Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Review (No Spoilers)

Surely the most hyped and most anticipated movie of 2015 and probably even the entire first half of this century - Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
After Disney's purchase of the Star Wars franchise, Disney got right to work and announced another full blown theatrical Star Wars movie trilogy along with a series of spin-off movies. With George Lucas out of the picture, the latest Star Wars entry is now in the hands of director J.J.Abrams. Considering how huge fan expectations are for this movie, there's plenty that might just upset fans all over the world equally as much as the disliked prequel trilogy by Lucas. Yet hopefully having learned what not to do with Star Wars, here's having trust in J.J.Abrams' directing abilities. After the very positive feedback towards the movie's trailers, the anticipation just kept on growing.
Now, finally, The Force Awakens hit theaters - and how is it?

The plot:
Luke Skywalker has vanished, and both the Resistance and the sinister First Order are searching for him. Crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) obtains a clue to his whereabouts, but when everything goes wrong, a droid called BB-8 becomes the centre of the search, along with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and stormtrooper deserter FN-2187 aka Finn (John Boyega), who have found the droid.
Source: IMDb

First things first: The Force Awakens is an overall good movie and solid addition to the Star Wars franchise. Though it never feels like the movie could even remotely reach the high quality of the original trilogy, it still marks a promising foundation for future Star Wars movies to come.
J.J.Abrams did a great job with The Force Awakens in giving fans exactly what they wanted to see through loads of fan service, but little in terms of what they didn't know they wanted to see in terms of innovation and expansion of the universe. In that sense, The Force Awakens is a solid Star Wars movie that despite its admittedly high production and entertainment values feels like it plays its story very safe, making it in many ways feel like a polished remake of Episode IV: A New Hope.

It's not perfect but HOORAY! IT DOESN'T SUCK!

What can be luckily and safely said though, is that The Force Awakens successfully avoids alienating Star Wars fans by largely avoiding to make the same mistakes as Lucas' prequels. Thus, The Force Awakens really feels like a first chapter of a new Star Wars trilogy that can be actually looked forward to by fans.
With that said, Force Awakens works with many story beats and plot devices that are very similar to the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. Although this means that Force Awakens' generally quite simple storyline in many moments becomes a bit too predictable (since it so strongly relies on the "what worked in the original"), Force Awakens is resultingly a just as appealing overall blockbuster experience. More than that though, looking at the heavy inspirations the movie takes from A New Hope, The Force Awakens occasionally even feels like a polished remake of A New Hope - for better and for worse.
While this means that fans shouldn't expect too much in terms of a completely new storyline, The Force Awakens avoids feeling like a complete rehash by working with an intriguing premise to follow and by balancing comedic action and mature dark tones impressively well. Force Awakens can thus be equally well enjoyed by adults as well as kids, which had always been an important trademark of the original Star Wars movies.

Somehow all of this feels very familiar.

Furthermore, it quickly becomes obvious that The Force Awakens is a big loveletter to fans. The movie is chock-full of fan service moments, fan favorite character appearances and references to the original trilogy. While most of them are well implemented into the story, some can tend to feel a bit unnecessarily shoved in without any true purpose for the plot. This goes very much hand in hand with Force Awakens' aforementioned tendency to rely heavily on the old and less on the new. The reason for this is most probably the ridiculously high expectations and resulting pressure that has been put on director J.J.Abrams. It feels like Abrams has been very careful with the ways in how he expanded the Star Wars universe in Force Awakens. From new characters,over new relationships and to the final outcome of character roles that set up the starting point of the next Star Wars episodes, there are indeed some quite brave revelations and events happening in Force Awakens that should ultimately keep things exciting for the future but are also sure to polarize some fans' opinions about them.
In that sense, Force Awakens definitely feels less like a self contained Star Wars story but rather like a set-up chapter or beginning for greater things to come in the sequels.

Loads of fan service incoming!

Yet that doesn't mean that Force Awakens is going to have you bummed out. Sure enough, many fans would have preferred to see a bit more in terms of actually new ideas in the movie, yet still Force Awakens is at its core a fully functioning blockbuster popcorn flick working with a solid three act structure making it feel complete.
Filled with loads of pure eye-candy moments like a Tie Fighter vs. Millenium Falcon chase through the wreckage of a downed Star Destroyer, intense lightsaber battles in snowy woods, fascinating yet dangerous bars full of colorful alien creatures, a huge X-Wing fleet vs. Tie Fighter fleet battle, and the list goes on and on. Even though Force Awakens always seems to keep at least one foot set steadily in the "A New Hope"-formula, it still feels remarkable confident all the way, which it achieves mostly by just pushing the right buttons and knowing what themes and moments work best in a Star Wars flick.
It is all topped up by an impressive amount of various practical effects, great camera angles, nostalgia inducing sceneries and convincing CGI-effects (aside from maybe one or two exceptions).
While one could argue that Force Awakens' final act and big showdown battles arrives a bit too suddenly and feels a bit rushed, it's still always visually dazzling and a great first taste of the inevitable epic battle that will undoubtedly close up this new trilogy.

Those are the battles you were looking for.

