“The Force. It’s calling to you. Just let it in,” says Maz Kanata to Rey.
I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy (1977’s Star Wars, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, and 1983’s Return of the Jedi) on TV and VHS many, many times (and later on DVD). I wasn’t fortunate enough to see the special editions of the original trilogy on the big screen when they were released back in 1997 for the first film’s 20th anniversary (I would’ve loved to have seen them despite the changes George Lucas made to them). I actually enjoyed the prequel trilogy (1999’s Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith), which I actually got to see on the big screen (just to be clear: I agree with the criticisms of Jar Jar Binks to an extent). After Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney three years ago, I became excited when it was announced that there were going to be new Star Wars films coming our way (starting with Episode VII). The first of the new Star Wars films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has finally found its way to theaters. I got a chance to see the film on the big screen early in 3D, and it was as exciting and terrific as I’d hoped it would be.
2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows a young scavenger and a young, disillusioned First Order stormtrooper roughly 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi as they try to return the droid BB-8 (which contains an important portion of a map that may lead to the true location of Luke Skywalker, who mysteriously disappeared years before) to the Resistance before it falls into the hands of the First Order (which rose from the ashes of the Imperial Empire). Along the way, they are aided in their journey by a variety of characters, including a certain smuggler and his Wookie companion. Director J.J. Abrams gathered together an impressive ensemble that includes Daisy Ridley (as Rey), John Boyega (as Finn), Harrison Ford (as Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (as Chewbacca), Carrie Fisher (as General Leia), Adam Driver (as Kylo Ren), Oscar Isaac (as Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong’o (as Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (as Supreme Leader Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (as General Hux), Gwendoline Christie (as Captain Phasma), Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO), Kenny Baker (as R2-D2), Max Von Sydow (as Lor San Tekka), Greg Grunberg (as Snap Wexley), Simon Pegg (as Unkar Plutt), Warwick Davis (as Wollivan), Ken Leung (as Admiral Statura), Tim Rose (as Admiral Ackbar), and Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker). Ridley and Boyega shine as the new heroes, and they work well with the original cast members (I loved the chemistry between Ridley and Ford). Driver gives an emotionally complex performance (I don’t feel inclined to reveal any spoilers regarding his character or any other), and Isaac is just awesome as the Resistance’s most daring pilot.
Abrams successfully breathes new life into the Star Wars franchise, drawing strong performances and staging thrilling action sequences while balancing elements both old and new. The screenplay by Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan deftly brings together old and new characters while expanding the Star Wars universe. I loved Dan Mindel’s cinematography as well as the production design by Rick Carter and Darren Gilford (I enjoyed the vast desert landscapes of Jakku). Other elements of the film I liked a lot include Michael Kaplan’s costume designs and the creative makeup design by Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin. The editing by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey moves the film along at a good pace, preventing it from dragging and punching up the action sequences. The special effects are incredible, as is John Williams’ very enjoyable score (he revisits some old themes while crafting an almost entirely original score). Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens is everything I’d hoped a new Star Wars film would be: a spectacular thrill ride that continues to explore the Star Wars universe that leaves you wanting more once the credits roll at the end.