Review: ‘The Force Awakens’ Resurrects Classic Star Wars Magic

Han Solo and Chewbacca in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Star Wars Triumphs Once Again in ‘The Force Awakens’

A decade ago, audiences thought they had seen the last of Star Wars on the big screen with Revenge of the Sith. The prequel trilogy limped off into the sunset, leaving many of our burning questions finally answered. But the simple fact remains, like the James Bond franchise spanning five decades, Star Wars never dies. And now with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the franchise is back to its former glory we haven’t seen in nearly 35 years.

Set roughly 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the galaxy is not in the perfect place we once left it. Luke Skywalker has vanished, now considered to be nothing more than a myth. The villainous First Order has replaced the toppled Empire, in a war against the Resistance, led by the former princess turned General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia has dispatched her ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina) to the desert planet of Jakku to recover information, which could lead to the whereabouts of her brother, Luke.

Masked baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls) and his First Order aren’t too far behind, who also have an interest in the lead about Luke. Their goal is to finish what the Empire couldn’t – destroy Skywalker, the last Jedi. The adventure then takes off in multiple directions. The Resistance pilot is captured by the First Order, only to escape with Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a Stormtrooper with a change of heart. Back on Jakku, Poe’s adorable droid BB-8 (who conceals the crucial info) meets up with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a self-sufficient scavenger.

Like with the original film, the main heroes, Finn and Rey cross paths rather quickly as they prepare for the larger journey at hand. After an explosive escape from Jakku, the search for Luke is well underway. It’s the main objective. However, Finn is trying to high-tail it far from the First Order as possible, while Rey is hoping to find her long-lost family. The Force Awakens is a constant sprint, running from situation to situation. With just a few seconds to breathe from the last escapade, Finn and Rey are captured by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca.

For fans of the original, this is the moment that changes everything. Sure the Star Destroyers earlier and a villain that echoes Darth Vader scream Star Wars, but here are two of cinema’s beloved characters back on the big screen. Even though, the prequels reintroduced classic icons like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and the Emperor, it’s nowhere near the same. Despite being away from the character for over 30 years, Harrison Ford is at the top of his game as the lovable smuggler. Though in The Force Awakens, while he is still full of his classic wit, Han Solo essentially takes on the Obi-Wan Kenobi mentor role of the group.

Like with 2009’s Star Trek, director JJ Abrams manages to resurrect a struggling franchise in The Force Awakens. The prequel films weren’t exactly on par with the original trilogy. With many complaints of political overload, childish dribble in Jar Jar Binks, lackluster chemistry and overdependency on CGI effects, reverting back to what made the original films click is the success story in The Force Awakens. The screenplay from Abrams and Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi writer, Lawrence Kasdan is charming, clever and heartbreaking throughout. The series has moved on from creator George Lucas in the best way possible. Nothing against Lucas, but this is the Star Wars film that three generations can truly appreciate.

The Force Awakens is by far the biggest gamble in the franchise since Empire. This latest installment is required to balance new characters with franchise veterans, while still being a Star Wars film that holds it own against the originals. And it does so with flying colors. Sure The Force Awakens heavily borrows its plot points from the original trilogy, but as Lucas has pointed out time and time again, the series is like poetry, everything rhymes.

Newcomers Ridley, Boyega, Isaac and Driver are all solid additions as is the delightful ball droid BB-8, who fits right alongside R2-D2 and C-3PO. Ridley owns the film as Rey, basically this film’s Luke Skywalker minus a hour’s worth of whininess. She holds her own being pretty slick with a staff too. Her chemistry with Boyega is solid and their friendship is expected to blossom even more over the next two films. Isaac, while has plenty of Han Solo in him, has less to do in the film, noticeably absent for a great portion of the film. Hopefully Episode VIII will shed more light on his character. Driver’s Kylo Ren is by far the most interesting character, though his Darth Vader fanboy persona takes a few jabs at Anakin Skywalker’s bratty behavior at times.

The Force Awakens comes so close to being on par with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. So, so close. Visually, narratively and emotionally, this is by far the best installment in over three decades. But if you thought the anticipation was painful this time around, The Force Awakens leaves you with so many unanswered questions and a cliffhanger for the ages. There’s only one question left to ask? Is Episode VIII here yet?

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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