Looking Back at 2010s Films: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

3 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the first “Star Wars” film without any input from George Lucas after he sold the rights to Disney. So, for this “Sequel trilogy,” executive producer Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams, among others, had to prove the franchise was in good hands. What better way to start than make a film that feels like a “Star Wars” movie, right?

That’s why I didn’t mind that “The Force Awakens” more or less borrows the same formula as “A New Hope.” The formula is the same, as many, many people have already brought up (the argument being that it plays it too safe that way), but the way it goes about it is not.

It’s years later, and the First Order is following in the Empire’s footsteps (well, that didn’t take too long…). The rebels need help from Luke Skywalker, who has “vanished,” and a little droid has the info as to where he is. On a desert planet, the droid comes across our young protagonists, and the race is on to get the info to the right people while being chased by the First Order and assisted by Han Solo and Chewie.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Everyone’s made that joke.

We have new, interesting characters to follow through it all–Rey (Daisy Ridley), the orphaned scavenger who knows she’s meant for something more; Finn (John Boyega), the defecting Stormtrooper who wants no part of the war and just wants to run; Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the brash heroic pilot; BB-8, the droid designed to sell more toys; and arguably the most important new element, the complex, villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is given more backstory and character in one movie than Darth Vader was in “A New Hope.” (You know it’s true–even before “The Empire Strikes Back,” Darth Vader was simply a badass with a cool helmet and cape.)

But we also welcome back familiar characters such as Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and especially Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Han Solo’s characterization in “The Force Awakens” is GREAT. It had been more than 30 years since anyone’s seen this scruffy-looking nerfherder who was kind of reduced to a running joke in “Return of the Jedi,” and in “The Force Awakens,” we see that this guy has been through a lot, seen more than we probably could imagine, and has grown as a person dramatically because of it all. We had our happy ending with him and Leia getting together in “Return of the Jedi,” but it’s interesting to learn what happened after that and especially compelling to see Han in this light. And Harrison Ford turns in some of his best acting work here.

The action is pretty solid too–Abrams knew to keep the focus on the interesting characters rather than the big explosions. There’s a scene in which Rey and Finn are running away from a fireball that ensues on the desert planet, and our attention is always on THEM and not the explosion behind them. (What a thought!) Though, while the duel between Rey and Kylo Ren at the end is interesting, especially when it’s revealed how Force-sensitive Rey is, I could care less about the rebel attack that’s also happening at the same time.

OK, what DON’T I like about the film? Well, the CG tentacle things on the Millennium Falcon, I didn’t think were necessary. I don’t like the design of Maz Kanata. And I don’t like how Luke Skywalker’s actions are now seen as “myths.” I mean, I get that Rey lives alone and this is still “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but this is still a little over 30 years since the second Death Star was destroyed!! Unless…maybe that’s the lesson of the film and why the First Order came to be–those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it?….Maybe?

Huh…maybe it’s not as big an issue as I originally thought.

This is what “Star Wars” should be–likable, interesting characters going through some mysterious, fantastic stuff with some compelling action along the way and questions the audience has to find it within themselves to answer. And if “The Force Awakens” is a retread of “A New Hope,” then fine–at least it did it well. It showed that Disney could make a Star Wars movie. And it’s a good one.

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