SBox Recommends: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Non-Spoiler Review)

NOTE: This review is spoiler safe. See link for spoiler discussion below. Enjoy!

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Here we are, folks. The end of the year. December. Christmas time. Winter. Or as I’d like to call it: Star Wars Season? Yeah, that’s what we’ll call it. The point is that Episode VII is finally here.

Quick backstory on me. For those who haven’t been with this blog for very long, I am what you consider a “new” Star Wars fan. I saw my first Star Wars movie at age 15 (three years ago), completed the original trilogy just back in April, and only started the prequels this month. I am a fan of the series, but I have no personal nostalgia toward it. (I go more into this topic here). I’m bringing this up just to give you an idea of my perspective going into this new trilogy.

Three years ago also happened to be the time when Disney first acquired Lucasfilm. I remember being on web forums at the time and hearing friends complain and worry as I sat back listening with a veil of indifference. As I went further into the movies, hype slowly started building around me, and once I finally completed Return of the Jedi I was officially part of the hype train. From there, me and my parents introduced my other siblings to Star Wars through a marathon and made plans to see the new film ASAP.

Now is the moment of truth. Was my hype justified, and was the force as strong with this movie as I was made to believe?

Synopsis

Decades have gone by since the Empire fell, but the fight isn’t over. The Empire, now the First Order, continues to bring unrest and chaos to the galaxy. To make matters worse, Luke Skywalker has long since disappeared; a major blow to the Resistance’s morale. Now two, young, unexpected heroes become intertwined with this long standing war and join the Resistance to stop the First Order’s new commander, Kylo Ren. One is a former Stormtrooper named Finn, and the other is a scavenger from Jakku named Rey.

Writing

If you’ve seen a Star Wars movie, you know what the general mood and tone is like. It’s very light, fun and slightly campy. However, campy shouldn’t be confused with corny. These films are quite serious and heavy in its plot, which allows for very dramatic and intense moments. In other words, it’s epic without being too gritty or unfun. These are traits of good Star Wars movies, and this film is a good Star Wars movie.

J.J. Abrams has accurately captured everything that made Episodes IV-VI so enjoyable. This film will make you laugh before it makes you cry, and have you in suspense before it has you applauding. This is a fun film in terms of its action and story.

The story itself is compelling, and hits all the right notes. I love the concept of the film centering around a missing Luke Skywalker and the search to find him. However, Luke isn’t the center of this movie, nor are any of the original characters. Our centers, rightfully so, are our three leads: Rey, Finn and Poe. All three are likable and well-fleshed out, which I’ll further explain later. It was a great idea to not make this all about Han, Leia or Luke, because it allows these characters to thrive and offers a new perspective to this franchise.

Perspective actually plays a huge part in the effectiveness of this movie. Our leads end up representing newer Star Wars fans (including me). The old characters represent the die-hard and nostalgic fans, most of whom are getting up there in age. The combination makes for a well-rounded film that speaks to everyone, and not just the hardcore fans. On top of that, it’s also accessible to non-fans. This movie was made with them in mind, giving a very clear and subtle recap of the previous films.

The pacing is what will set this film apart from the other Star Wars movies. This one is actually quite fast-paced with a lot going on. The action sequences occur frequently, many happening one after the other. That’s not to say this film doesn’t slow down, because it does have slow moments in the right places. This film knows when to stop and when to go, which saves this movie from coming off as hectic. The action isn’t there for the sake of action, a trap many action films fall into. They instead occur naturally.

I have just one minor flaw with the writing. Really it’s a nitpick, but certain events in the story felt a bit, for lack of a better word, telegraphed. It’s hard to give examples without spoiling things, but it only happens with one or two scenes. It doesn’t ruin the film in the slightest, though.

Effects

This film does something rather refreshing for today’s film industry: using practical effects instead of making everything CG. And it’s frickin beautiful.

A popular criticism of the prequels involved their overdependence on CGI. Today that’s fairly commonplace across all action movies. On paper there are no disadvantages to CGI. It’s cost efficient, modern technology makes it look realistic, and you can create things that aren’t possible to make practically. Unfortunately, Hollywood has forgotten the major benefit to practical effects: the objects actually exist.

That fact makes all the difference in the world. Suddenly the actors are able to interact with the set instead of interacting with air and depending on their imaginations. Audiences are more impressed with the film’s visuals, since people are starting to become hip as to what’s CG and what’s not. When something strikes a practical object, the impact is felt more because it’s an actual strike.

