What can I say about Star Wars? Quite a lot, actually. If you want to know and have a lot of free time, I recommend you run a search through all my posts tagged “Star Wars” over the last 5 years. Needless to say, it’s been one of my favorite franchises to follow and a key inspiration to me in becoming a writer and storyteller.
But today, we’re here to discuss the marvel of the seventh official film in the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, our story picks up in the middle of a war between the First Order, the successor to the Galactic Empire, and the Resistance. When a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) defects and frees a Rebel pilot (Oscar Isaac) from captivity, they find themselves stranded on the desert world of Jakku. Finn crosses path with the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who soon becomes the center of a plot to hunt down the last of the Jedi. Much like the heroes of another generation, Finn and Rey are swept across the galaxy in a desperate bid to shut down a planet-destroying superweapon and evade capture by the relentless Force-user Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Is this film the greatest ever made? No. But does it bring Star Wars saga back to life? Yes, it does. Its plot structure is basically the same as Episode IV: A New Hope, from saving a droid with crucial intelligence in its databanks to meeting a young hero on a desert planet with a gift for the Force to a climactic battle between starfighters that ends with a planet-sized explosion. I’d say I’m giving away most of the plot right there, but if you’ll remember, this was essentially the same plot to Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The key difference is that, in Force Awakens, we see everything done much better visually. J.J. Abrams retold Lucas’s first Star Wars film with a budget and special effects that he could’ve only dreamed of back in 1977. From the first shot, you’re immediately sucked into this world, where practical effects and CGI blend together almost seamlessly. You feel like you’re running from stormtroopers across sand dunes or getting into blasterfights in tight, cramped starship corridors—because it’s all actually there. I will admit that some of the CGI was a little odd at times, like with the holographic image of the Supreme Leader or that random chase scene with the tentacle monsters, but for the most part, it helps carry the story forward.
Compared to the prequels, with Lawrence Kasdan writing, we got a strong dose of storytelling back in the saga. There’s a brilliant theme of searching for a family that ties the entire plot together, from Finn trying to make sense of his life after abandoning the First Order to Rey waiting to be reunited with her missing family, to even a tense but meaningful scene between Han and Leia near the third act. It fits in just as well with our new villain, Kylo Ren, whose connection to the Solo family and his struggle to fully embrace the dark side makes his dialogue incredibly poignant as the film goes on.
Speaking of which, this production deserves an A-plus for bringing together an amazing cast. Everyone, new and old, brought something creative and inspiring to this movie, from Harrison Ford’s stellar performance as an aged but still sharp Han Solo to Oscar Isaac’s cocky ace starfighter pilot Poe Dameron. The first winner, however, was Daisy Ridley (my new favorite actress) for her portrayal of Rey. She balances her world-weary, tech-savvy scavenger background with a dose of curiosity and apprehension when faced with the horrors of the First Order and the myths of the Jedi.
When Star Wars first came out in theaters, what captivated audiences was what it brought to science fiction and fantasy genres: a spirit of mythology and a sense of living on the frontier. We got Jedi Knights inspired by Akira Kurosawa stepping out from desert worlds inspired by John Ford Westerns. With the prequel trilogy, we lost some of the myths and the frontiers in favor of fleshing out backstory with dry Jedi Council debates and epic CGI battles set on big, flashy worlds, with little character to distinguish anything.
But thankfully, The Force Awakens is bringing back that sense of mystery and rugged adventure, now with a more modern sensibility, a more diverse cast, and a set of legends ready for the 21st century.
At the time of this writing, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Bibliography: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt. Based on characters created by George Lucas. Perf. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow. Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Original release date: December 18, 2015.