When Disney bought the Star Wars franchise back in 2013 and announced a new slate of movies for the series, the world ignited with excitement of what could come. With that came massive expectations for the new film to carry on the legacy that the originals hold while also having to be better than the prequels that disappointed many. It is impossible for any film to satisfy all the expectations and theories that has this much hype around it, but The Force Awakens is indeed an astounding addition to the franchise that breathes new life and begs for more to be explored. Even though there is a structural reliance on previous Star Wars stories and some convenient plot devices, this film goes deeper into its new characters and environments to deliver a thrilling adventure for cherished die hard fans and newcomers to the franchise.
Set a few decades after Return of the Jedi, The Empire has been destroyed and from the ashes The First Order has arisen to bring terror to the galaxy. Leading the charge is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who threatens to destroy The Resistance. When a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) defects from The First Order and runs into a scavenger on the planet Jakku named Rey (Daisy Ridley) , the two become roped into a journey much bigger than either of them could have imagined.
The Force Awakens has a lot to accomplish but most importantly it had to satisfy fans of the original movies while paving the way for new fans. Fortunately, the film does an excellent job of integrating this from a character perspective. All the new characters are great additions to the Star Wars universe and bring a great deal of intrigue and engagement.
Rey and Finn are the main heroes and both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega do excellent jobs in their roles. Rey is the clear protagonist here being fierce and driven in the journey that she is taking. Finn helps to bring some humor and charisma to the movie and has some good banter with the other characters. Both of them have a depth that is explored throughout the movie and also poses new questions as the film concludes.
My personal favorite new addition is the villain Kylo Ren. Instead of being one-dimensional and bland, the story spends time fleshing out his motivations and giving the character depth. He has his own arc in the movie that is explored with care and leaves implications for the viewers to think about as the sequels approach. (Also his lightsaber is badass!)
Other newcomers include Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, Domhnall Gleeson General Hux and of course cute and adorable BB-8 among others. All of these characters are great additions that provide some fresh talent into this universe. Each one has a unique personality and attributes that help them stand out and allow you to grow attached or invest in their stories however grand or minimal. Since the movie has a lot of ground to cover, some characters get short changed in terms of their development but with this being the beginning of a new trilogy I am sure we will get a deeper exploration.
The leads from the previous movies Luke, Leia, and Han all make a welcome return in this movie. Han has a more important role in the movie with Harrison Ford playing a more tired yet fun version of our favorite nerf-herder. He acts as a guide to Rey and Finn as they go on their journey. Leia’s appearance is met with praise as Carrie Fisher solidifies herself as General Leia to lead The Resistance. Finally, Mark Hamill’s role as Luke delves into spoiler territory so best to avoid that for now.
All the character’s work in the film and that is The Force Awakens greatest strength. The relationships and interactions formed and shown are a joy to watch and make for some great depth to the characters as well as humorous moments. They are all worth investing in and pose thoughts that will have people talking and speculating as the films concludes.
There are definitely parallels visually and narratively from the previous films that are exemplified here. There are plenty of new ideas to explore, but the film also plays it safe at times.
The look and feel of the movie is worthy of praise. With all the new technology the franchise now has as its disposal, there is room for some impressive set pieces and distinct locations that make the film feel unique. From the sound of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber igniting to the snowy hills of a planet, the environments feel real and organic. All the technical/visual teams should be applauded for their work.
From a narrative standpoint the film aims to pay respect to what came before while also paving the way for what is to come in future installments. This is both a great strength to the movie and depending how you want to look at it, a minor weakness. Certain plot points from previous entries are reused not so subtly. Looking back on the film there are a variety of new directions the story goes with characters and depth, but in terms of certain events they’re seems to be a small emergence of the old.
It’s an incredibly difficult feat for the production to overcome. They have to appeal to both old fans and bring in a new generation to appreciate the franchise. The Force Awakens is a transition film in those regards, so some of the reliance on plot structure can be forgiven at the moment, however going forward I would like to see them break free from the restraints of trying to appease a certain demographic and embrace the new world and characters it has taken its time to craft.
And it is the new things that Disney has brought to the franchise that make The Force Awakens succeed as well as it does! The new characters of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren will definitely exceed expectations with audiences during their journey in this film and the implications their stories have to offer in the future films. The action and set pieces are amazing providing a new variety to the franchise that it can experiment with in films to come. There is a strong respect for the legacy Star Wars has established which plays a strength and weakness to the film. But none of that detracts from the excellent momentum that has been built to propel us to new galaxies and adventures in the next decade. This will leave you wanting more, and I personally can not wait to see what more is to come!