I would not want to be JJ Abrams. This guy has been carrying the weight of a worldwide fandom on his back. That’s just a recipe for disaster. There’s no way that someone can ever meet fans’ expectations, especially after the prequels. Oh, and yes, apologists…the prequels are that bad.
The craziest thing about The Force Awakens is that despite all of the hype and anticipation, it completely lives up to all of it. Abrams knocked it out of the park and he did it by giving the fans exactly what they want, while easing in what they need. The final result isn’t quite perfect, but it’s still the most that we could ever hope for.
First of all, this movie is visually stunning. In honor of the original films, the locations and environments are alien, but also natural and easy to show. In other words, there’s not much green screen “magic” like the prequels. There are mostly practical effects with CG lightly sprinkled in when the scene calls for it. When it comes to the look and feel of the movie, there is literally nothing to complain about.
Abrams uses a lot of nostalgia in order to make longtime fans happy. It mostly works, although sometimes it can be detrimental. Basically, you take the good with the bad. There are fun little reveals that will make you smile (or cheer). However, in order to sedate fans, the plot is almost beat for beat the original film. This is not always a bad thing because it’s all written and presented so well. The over reliance on nostalgia doesn’t completely ruin anything. Actually, it’s quite understandable. This is a way to ease fans into the new phase of Star Wars.
The best parts of the film are the new characters. Rey might be the best of the bunch. By and large, she’s the main protagonist in the movie, although one could argue that there is more than one main character. She’s very strong-willed and can beat the crap out of most males. She’s one of the biggest feminist icons almost by accident. She doesn’t mean to be, but the fact that her strength and ferocity come out so naturally is a huge step forward for the way females are portrayed in pop culture. Her character development is top-notch and by the end of the movie, she solidifies her place in Star Wars lore. Oh, and her interactions with Finn are adorable.
Finn is very fun and easily relatable. He gets a number of great moments to shine through and actor John Boyega takes full advantage. Ace pilot Poe is surprisingly delightful. His character shows toughness and steals scenes with his bravery, humor and charm. Poe and Finn spread the seeds for a future bromance that might replace the original trilogy’s Luke-Han dynamic.
As far as the baddies go, there are a few good ones. Obviously, everyone is freaking out over Kylo Ren, which they should be because he’s awesome. It’s hard to discuss anything about Kylo because he is steeped in a lot of spoiler-y material. However, we can confirm that Adam Driver gives the best performance of an inconsistent acting career. There is a critical scene at the end where he must make a difficult choice. You can see the struggle in Driver’s face, oozing conflict and despair. It’s a fantastic scene from an already great performance.
Unfortunately, some of the other villains are underused. General Hux is like a young and high-strung Tarkin. He appears to be very fanatical about the mission of the First Order, to the point where there is an underlying psychosis just waiting to pop out. These things are never really explored, which is a real shame because he’s a wonderful character.
Both Hux and Kylo Ren take orders from Supreme Leader Snoke. Andy Serkis gives another great CG performance, but we’re kept in the dark about his true nature and intentions. Still, he comes across as a terrifying new Emperor-like character that can be fleshed-out in future installments. At least he gets better treatment than Phasma, who gets the Boba Fett treatment of being a huge fan favorite and merchandise seller, despite not having much of a role to play.
This is definitely the Star Wars movie that you’re looking for. The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars film since 1983, leaving a pile of ashes where the prequels once were. Sure, those abominations are still canon, but we don’t talk about them. We’re too busy building a better and more worthy Star Wars universe.