But what about the new protagonists in the movie?
The entire movie has a big focus on the quartet of Rey, a scavenger girl from Jakku, Finn, a deserted former stormtrooper of the fleeing from the First Order, and the iconic smuggler duo Han Solo and Chewbacca.
As the poster already suggests, Daisy Ridley as Rey is the main big hero in the movie. By this point it's already heavily implied that her character shares many characteristics with Luke Skywalker back when he started out on Tattoine in A New Hope. Rey luckily though has an own set of features and characteristics that avoid making her feel like a carbon copy of Luke. Aside from already having quite some impressive fighting skills with her staff, she furthermore is a technician expert which is actually quite well worked into many scenes in the movie and put to good use. From her starting point on Jakku up till the end, her character constantly evolves and discovers various important informations about her origins piecing it all together to get the entire picture. Especially the fact that Rey feels like a nice combination of different Star Wars characters roled into one, on top of giving the franchise its first female lead heroine for once, makes her feel more interesting right from the get-go.

With Daisy Ridley as Rey, Star Wars finally got its first strong female lead.

Finn, played by John Boyega is the second accompanying protagonist on Rey's side. Finn is finally a character that shows that not all stormtroopers are soldier dummies but human beings that can react to the horrific actions of the First Order in different ways: a former stormtrooper who took part in a traumatizing attack of the First Order and decided that this is the wrong way to shape the galaxy. The other parts of Finn though are often played with slight comedic undertones. Most conversations between Finn and other character almost always have some comedic relief involved - yet luckily it's not overdone. Finn is a nice addition to the character roster of the movie and shakes the cast up nicely with his well pulled off balance between being able to be play things seriously during dramatic parts but also lighthearted during more swashbuckling action moments. Yet there undeniably is more to learn about him in the upcoming sequels.

"Come with me if you want to live."

And of course, Harrison Ford is back as Han Solo along with his Wookie sidekick Chewbacca (played by Peter Mayhew). Whereas many people were worried about whether Ford still has a tight enough connection to the character of Han Solo to pull him off convincingly, you can rest easy. It is actually quite amazing how well Harrison Ford plays Han Solo in The Force Awakens. After so many years not portraying Han, you can clearly tell that Ford still exactly knows how to play him. Having the same wit, charisma and smartass attitude as the Han from the original trilogy, it really feels like it is the exact same duo just 30+ years later.
Other returning characters from the original trilogy though don't play nearly as big of a role in the movie as hoped. Mostly done for simple fan service, characters like Leia, R2-D2 or especially C3PO unfortunately don't have that much to do in the movie except to induce nostalgia and cause some laughs here and there.
Yet this is easily forgiven by the great addition of the droid BB-8. This little robot ball really marks some heavy competition for R2-D2. Smaller, quicker, cuter, more useful and arguably often even funnier than R2, BB-8 is an awesome addition to the franchise without overdoing it to the point where it would feel like a simple comedic relief for kids to sell more toys (*cough*Jar Jar Binks).

"Kept you guys waiting, huh?"
Looking at the bad guys, Kylo Ren marks this entry's new main villain. And while much of his design might be a bit too unnecessarily oriented on Darth Vader's one without any true meaning behind it, it's especially Ren's origins (which I won't spoil) and his personality that makes him effectively stick out among the vast line of Star Wars villains.
Different from the confident and menacing cold-heartedness of Vader or Sidious, Kylo Ren, is the total opposite of all previous Siths we encountered throughout the other Star Wars movies. Having much to do with his backstory, Kylo Ren lacks the self-confidence and self-control yet not the strength of his predecessors. While he is definitely threatening (especially after you get to see what powers he has), there are multiple instances in which it is showcased how Ren just lets loose his frustrations in a wave of random lightsaber destruction just to relieve the tension. While he certainly comes over way more intimidating with his mask on rather than off, it's somewhat refreshing to see that The Force Awakens doesn't just recycle another Vader for the new trilogy but gives us a new villain whose character itself feels very different and new.

Kylo Ren is a refreshing addition to Star Wars' roster of villains.

Overall, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J.Abrams did a great job in laying out a promising foundation for a new trilogy. Though it isn't the massively huge mega-comeback some might've expected, Abrams and Disney did a respectable job to breathe new life into the franchise by giving us a movie that can be enjoyed by longtime fans and newcomers alike.
After George Lucas' heavily disliked prequel trilogy, it gets really obvious that The Force Awakens tries to effectively avoid making the same mistakes by orienting itself in many ways on the beloved original trilogy. With that said, The Force Awakens is filled to the brim with fan service through returning iconic characters or various references to the original trilogy. And while these many nostalgia inducing moments certainly have their big fare of charm, it often can feel like The Force Awakens plays it all a bit too safe by showing people mostly "what they wanted to see" but not adding much in terms of anything new of its own to it.
In that sense, The Force Awakens actually does have its share of new ideas and additions that expand the Star Wars universe and will probably going to lead it to new directions, yet one would've wished that those would be more present in a movie that largely already feels like a remake of A New Hope - for better and for worse.
Yet don't take the movie's heavy reliance on nostalgia the wrong way, because Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nevertheless a great time in the theater, guaranteed. Full of impressive effects, great acting, charismatic characters, a script that mixes its comedy, action and mature dark tones very well together, and welcome new character additions like especially Kylo Ren and BB-8, there's plenty to see in The Force Awakens that will keep fans and non-fans of the franchise entertained throughout.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens certainly doesn't reach the overall quality of the original trilogy (and probably no Star Wars movie ever will), yet considering the pressure and high expectations fans had for this movie, The Force Awakens is already a success by being simply "a good Star Wars movie" that lays a great foundation for its upcoming sequels - sequels that will then hopefully embrace innovation a bit more than nostalgia to keep the franchise evolving and fresh. But as off now, you can rest easy and just say "so far, so good".

Final Verdict: 7 out of 10


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