Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens (2015)

I don’t think anyone can quite explain the feeling you get when John Williams’ score starts suddenly after a period of silence accompanying the famed crawl. If I were to guess, to most it’s a source of comfort, a piece of music that instantly transports you back to a simpler time when there wasn’t a single care in the world to be had expect for the events that would proceed the short 3 paragraph outline of the next entry into the “Skywalker Saga”. No matter how many times this piece of music is heard, I get goosebumps, it’s nostalgic, providing a warm hug to those who cherish what George Lucas created 38 years prior.

Coming only a decade after Revenge of the Sith, Episode 7, subtitled The Force Awakens chronologically takes places after the events of Return of the Jedi and is a direct sequel. It’s been 30 years since the battle of Endor where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) put an end to the Empire, defeating Darth Vader and Chancellor Palpatine. In that span, we can only assume there has been peace among the galaxy. But as the crawl suggests, the sinister First Order has risen to fill the void left by the ruin of the Empire.

As the film gets its legs underneath itself, the famed Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker is in exile, only a piece of a map split from the full picture can unlock the secret of Luke’s whereabouts. Both the resistance, led by one hell of pilot named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the First Order led by Sith fanatic Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are in search of this missing puzzle piece that could shift control to either side. Along the way, Poe finds himself allied with a suddenly reformed brainwashed storm trooper FN- 2187 or Finn (John Boyega) who just wants to do the right thing and a mysterious scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Co-written by Michael Arndt, Episode 5 & 6 writer Lawrence Kasdan, and J. J. Abrams who the latter also directed, The Force Awakens has the same bones that made up the original trilogy, specifically A New Hope. Many of the plot points that are featured in A New Hope can be found in Abrams’ film.

The planet of Jakku is substituted for Tatooine, Ray being a  force sensitive scavenger with no recollection of her family who gets attached to the droid BB-8 resembles the Luke and R2-D2 relationship. The missing piece of the map to Luke’s whereabouts is this version of the death star plans Leia hid in R2, Kylo Ren and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) are this generations Vader and Palpatine, and finally, Star Killer base is this version’s death star, only way bigger and more of a threat to the entire galaxy and the New Republic.

Based on nostalgia alone, The Force Awakens checks all the boxes, J. J. Abrams brings the best of the original trilogy with the familiar faces we all know and love and mixes them with new endearing characters. Nothing will evoke tears of joy more than seeing Han and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) reunite with the Millennium Falcon after the 30-year gap. “Chewy, we’re home” will forever be a line that tugs on the heartstrings of many. And just like Han and Chewy, we’re all returning home to the ship that performed the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.

From the opening crawl onward, Abrams sets a steady, energetic pace for his film. Rarely does The Force Awakens take a breath to recharge its blasters but when it does, the energy remains high, the lull in the action is replaced by emotional depth between the new and familiar characters. Even with Han, Luke and Leia at the center of the plot, It’s Poe, Finn and Rey that are the clear standouts of the ensemble cast. The writing team do just enough to create an air of mystery surrounding each new character to crave more from their backstories but their dynamic with one another reminds us of the classic trio.

Dropped right into the vacuum of space, which is the standard across all episodic films, the space opera is full of pulse pounding action. From sprawling battles that capture the scope of the struggle to intimate and personal one on one fights. Force powers have been amplified – one sequence that stands out among the numerous examples happens early on when we’re first introduced to Kylo Ren. A blaster shot is fired at Kylo, but he uses the force in such a dominant manner that the shot is frozen in midair. Obviously, the use of CGI makes it possible but its cinematographer Dan Mindel who gets Poe’s stunned reaction to the stoppage that pushes Star Wars beyond what we have come to expect how the force can be manipulated by both a Sith and a Jedi.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill don’t have to do much to win us over, their prescense alone after a 30-year gap is as welcome a sight as any. Its Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega that give Star Wars a breath of fresh air it desperately needed. The chemistry / bromance between Oscar Isaac and John Boyega is instantly infectious, Daisy Ridley is magnetic slowing testing her newfound abilities, and Adam Driver is an unstoppable force of unpredictable nature. And each is given their moment that cements their inclusion in the galaxy far far away for eternity.

Star Wars has always thrived on the heroics of the rebels and now the resistance. The themes remain the same as the struggle between good and absolute evil, all it takes is a little bit of hope to overthrow tyranny, and the resistance uses that same hope for a peaceful galaxy to stay one step ahead of the first order. One of the coolest displays of heroics come at the midpoint, when Finn, Han and Chewy have been captured by the first order. Cut to Poe leading a squadron of X-Wing fighters and one by one taking out storm troopers. From this moment on, Poe is no longer a self-proclaimed best pilot in the resistance, he is the undisputed best pilot – with his skills at flying, evading tie-fighters, and picking off storm troopers one by one.

Overall, The Force Awakens is the type of Star Wars that made us all believe that a lowly moisture farmer with big dreams can set out and find their purpose in the galaxy. And now it’s a force sensitive scavenger who goes from being stranded on a desert plant, struggling to find her next meal to being a face in the resistance, holding her own against a powerful foe and possibly becoming a hero and inspiration to a new generation.  Star Wars proves anyone can be a hero – all it takes is the strength to change your destiny.

Screenplay By: Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan & J. J. Abrams

Directed By: J. J. Abrams

Music By: John Williams

Cinematography: Dan Mindel

Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew

Where to Watch: Disney Plus

Edited By: Mary Jo Markey & Maryann Brandon

Release Date: December 18, 2015

Running Time: 2 Hours 18 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Based On: Characters by George Lucas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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