Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Force Awakens, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after 30 years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Okay.  It’s really not that brief.  For the actual review, skip down past the recap.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, a pregnant Shmi Skywalker gives birth to a boy named Anakin.  Having no father, Anakin was believed to be conceived by the will of the Force.  Years later, excessive taxation for the trade routes around the outlying star systems has the Galactic Republic in an uproar.  With this in mind, two Jedi knights were dispatched to settle the conflict. Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Darth Sidious, the Sith lord wanted them killed when they reached Naboo, but they escaped from his clutches.

After taking off, their attackers pursued them, and damaged their ship’s hyperdrive.  They landed on Tatooine, needing a replacement part before they could leave.  And…let’s cut to the chase.  They meet Anakin, they enter a pod race, Anakin wins and they get the money for their ship part and to buy Anakin’s freedom from being a Toydarian junkyard slave.  Anakin wants to go with the two Jedi knights and the Queen of Naboo’s assistant.  Later, we find that the assistant was the queen in hiding.  With Darth Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul tasked to capture the queen and kill the Jedi, he was hot on their tail.  They escape with the queen.

In the end, Anakin destroys the droid control ship and Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul.  Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

Episode II has more of this, with it mainly being a love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala.  Shmi is killed and it makes Anakin angry, slaughtering a whole Tusken community.  Men, women and children.  Anakin and Padme rescue their friends on Geonosis.  The droid army fights the Jedis, and the clone army cleans out the droids.  Count Dooku fights Yoda, but was unsuccessful in besting him. The Jedis hear the shocking news about Darth Sidious controlling the Senate.  Anakin and Padme have a secret wedding on Naboo, with C-3PO and R2-D2 as the only ones present.

Episode III takes a turn for the worse.  The Galactic Republic becomes the Galactic Empire.  With Anakin being enticed by Senator Palpatine, he begins the gradual turning away from his Jedi ways to the dark side, and becoming a Sith.  He kills all the Padawan learners in the Jedi temple and is given the title “Darth Vader”.  On Mustafar, Obi-Wan does battle with Darth Vader, his very pupil twisted by the dark side.  Vader is badly injured by the fire, burning up along the shore.  Padme dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins.  She names them both before she dies.  Luke was the first one and Leia was the second one.  Both of the children were separated.  Leia was taken to Alderaan and Luke was taken to Tatooine. Darth Vader was rescued by Darth Sidious and was placed in black armor, with a face mask and helmet to match.  The saga begins.

IV, V and VI are straightforward.  In IV, The rebel alliance find hope through Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trains Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi.  After fighting Darth Vader, Obi-Wan dies.  Luke uses a rebel X-Wing fighter to blast a proton torpedo into a small exhaust port leading to the Death Star’s reactor. In V, Luke trains under Master Yoda in the Dagobah system to become a Jedi.  He leaves without finishing his training, since he sensed that his friends were in danger.  Luke flies to Cloud City and Han Solo gets frozen in Carbonite.  Luke does battle with Darth Vader and discovers a chilling secret: Vader is his father.  Luke loses a hand and manages to escape, and is rescued by his friends on the Millennium Falcon, thanks to Leia being able to sense Luke being in danger.  In VI, Luke leads a rescue effort on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.  Han is unfrozen and they escape. Leia is also rescued in the process.  Luke returns to Dagobah with a dying Yoda telling him that no further training is needed and that “there is another Skywalker”.  With another Death Star under construction, they travel to the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to deactivate it.  The rebel group is captured by Ewoks and C-3PO shows off his divine powers, thanks to Luke’s use of the Force.  With C-3PO sharing the story, they agree to fight the empire.  Luke is apprehended by the Empire and enticed by Darth Sidious to join the dark side.  The rebels begin their fight against the stormtroopers and disabling the shield generator.  Luke resists the Emperor and Vader saves his son.  Just before the finishing bolts are delivered, Vader lifts up the Emperor and throws him into the Death Star’s power core/reactor shaft.  Luke has a nice father-son chat with Anakin before he dies. The Millennium Falcon destroys the Death Star’s main reactor and Luke escapes.  The Empire has fallen.  The entire Galaxy celebrates the victory.

