There are several great action epics out there, but few have had the impact that the Star Wars franchise has had. Audiences young and old have flocked to see each entry, and collectors of all ages continue to purchase bundles of merchandise. Needless to say, it has become an empire of its own, and it continues to be going strong with different forms of media that have kept the narrative going. With the grand return in the form of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans have already started lining up around the block over a week in advance. Now, for the non-spoileristic question that everybody is asking: is it any good?
Taking place thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, the saga created by George Lucas continues. I have chosen not to go too much further into the plot itself, as to not spoil the enjoyment for those who want to see the film without any plot points ruined. As a note, this review is a spoiler-free piece.
Countless moviegoers (some of which I know personally) have been bingeing all of the previous Star Wars films in preparation for the newest entry. Whether you saw them numerous times over the years or are part of the rare breed by seeing them for the first time, you're guaranteed to see a lot of familiar nuances. Of course, those who watched the films as they were released or enjoyed them as children will have a greater level of attachment, as the film thrives off of nostalgia. However, this adventure introduces some new characters to the franchise, such as Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). They are good additions that give a slight freshness to the narrative as they interact with characters we already know quite well. Finn's story in particular is quite interesting, and hopefully there will be more to explore in the coming sequels.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the new characters, writer/director J.J. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt depend too much on the nostalgia. This is a point that my guest brought up that is absolutely accurate. It makes for some good fun, but once the lights came on in the theater, I couldn't help but feel that this is hardly an expansion to the universe. Practically every joke and narrative device squeezes every ounce out of the original films, rather than providing audiences with the next step in this epic world. As the film continues to unfold, some of the pacing is problematic. It chooses some odd sequences to expand upon, making for some fairly jarring plot transitions.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is only the beginning for the revival of this beloved franchise. Other films have already started moving forward on production. While I didn't love this chapter, it set up a lot of potentially interesting narrative directions that could be explored. Now, it's all a matter of where it moves from here. As for this film, even the action sequences feel like they're missing a piece of the puzzle. We're treated to a lot of aerial and blaster combat, and a couple of scenes featuring lightsabers. While they're enjoyable enough, it feels as if it's holding back on the action and giving us an overload of nostalgia.
Both the new and old characters share a screen in a way that will especially be fun for those who have experienced the journey with the original cast. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), among others have returned, and they are clearly having fun with it. Meanwhile, newcomers Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) are strong additions that make the film more relatable for a younger demographic of moviegoers. Unfortunately, if you're looking forward to seeing Lupita Nyong'o, you're going to be disappointed, as she's criminally underutilized behind a completely CG character. Perhaps the film's biggest mistake was casting Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He's famous for playing the hipster-type character, which makes his performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens completely laughable. If only he kept that helmet on, so that we could be shielded from a face that belongs nowhere near a villain character. Even with this massive mistake, the remainder of the cast remains capable and engaging.
J.J. Abrams isn't exactly new to the game of making motion pictures based upon iconic franchises, including Star Trek. However, they certainly have different visual styles in the way that they depict their respective universes. Abrams delivered upon some of the nostalgic touches that fans liked about the previous entries, although he incorporates a lot of VFX. The practical effects from the original films contributed to the overall charm, although the overly-digitized creatures and environments take a lot out of the experience. The ship models themselves look great, but the same cannot be said about all that takes place on the surface of the planets. While technology has certainly allowed for better execution than in the previous trilogies, it still looks borderline cartoonish. However, the score and those classic sound effects are still there, and are as thrilling as ever. The 3D looks quite decent, as a solid amount of depth is applied to the waves of stormtroopers and blaster rays flying across the screen, but I don't see the experience being diminished from seeing a 2D presentation.
Hardcore fans of the franchise will undeniably be seeing it opening night, regardless of any critic opinions. However, those who are more casual fans may simply be waiting for the long lines to die down a bit, which is probably for the best. Despite my appreciation for the franchise, the newest entry felt as if it was constantly ramming nostalgia down my throat rather than expanding upon the narrative. This causes the pacing to suffer, as the screenplay picks inappropriately random times to divert from the plot to provide loads of fan service. Even so, it remains to be a fun adventure that audiences of all ages will be able to experience. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is enjoyable enough, but it still has a lot to learn about the force. Recommended.