly a Star Wars film and a J.J. Abrams film. However it is not without its missteps. Though a far cry from the unfortunate prequels, it isn’t quite on par with the original trilogy.
Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished and is being sought after by both the Resistance, under the backing of the New Republic, as well as the First Order, a successor to the Empire. The final clue to his location is found and given by pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to his droid BB-8 to deliver to the Resistance. BB-8 eventually meets up with a scavenger called Rey (Daisy Ridley). She teams up with an ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and together they decide to return BB-8 themselves eventually coming across the Millennium Falcon and its former pilots Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). But they’re being pursued by a mysterious figure called Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) while the Order he belongs to is readying Starkiller Base, a massive station that can destroy star systems.
As you can probably tell, the plot really parallels that of A New Hope. In that it focuses on getting a droid with secret data to a resistance, while the villains have a planet-like superweapon that must be destroyed. And while the story parallels are a nice acknowledgment of what came before, they at times get too obvious that it distracts from the story being told, and almost feels derivative. The overarching story has more meat to it and more facets that are worth exploring. There are some mysteries alluded to that are very promising, some detours that are taken quite enjoyable. I just wish the journey itself felt a little more original. Too many of the environments and situations felt familiar and I think that if the film had taken a couple more chances it could have made a good story a great one. In addition, there’s little exposition as to how we got from the universe of Jedi to this one making the set-up feel confused (there’s both a New Republic AND Resistance?) and though the film is excellent in its use of practical effects there is one scene that has really overused and really bad CGI.
But if the story isn’t the film’s backbone, what is? The characters! Our old favourites like Han, Leia, and Chewie didn’t need to win us over, but the new ones did. Luckily, Rey and Finn are engaging and very interesting protagonists. Finn’s backstory fascinated me even before seeing the movie, and Rey kept getting more intriguing. I really like that we have a female protagonist of a Star Wars film! And Kylo Ren makes for a thoroughly intimidating and layered villain. Halfway through, I realized I’d be enjoying myself even without the old characters. I really want to follow these new heroes, their relationships, charisma, see what adventures are in store for them. But the old cast were terrific and wonderful to revisit as well, completely worthy of the cheers they received. They all felt real to where their characters would be thirty years on, especially Han, who receives the most focus. Isaac’s Poe is really fun, and among others we got an enjoyably over-the-top performance from Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux.
And this is a film with practical effects, with a clear sense of direction, and with good writing (from Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) that’s both just the right amount of clever and corny. The action sequences are decent and there’s plenty of fan service but not too much to fall into the prequel traps. None of what made the prequels bad is present here. It’s got its own great sense of humour apart from the previous films and its own style. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens does captivate you, it does surprise you and move you. I want to return to this universe and these characters! So though it doesn’t live up to the hype (which would have been impossible), has some story problems, and doesn’t have the classic magic, I know I’ll definitely be seeing it again! It’s really worth seeing again!

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