Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films.
A Star Wars movie is a cultural event.
More than a decade had passed since we had a new Star Wars movie in theaters. Moreover, the saga was just surging from making a seismic change in its whole DNA: Its creator, George Lucas, had sold his legal rights and creative freedom to that giant monster called Disney.
So, after two trilogies (the revered original and the controversial prequel one), the announcement of a new one was already going to be a resounding success and, no matter how polarized or hated, it was destined to remain in our pop-cultural imaginary for decades.
Many people felt that The Force Awakens was somehow a "coward" entry. The plot, it seems, replicates many times what we had already seen in the original George Lucas trilogy, in a way that felt forced, as if to look for cheap nostalgia that helped sell more BB-8 toys.
Certainly, the story offers nothing revolutionary within the Star Wars universe. A stormtrooper who decides to abandon his evil ways helps a resistance pilot so he can also scape his post. He ends up meeting a beautiful scavenger girl who was abandoned by her parents when she was a child. They both end up at the very center of the Resistance struggle commanded by Leia Organa to find Luke Skywalker. The ancient Jedi has disappeared without a trace. All this, with the latent threat of the First Order commanded by Supreme Leader Snoke and Han and Leia's turned-Sith son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
It's difficult not to see the validity of this argument. After all, Luke, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, and C3PO are in this. The Millenium Falcon remains the miraculous scrap par excellence. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is basically a non-Jedi version of the X Wing pilot side of Luke Skywalker. The beginning of the story happens in Jakku, which is basically an almost perfect copy of the desert planet Tatooine where we met Luke Skywalker and little Anakin Skywalker, also at the beginning of his two corresponding trilogies (there is no binary sunset, though). Kylo Ren is, openly admitted and without any shame, a wannabe Darth Vader, with the same possible redeeming arch just around the corner. The android BB-8, although it has its own personality and a great original spherical design, is basically the new R2-D2. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is a big hologram of the biggest bad... just like Palpatine. There is even a new UBER Death Star, with the same destroyer-planets ray and a weak point that will make the whole thing inevitably explode into oblivion in the third act.
Yes, that criticism is completely true and valid. However, it's not fair to completely condemn The Force Awakens for that. After all, this is still the Skywalker saga, so callbacks are not only logical but necessary.
Besides, still being a blockbuster directed by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens does assume some (few but some) interesting risks that make it shine with its own light. At this point, Star Wars is like the Catholic religion of sci-fi: it takes a while to reflect the diversity of modern times, but when they do it’s kinda a big deal. That's why, YES, it's a pleasant surprise that the lead characters are a black guy and a girl.
Finn (John Boyega) is a weird protagonist. At times, he works like the comic relief of the story, but he's undeniably the "everyday" man designed for the audience to empathize with.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), is a borderline manic pixie dream girl with an almost absurd understanding of The Force. But still, she has epic moments, where the importance of her presence is not limited to her gender (sorry I don't dig most of the political controversy in my kids' movies). Rey is a badass and that's it. She has earned her place within the Lucasfilm heroes, with ease.
I'm maybe part of the minority voice here, but Kylo Ren is a fantastic villain. Star Wars already had one-dimensional bad guys like Palpatine and rehabilitated Frankenstein monsters like Darth Vader. Adam Driver's character offers something new. It's a fantastic performance, of a powerful Sith with a bunch of hormones barely contained. Kylo is practically a spoiled teenager or a manchild, unstable and completely unpredictable, which is more unnerving when he's not wearing that helmet. He's also incredibly powerful (at least until Chewbacca shoots him in the stomach with his bowcaster, apparently eliminating 80% of his capacity). Isn't that a great villain? YES, IT IS.
Besides, you can't deny that his scene with Han Solo is emotional, raw and shocking to watch. The entire gasps of the audience in the gigantic IMAX room where I watch it, confirms this.
There are a plethora of characters that show great potential but aren' developed at all. Poe Dameron, who comes out in the first very first scene like the true hero of this movie, is diluted in the background for a big chunk of the whole movie. Maz Kanata, the myopic CGI alien in charge of delivering some lines of wisdom about The Force, is a great vehicle to showcase Lupita Nyong’o's acting rank. No more than that. Supreme Leader Snoke is the biggest enigma of them all. Domhnall Gleeson delivers a great General Hux, but I fear that his character is simply another villainy general put there to be bullied by the current Sith. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the commander of the stormtroopers, is another character that promises a lot and delivers almost nothing.
In terms of cameos or brief participations, The Force Awakens stands out. Max von Sydow is annihilated by Kylo Ren in the first 10 minutes, but his presence gives enough solemnity to the resistance struggle. There's also Iko Uwais, Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt, the big junkyard creature on Jakku), Daniel Craig (look for the Jedi-mind tricked stormtrooper) and even Kevin Smith.
J.J. Abrams' direction is smart and correct. Nothing else. He trades his trademarks lens flares for a not-so-subtle use of light and shadow to show the dark sides of his characters (Kylo Ren takes the violent and horrifying step to the dark side just as night falls at Starkiller Base).
Of course, The Force Awakens has the highest levels of production and design. It's musicalized once again by the legendary John Williams, which offers new themes that will surely become iconic (not “Duel Of Fates” or “Imperial March” iconic, but still) like "Rey’s Theme."
The Force Awakens takes some risks with the design of its new characters, but in terms of history and structure, this is definitely a "safe" entry point to the new trilogy. J.J. Abrams is not George Lucas, so it's somehow understandable that he wanted to first test the temperature of the water before going deep.
The real high stakes would come two years later with Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, a film that would irreversibly and completely polarize the fanbase.
© 2019 Sam Shepards