It was the most anticipated return of a movie series in years, but does J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens live up to the hype George Lucas prequels couldn’t deliver on?
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
(USA 2015, director: J.J. Abrams)
30 years after the Emperor was defeated, the the First Order tries to rule the galaxy again, but a renegade Finn and orphaned woman Rey find a way to help the Resistance to fight back against the uprising.
My expectations weren’t very high for the announcement of a new Star Wars movie. Even as a fan a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away the pain of the prequels was enough, and as with most Disney and other blockbuster franchises which show up on every mug, drink or other purchasable object imaginable, this was even more worrying. But director J.J. Abrams was involved in the hit series Lost, the great Cloverfield, and the new Star Trek movies, so at least this was looking promising.
What the new installment does extremely well is to play the nostalgic card with well-known faces like Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and even Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker (although his role is very, very small), but without relying too much on old catchphrases like “I have a bad feeling about this” or “I’m too old for this” jokes which brought a downfall to the new Indiana Jones and Die Hard movies. These are not only cameos, but feel as if the saga simply continues many years later after Episode VI.
The movie doesn’t only show how ordinary people have to live after the downfall of the Empire, but also what it left behind in ruins (one particularly impressive scene with a Star Destroyer sunken in the sand). Unfortunately, this more realistic approach is taken a bit too far. While the original saga could be watched as escapism and even the prequels had an otherworldly feel despite their political and social similarities to the real world, the way the new oppressors are shown (complete with a Hitler-like raising of the arm/hand and a dictator who even speaks like him) is pretty lame, as it seems to be so en vogue these days to make everything more realistic, also seen in the opening war sequence which is bloodier than what one would expect from a Star Wars movie.
The villains are another concern. One, Kylo Ren, is a character who’s as threatening without his mask as Mickey Mouse. Maybe it’s his face, maybe it’s his acting abilities, or maybe it’s just the script that doesn’t leave much to the imagination for the audience. There’s also another sinister figure, the Supreme Leader Snoke, whose face looks right out of a comic book or the Star Trek universe. The characters are obviously introduced for a much wider context, but they all feel rushed in, just as a Death Star equivalent is too reminiscent of Episode IV. Story-wise, there’s a lot to like and many memorable moments follow, but there’s just too much information and character development with unexpected twists to give the audience time to breathe or really connect, especially if one doesn’t know anything about the epic saga, as explanations are rare.
While all this sounds rather negative, what really matters is that J. J. Abrams manages to deliver 2 action-packed hours full of the drama and fun the original trilogy was so renowned for. The whole political correctness with an Afro-American man and a strong, but also vulnerable woman in the lead might be a bit forced at first, but they turn out to be very likable characters and their chemistry works great as well. There’s rarely a dull moment with setpiece after setpiece. As a popcorn flick, The Force Awakens offers amazing flight and fight scenes (even better in 3D which unfortunately isn’t available at the moment for BD pre-orders). In the Star Wars universe, it sits comfortably next to the originals, not outdoing them, but at least leaving behind George Lucas’ failed attempts of Episode I, Episode II and Episode III.
You might be curious how this score came to be, as I’ve always stuck to the full numbers system (in contrast to games). This movie was quite difficult to rate, because it’s not as good as A New Hope (which got a 9/10) and not only 1 point better than Revenge of the Sith (which got a 7/10). I clearly had fun with this one more than with all the prequels put together, but there were clear narrative and casting problems which took away something of a perfect experience the classic trilogy offered. It’s definitely a great movie and with a 8.5/10 there’s room for improvement for the sequel(s).
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