The point is that Episode VII takes a page from the original trilogy and brought back practical sets/effects. They built an actual Millennium Falcon, designed costumes for aliens, made a real BB-8 robot, and filmed on location instead of using a green screen. The result is a visually stunning product that comes off refreshing to the human eye.

Of course, CGI does exist in the film, but rather sparingly. Space battles are obviously computer animated, and a few characters are entirely CGI (like Maz Kanata). These effects are also well-done and beautiful. The space battles are especially impressive to look at. The attack on Starkiller Base is awesome.

I’m not against CGI by the way. All I’m saying is sometimes the investment of physically making your props and sets pays off every now and then.

Acting

I find it silly to go over the original cast, like Harrison Ford as Han Solo or Carrie Fisher as Leia. By now those performances speak for themselves, and you implicitly know they’re great. Instead we’ll focus on the four new characters.

I’ll start with Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey. This character was a great lead for the film. She’s very headstrong, capable, and knowledgeable. At the same time, she’s also fragile and initially non-confrontational. She’s a character who knows her station in life and intends to stick with it due to reasons I won’t spoil. It’s not because she’s happy with her life, but because she’s someone who knows what she wants. She’s immovable in her life choice, but will stray from it temporarily if it’s for the greater good. Ridley brings a certain innocence and hopefulness to this role, which really makes her a relatable and likable protagonist.

John Boyega plays Finn, a Stormtrooper who decides to flea the First Order over an internal conflict. While he’s confident in his choice, he’s also fearful of it. His first priority isn’t to help the Resistance, but to find a place to disappear from the Order. This doesn’t make him a bad guy, though. He simply knows what their capable of and is afraid of it. This is my favorite character in the movie.  Boyega is charming, funny and sympathetic as Finn; a great addition to this series.

A character I haven’t mentioned so far was Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). He’s one of the Resistance’s finest pilots who recovers a piece of the puzzle to find Luke. While he is an essential character, he doesn’t get as much screen time as the other new characters. That being said, I found him to be a very enterianing character. Many have compared him to Han Solo, which I kind of get. His character is very charismatic, wisecracking and somewhat cocky. He has a lot of great lines and I hope to see a lot more of him in the future.

Lastly, there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). We all knew this character was going to either make or break this trilogy; so thank God he’s actually a really compelling villain. I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s a better villain than Vader, as that’s unfair. There are many strength Ren has over Vader, one of them being a more flesh-out character. While Darth Vader acted like a force of nature, Kylo Ren is more of misguided human being. He’s probably more three-dimensional than Vader, just not as menacing. It’s hard to talk about this character without revealing a major spoiler. Just trust me when I say his arch is one of the most compelling of any Star Wars character so far.

Music

This film has an excellent score, as is the case with all Star Wars movies- prequel and original. Star Wars has one of the most iconic themes in all of cinema, and is therefore hard to top. That’s why this film doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The score is pretty similar to all the previous films with very little change.

That’s for the best in my opinion. The only drawback for audiophiles out there is that there isn’t any stand-out song here outside the famous opening and closing themes.

Overall

It’s official. Star Wars is back with a vengeance. They literally did everything right by recapturing the original films’ atmosphere and charm, creating new and interesting characters, and being an overall good movie. It’s a fun popcorn movie with an engaging story for beginners and veterans. This film was exactly what it needed to be, and I’m glad.

As far as the movie meeting my expectations, I was satisfied for the most part. I think everyone’s expectations could be considered a bit too high, especially if you were looking forward to this movie for a while. Regardless of that, though, I’m sure everyone can at least agree The Force Awakens was a good film, and that’s all that matters.

Score: 9/10

Recommendations:

This movie is for action movie fans, and especially for all Star Wars fans young and old. As I said, the film did a great job at pandering to the dedicated fandom while remaining accessible to those who aren’t fans. I did find that the two in my group who weren’t too into Star Wars thought the movie was okay, and the two young children in my group were really into it. Basically, you can bring anyone to this movie and they’ll at least like it a little.

If you are a Star Wars fan, try to keep your expectations leveled. Expect just a decent film and be amazed when it’s actually more. If you’re going to be disappointed, at least be disappointed because of your personal taste and not because of unrealistic standards.


 

Cutting it a bit close, but I got at least this review done on time. Check back here in the next couple days for a spoiler discussion of this movie.

I would like to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and safe holiday! May the force be with you all!

I’m SBox180.Thanks for reading!

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