Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow

It is impossible to overstate the world's enthusiasm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The original Star Wars trilogy is arguably the most influential franchise in cinematic history and is permanently cemented in popular culture worldwide.  Fans purchased tickets for The Force Awakens months in advance, slept outside and dressed as Wookies, Jedis, and even Grand Moff Tarkin at local theaters.  I approached The Force Awakens with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I grew up watching the original films and can quote lines and discuss mythology with any fanboy.  I have engaged in the “Han shot first” debate.  Thus, I was anxious to see whether J.J. Abrams could conjure up some movie magic with the Star Wars franchise as he did with the Star Trek movies.  At the same time, the sour memory of George Lucas’s disastrous prequels has not faded, and I was reluctant to see any further damage done to the Star Wars' brand. Thankfully, Abrams avoids the pitfalls of his predecessor and delivers a fresh, albeit familiar, new film.

Sobriety Test Movie Reviews is a spoiler-free zone, so this review will not delve too deeply into the film’s plot.  The Force Awakens picks up roughly thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi.  Although the Galactic Empire was previously defeated by the Rebel Alliance, a new powerful evil has arisen, The First Order.  (Think Nazis with a huge Death Star).  The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), is desperate to fight back.  Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared.  General Organa believes that with Skywalker’s help, the rebels can once again defeat the forces of evil.  She sends her best pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a dangerous mission to recover a map that purportedly will lead to Skywalker’s location.

The Force Awakens
is simultaneously a walk down memory lane and a breath of fresh air. In terms of the film’s narrative, it feels like a retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope in many ways.  Thus, there is an element of predictability to the movie.  At the same time, the new characters Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) bring fresh energy to the cast. The feminist in me loves Ridley’s arc and I cannot wait to see how this story plays out in future films. Additionally, Adam Driver is a solid casting choice as a devotee of Darth Vader.  That being said, it’s a tall task for anyone to fill the shoes of arguably the greatest big screen villain of all time.  Despite his impressive effort, Driver doesn’t quite live up to this daunting task.  However, Driver is dark and twisty in a way that Hayden Christensen unfortunately could never be, and watching his journey deeper into the power of the dark side with Snoke (Andy Serkis) will surely be compelling.  Without question, one of the surprise delights was the new droid BB-8.  BB-8 is plucky, quick, and surprisingly adept at displaying emotions.  With BB-8 the droid we’re looking for throughout The Force Awakens, R2-D2 has some serious competition for best droid in this new trilogy.

Although the new characters are noteworthy, the heart of the film definitely lies with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew (a.k.a. Chewbacca).  As a Star Wars fan, I grinned with glee when the orchestra sounded at the beginning of the film.  But when Harrison Ford first appeared onscreen, significantly older but with his special Han Solo swagger, I practically pumped my fist in the air.  Seeing Han, Chewie, and Leia onscreen after all of these years was simply remarkable.  One of the ultimate failures of the prequels is that fans loved the original characters, and the prequels gave us a story that we already knew, but with none of our favorite human characters.   The Force Awakens rights this wrong by giving the fans exactly what they want — beloved characters still fighting the good fight.

Additionally, the film is fairly fast-paced.  Abrams delivers action at the right intervals with very few lulls in the movie.  He avoids the excessive use of CGI which bogged down the prequels.  Shot on 35mm film, the movie’s cinematography is incredibly well done and the special effects are seamless.  The visuals are sweeping but authentic, and it is very easy to get swept up into Abrams’ alternate galaxy far, far away.

All that being said, I cannot give The Force Awakens a sober rating.  Although it is a fun and thoroughly entertaining romp, there is an element of predictability with the film as it hearkens back to Episode IV.  Additionally, some of the dialogue is somewhat juvenile.  There is a heavy focus on fast one-liners and humor.  Although I appreciated the lighter side of the film, some of the jokes fell flat for me. It felt like the writers were trying too hard to be clever.  In addition, although I like Boyega, I would like to see a little less buffoonery from him in the next installment. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
earns a 0.03% rating.  Have a wine cooler with this one.  It is a solid reboot of a beloved franchise.  This film laid the groundwork for an exciting series, and I cannot wait for the next episode.  In terms of movie tips, The Force Awakens does not have any additional clips once the credits start rolling.  There is no need to wait for a post credits scene. I learned that the hard way.  Also, see if you can figure out Daniel Craig’s amusing cameo or identify the multitude of Easter eggs planted throughout the movie.