So there’s the refresher.  And after 30 years, the story continues.  The Galactic Empire has dissolved, with the First Order rising from the remnants of the Galactic Empire.  Their mission is eliminate Luke Skywalker and the Republic.  With Luke in exile, nobody knows where he is.  Not even the Resistance. With that being the matter, the hunt begins for the very last Jedi in the galaxy.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long awaited sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $4.38 billion coming from the six films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  J. J. Abrams is the director of the new slate of Star Wars movies.  In his attempt to retell the Star Wars we all know and love, he has deconstructed everything in the past movies, and reassembled them, using his “Mystery Box” concept to add elements of surprise to shock and amaze fans both old and new.  How does Abrams manage to do this with Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has Disney and Abrams turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with a transport ship carrying a fleet of stormtroopers to Jakku, a desert planet.  It is darkly lit, with a suspicious looking stormtrooper aboard.  Could he be some kind of stowaway?  On Jakku, the exchange is made.  Resistance pilot Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac) talks with village elder Lor San Tekka to receive a map containing Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) whereabouts.  Poe obtains the data and they leave the tent.

Under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) the stormtroopers destroy the village and capture Poe.  Before Poe’s capture, he places the map data into the droid for safekeeping and tells the droid to escape far away from there.  The droid escapes and finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger at a junkyard settlement. Stormtrooper FN-2187 frees Poe and they escape in a stolen TIE fighter.  Poe names the stormtrooper “Finn” (John Boyega).  They crash on Jakku and Finn ends up as the only survivor.

Finn meets up with Rey and BB-8.  With the First Order tracking them, they launch an airstrike.  Rey, Finn and BB-8 escape on a stolen rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

After the ship breaks down, they are found by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).  Being pursued by criminal gangs, the five escape to Takodana.

Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) helps BB-8 to reach the Resistance, and provides a way there. Rey is drawn to a safe and finds a lightsaber that belonged to Luke and his father before him.  Maz gives the lightsaber to Finn for safekeeping.

With the group en route to the Resistance, troubles await them.  Will they reach the Resistance?  Or will the First Order stop them?  And what will the Resistance do to stop the First Order’s Starkiller Base?  Will Luke ever be found? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that there’s going to be another Star Wars movie.  Episode VIII is slated for release in 2017.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety of old and new.  The old characters were incorporated into the story in a way that we could become comfortable in getting to know the new characters.  It’s a delicate balance in phasing the old characters out while the new ones are brought in.  I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewy again.  Seeing Leia (Carrie Fisher) was amazing.  And yes.  Luke Skywalker is in the movie, and his appearance is epic.  I will not tell you where.  You’ll just have to find him by watching the movie…

The new characters were portrayed quite well.  We have Rey, which I really loved.  With her being strongly Force-sensitive, I feel like she will be a character that a lot of fans will love.  I liked seeing her growth throughout the movie and how she uses that growth to help her in the fight against Kylo Ren. We also have Finn, BB-8, Maz Kanata, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) and Snoke (Andy Serkis), so name a few.  With the new characters, I feel like we will also grow to love them like we did with the Star Wars characters in the first six movies.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  Perhaps the only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a little more longevity with Han’s character.  In this movie, Han, after confronting his son, gets killed off.  It would’ve been nice to see a little more of Harrison Ford instead having him in just one movie.  In George Lucas’s treatment of the Episode VII screenplay, this probably would’ve played out a little different.  I also would’ve wanted something a little more familiar with the Starkiller Base.  I understand that it’s supposed to be the “Death Star” of the movie, but it would’ve been nice to make it look a little more like the Death Star.  This creation is a fusion of both Hoth and the Death Star.  Besides these nitpicks, this movie was brilliant.  An amazing new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

How did Star Wars: The Force Awakens do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  To put things in perspective, my hope was for it to gross at least $100 million on opening day.  It actually did more than this.  This movie grossed $119,119,282 on opening day.  The highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $57 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the fifth highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that this will reach number one very soon.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Force Awakens, the weekend domestic gross is a staggering $248 million.  The current domestic gross is $288.1 million. That pales in comparison to the $172.8 million that Revenge of the Sith made six days into its release. That’s over a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals.  In adding the foreign gross of $322.7 million, the worldwide gross stands at $610.8 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie is well on it’s way to cracking the top ten, and could reach $1 billion by this weekend.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the familiar style of scenes that were portrayed in this film.  Abrams was careful to not take the easy path with soundstages and actually film a lot of the movie on location, and using movable models for the ships, like they did in all the other ones.  Abrams has nailed it.  The force is strong with this movie, and it’s about to get stronger as many other other continue to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to it’s total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  The opening crawl and the breathtaking visuals create a truly unique Star Wars experience.  And with the new characters and a solid plot, I am certain that this will become a new favorite that will be admired by generations to come. I eagerly await Episode VIII and I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5 out of 5.

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