OP-ROB RATING: STARTER
“Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” is the latest installment of the “Star Wars” movie franchise conceived by George Lucas. The series opened in 1977 with “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”. Being part of the most famous movie series in film history, “The Force Awakens” has received a considerable amount of hype over the past few years, ever since its official announcement in 2013. The man in charge of living up to this tsunami of expectation is director J.J. Abrams. Fortunately, Abrams is no stranger to this type of pressure, he handled “Mission: Impossible III” in 2006 as well as “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in 2009 and 2013, and received critical acclaim for his work with the treasured franchises. With “The Force Awakens”, Abrams has once again employed his ability to craft a blockbuster that appeals to old and new fans alike.
As the iconic opening credits explain so well, the Galactic Empire has fallen and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared. The power vacuum created by the Empire’s demise has been filled by the equally sinister “First Order”. Combatting the First Order is the “Resistance” led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). In the opening scene the best fighter pilot in the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), is on the arid planet of Jakku looking for a map that leads to Luke Skywalker. Dameron finds the map, only to be ambushed by stormtroopers of the First Order. To ensure the map’s safety, Dameron stores it in his droid, BB-8, who escapes the stormtrooper attack and rolls off into the desert. BB-8 is fortuitously scooped up by a “scrapper” girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley), who quickly learns the droid’s story. Meanwhile, Dameron is taken prisoner by the First Order and interrogated by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a dark lord with extraordinary force powers. Ren obtains knowledge of BB-8 from Dameron and informs the First Order of the droids importance.
In the midst of this opening, Rey emerges as one of two main protagonists, the other being a stormtrooper known as FN-2187 (John Boyega). During the village attack on Jakku, FN-2187 witnesses a fellow stormtrooper and presumably a friend die in thick of the fight. The dying stormtrooper reaches up to FN-2187 and in doing so wipes some blood onto the clean, white helmet. This simple detail marks an otherwise anonymous stormtrooper, and shows a glimpse at actual blood, something rarely seen in the Star Wars universe. In this brief moment of foreshadowing we are introduced to FN-2187, or “Finn”, as he is later known in the film. Finn makes it out of the battle alive, but emotionally disturbed and disillusioned with the First Order. Post-interrogation, Finn breaks Dameron out of the war cruiser and together they steal a “TIE Fighter” which they crash-land back on Jakku. Through a series of events Finn eventually links up with Rey, and their adventure begins.
Knowing the high-stakes, Abrams doesn’t venture very far off of the battle tested Star Wars formula. Summarily there is a “Death Star”-like threat to the galaxy that must be stopped; Rey and Finn are the main heroes; Kylo Ren is the lead villain. While it is Rey, Finn, and Ren that drive the story’s narrative, there is a slew of supporting characters both new and old. Princess Leia returns as General Leia Organa, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) also make substantial contributions to the new adventure. Other characters include General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who runs the more technical side of the First Order, much like General Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) did in the original trilogy; in addition, the appears the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) who resembles Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from both of the older trilogies.
“The Force Awakens” is a passing of the baton from one era to the next. It pays homage to an older, much beloved series while spreading seeds for the new generation. This strategy keeps the film relevant to both seasoned fans and people seeing “Star Wars” for the first time. It's also what holds “The Force Awakens” back from being truly great. The film is caught in between two visions, and can't live up to either. The older characters are less potent, and the new ones are not well developed. Abrams devotes too many scenes to old characters that don’t necessarily contribute to the story, and wastes dialogue on references to previous films in order to generate laughs or strike a sentimental note. The biggest disappointment of the film is Kylo Ren. I was expecting an intimidating, formidable foe but instead saw a spoiled, insecure, little punk. While I respect Abrams more humanistic approach to creating a villain, Ren just cannot be taken seriously. In more than one scene he reacts to bad news by throwing a hissy fit and slashing up expensive consoles with his fancy lightsaber like a toddler. On the light side, the strongest assets of “The Force Awakens” are both Rey and Finn. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega bring a level of emotion to their respective characters that is seldom seen even in the original trilogy.
While the film isn't groundbreaking on its own, it certainly shows great promise for the future. Rey and Finn are both extraordinary heroes that I'll look forward to seeing more of. Now that older characters have been dealt with, the story can move on into a world of endless possibilities. While Abrams first Star Wars outing feels a bit stuck in the past, it sets an exciting precedent for subsequent films.