Review – Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens – Spoiler Free

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

Star Wars VII is easily the most anticipated movie of the year, probably the decade, and possibly of all time.  Can it possibly live up to the incredible hype and expectations of a fan-base that seemingly encompasses the vast majority of the living population?

This is not going to be a typical review.  I am quite sure there is no need to introduce the concept of Star Wars to you, nor go over the premise of this film.  You surely know whether you are interested in seeing this movie or not.  If you are curious about details beyond what the plethora of trailers has provided, you are better off finding them out for yourself as you experience the movie for the first time on the big screen.  You wouldn’t have wanted “Luke, I am your father,” spoiled in a review would you?  (Yes I am aware that is a misquote).  There are surely many a hive of scum on the internet where you can spoil the movie for yourself if you really want to – this is not one of them.

Like many (Most?  All?) of you, I am a Star Wars fan.  I remember watching Luke magically summon his lightsaber from the snow and Han rescue an embarrassingly scantily clad Leia on the tiny black and white TV in my parents bedroom when I was probably around six or seven (somehow it wasn’t until much later than I finally actually saw A New Hope).  I enjoyed certain parts of the prequels – probably mostly because I was still fairly young at the time – and I vehemently disown the various special editions of the original trilogy.  This movie is made for me, as well as the new generation I am raising.  Going in, I desperately wanted it to be good, but was fully prepared to deliver the bad news should it be anything but.

So – the big question here, the non-spoiler question that everyone wants answered is, “is The Force Awakens good?”

Yes.  Great even.  I don’t know that it could ever fully live up to the hype surrounding it, and I wasn’t blown away beyond my wildest dreams, but I went in with my hopes cranked to eleven and walked away not disappointed.  That is the short answer, and perhaps all you need to know.  Read on for the long answer.

From the very first moment, we are dropped into a living, breathing, universe that feels completely familiar, yet new.  Unlike the prequels, which seemed to exist in their own shiny version of Lucas’s Star Wars imagination, The Force Awakens feels very much a part of that same world we all fell in love with to begin with.  Resisting the urge to update everything, the style, technology, and aesthetic is all how you remember it – right down to the rather pointless mouse droid scuttling down the hallway.  It feels again like a fantasy rather than a science fiction epic – something is, in fact, found in an old wooden box in a dank creepy castle worthy of a Legend of Zelda dungeon.  Practical effects and characters blend seamlessly with digital creations in a way that will make oldschool fanboys breathe a sight of relief.  The bad guys look and act like Star Wars bad guys, and the same goes for the heroes.  Unlike his new vision for Star Trek, Abrams has created something that fits perfectly within the existing franchise (the part of it people liked), while bringing something new to the table.

There are a few moments, granted, where something – an actor, a lens flair, a camera angle – reminds you that you are watching a J.J. Abrams film, which is a little jarring, but that’s the cost of bringing on a talent with his own ideas.

These films have never been about sophisticated writing, and yes there are some moments of clunky exposition, but it’s barely worth bringing up since they are barely worth worrying over – I only mention them so as to recognize the shortcomings and not be guilty of simply gushing.

Another point worried and wondered about is the fan service – call backs to the original movies and distracting in-jokes.  They do exist, but more often than not, they work, and bring with them a nostalgic smile when caught.  Fear not, this is not just fan pandering.  In many ways, this film is a reflection of A New Hope so if repeating themes bothers you, perhaps you will have an issue with it, but to me it was a way to ease in to a new saga while still recognizing the old.  It’s a natural continuation of the story.

Beyond how it looks and the level of acting (more on that shortly) setting it apart from the prequels, is the emotion.  Granted there is never any real peril felt – any Star Wars fan knows that the light side with eventually triumph over the dark – but emotions still run high.  I don’t recall a single moment that elicited a misty eye from me during episodes 1-3.  It happened several times in this film as the torch is symbolically passed from one generation to the next to the swell of another epic John Williams score.  In the absence of any dedicated comic relief a la Jar Jar, there are genuinely funny moments throughout, bringing back the feel of a rollicking space opera with laughs, gasps, and tears.

The new actors, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar IsaacLupita Nyong’o and more all perform brilliantly.  I’m still not sure I buy Adam Driver as the villain when he doesn’t have the scary mask to hide behind, but (minor spoiler?) we shall see how he progresses in the next film.  One thing that surprised me was just how involved some of the original cast is.  They aren’t all just on the sidelines the whole time, and despite this being the start of a new generation’s story, it’s obvious that they are still going to have some involvement going forward.

Another thing that surprised me was some of the twists – some confirmed and some strongly hinted at.  Some of it may seem obvious, but some things will probably come as a shock, and I can’t wait for you to experience those moments.  Even if you have seen all the trailers, let me say that they were deceptive at times and what you think is coming might not always be the case.  Plus, so much of the trailer footage comes from just the very beginning of the film, so prepare to sit back and enjoy the rest of it.

I’m sure I could find more good things to say about this movie, but in the name of staying as far away from spoilers as possible, I am going to stop here.  I will say this though, Abrams didn’t lie when he said there is no stinger during or after the credits, so feel free to leave when you want.

The story is both open ended and self contained, just the way it should be.  There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, with character arcs realized and missions accomplished.  At the same time, though, the door to the next chapter is left wide open and plenty of mysteries still remain.  Not those bad Lost type mysteries, though.  I left both completely satisfied, yet eager for more.  There’s probably no way this movie could be as perfect as you wish it would be, but it comes pretty much as close as physically possible.

Mrs. Hamster will be seeing this film on Thursday

My rating:  Five out of five hats
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Trailer (not that you haven’t seen it a million times already):

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens ignites 4,100 theaters December 18, with preview showings starting tomorrow night, including 3D IMAX

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