Review: “The Force Awakens” brings the saga back to legendary status

This undated photo provided by Disney shows the poster for the new film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (Disney via AP)


“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

My spoiler-free review: There’s something familiar about this place… that’s because it takes just seconds to get back into that galaxy far, far away.  From the opening logo and crawl to the first scene in space… it all feels familiar… not goofy and clunky like the first scenes of “The Phantom Menace” (1999).  That was the last time I was this excited to see a Star Wars movie.  We even waited in line for that one.  So you can understand my reservations about getting excited about another new movie in the universe that George Lucas created back in 1977.  A universe that has become pop culture.  The stories, names, technology that has reached legendary status around the world. So will this new chapter… better than the best parts of the prequels… reminiscent of the original trilogy… before we referred to them as Episodes 4, 5, and 6.  Back when they were just “Star Wars”, “Empire”, and “Jedi”.  “The Force Awakens” can be added to that myth … and bring with it a new generation of heroes… and fans.

Congrats J.J. Abrams you did it… you dusted off the old war horses (of the rebellion) and connected your story to the original trilogy. Your direction, the beautiful imagination of the script that you, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt wrote, the perfect blend of CGI and practical effects, a solid cast, and a talented production crew, plus the musical score from the John Williams brings to theaters the best Star Wars movie in more than three decades!!!  A must see for Star Wars fans old and new.  I give this movie 9.0 out of 10.0.

Warning to parents: there are some scary scenes and action for little kids, but most kids 10 and up should be fine

Star Wars fans should see this movie the way I saw the original movies as a kid: with a sense of awe, wonder, and surprise, which is why I hate spoilers.  If you know me, or ever read one of my reviews, you know I hate spoilers…. but there’s so much to talk about. So please tweet my your thoughts at @aaronlafferty on twitter because, there’s so much to talk about.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you are in for a treat… and don’t worry about this
review, I’ll be more careful that Lando Calrissian trying to escape the clutches of the Sarlacc Pit.

If you somehow managed to avoid all teasers, clips, photos, and talk before the movie, or exiled yourself to Dagobah, then you might want to come back to my review later… because I won’t be revealing anything that hasn’t been shown in the trailers/clips, but I will talk very briefly about things people have seen in the official trailers.

The look, feel, and sound of this movie appears to be as close to the originals as possible with a movie filmed 30 years after the last chronological chapter.
I’m so very happy to report that this is not the prequels… no goofy bad guys, no CGI character that you’d like to fall into a trash compactor, no sociopolitical plot that even a 30 year old can’t quite decipher, no whiny young actors trying to play heroes that you’re supposed to believe in. No, this is “The Force Awakens”… and Mr. Abrams has picked up where George Lucas left off… from the end of “Return of the Jedi” (1983).  We’re back to the old classic easy to understand good versus evil, a story of family and friends, with some droids and some aliens.  There’s no real departure from the main central plot outlined in that opening crawl.  We have characters we know, they’re like family we haven’t seen in three decades and sure they’ve changed, but they’re still Han, Chewie, Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Luke Skywalker.  There is so much nostalgia in the movie but also a balance of new stuff: new planets, new bad guys,
new vehicles, new weapons, new allies, new missions.  Our concerns about a bad movie are comforted by details like the sounds of the blasters, the unmistakable noise of the TIE Fighters, the roar of the Millenium Falcon’s engines, the MS DOS like sounds of the targeting mechanisms, the new R2-esque droid BB-8, and even the sounds of doors closing.  Sure there is a new story, new plot, new characters, but this is very clearly a continuation of an earlier story.  Mr. Abrams may have rebooted “Star Trek” (2009), but in this movie he does more to connect to the rest of the Star Wars movies than Mr. Lucas’ prequels.

Character development, character development.  This is as important to good movies as location is to selling a home.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t care about the characters.  If the movie doesn’t get you to care about main cast of characters in the beginning of the movie, than none of the above matters.  If you don’t feel like this mixture of old and new characters works, you’re not going to sit through the next hour of the movie.  This movie gets you invested in the characters, accept their chemistry, and devote your feelings to what happens to them in the next scene.

This is a Star Wars story.  It feels familiar, fills me with nostalgia, and I care about the characters… and the adventure takes me back to those fantastical days of years gone by with fantasy stories about that place far, far away.  The pacing is great, it patterns in many ways “Star Wars”, “Empire”, and “Jedi” with the multi-part storytelling with characters in multiple places trying to complete a goal.  There are new elements so its not predictable, but they are done in a very Star Wars way.  This has all the elements of the recipe that makes for a Star Wars universe story.

Some thoughts/notes I will have to revist later after most people have a chance to see “The Force Awakens”:
*There were several moments of applause, especially when beloved characters are seen on screen for the first time… and a certain spaceship of course.
*Most of the scenes from the trailers/TV spots were from the first two-thirds of the movie… only one thing from the trailers ruined the story for me.
*A character does say “I have a bad feeling about this”.
*A character does say “May the Force be with you”.
*Several characters talk about the force, but not in some contrived scientific prequel way. They talk about it in the mythical way like it was in the original trilogy.
*I have two different opinions about the two motion capture characters… a little bit about how I felt torn between 2 CGI characters in Episode 1. The one I liked and completely accepted just like characters in costumes or makeup. The other felt cartoonish but familiar… like from another movie familiar.
*Luke Skywalker is in the movie.
*Jar Jar Binks is NOT in the movie.
*There are several twists, at least one major unanswered question, and the ending that will make you wish May 2017 and Episode VIII would get here sooner.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Max Von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie

Director: J.J. Abrams [“Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013), “Super 8” (2011), “Star Trek” (2009), “Mission: Impossible III” (2006)]

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

The Plot: A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas and set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

Cast/Character: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Simon Pegg (???), Warwick Davis (??), Maisie Richardson-Sellers (Korr Sella), Iko Uwais (Razoo Quin-Fee), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Greg Grunberg (Snap Wexley), Jessica Henwick (Jessika Pava), Yayan Ruhian (Tasu Leech), Kiran Shah (Teedo), Mike Quinn (Nien Nunb)

So what did you think? Please post a comment!

@aaronlafferty
More from Laff:

List of my reviews on woodtv.com (formatting changed on older posts with new website)
List of my older reviews
Favorite Movies: My Top Movies of the 2000s
Twitter: aaronlafferty twitter
Facebook: Laff at the Movies facebook page

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