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Movie Review: “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Theatrical Release: 12/18/2015

Theatrical Release: 12/18/2015

Synopsis

It has been 30 years since the fall of the Empire. The Rebellion—led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)—went on to form the New Republic, but although the Empire is gone, the galaxy is not entirely free from the dark side. A new faction has risen from the ashes of the Empire, and this new faction is known as the First Order. The First Order, led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is fighting to take control of the galaxy. In order to do that, they need to find and eliminate Luke Skywalker, taking the Jedi Master out of equation. However, Luke Skywalker is missing.

The New Republic wants to find Luke to help stop the First Order from rising to power. The First Order wants to find Luke to solidify their control of the galaxy. The First Order has learned of a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. It is located on a planet called Jakku, but a pilot for the New Republic known as Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has beaten the First Order to it. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a high ranking member of the First Order and an individual powerful in the dark side of the force, has been sent to capture Poe Dameron and obtain the the clue to Luke’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, a mysterious young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) crosses paths with an old ship known as the Millennium Falcon.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The ProsThe Cons

The Protagonists (+8pts)

The Millennium Falcon (-2pts)

Kylo Ren (+8pts)

Captain Phasma & General Hux (-3pts)

Star Wars Action & The Special Effects (+8pts)

A New Hope (-4pts)

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Pro: The Protagonists (+8pts)

This movie revisited great protagonists like Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) after over thirty years since last seeing them on screen. It was interesting to see these characters again, and to learn about what happened to them since the events of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. They provided a heavy dose of nostalgia, and I liked getting the small taste of what these characters have been up to as well as seeing the part they would play in this story. They were main characters of the original trilogy, and I liked seeing them take the older mentor role for the new and younger characters introduced in this movie. The filmmakers had an iconic group of characters to pass on the torch to their newer characters, but in order for that to work the newer characters had to be effective. Fortunately, that was very much the case.

I thought Finn (John Boyega) was a really interesting new character, as he was a Stormtrooper who realized that he was fighting for the wrong side. Then there was Rey (Daisy Ridley), the typical up-and-coming protagonist who begins to learn the ways of the force. Finally, there was Poe Dameron (Oscaar Isaac) who is an elite fighter pilot for the Resistance, although the filmmakers did not use this character much. Each character brought something different to the table. I liked the chemistry between them, and I really enjoyed the character development of both Finn and Rey. I liked what the filmmakers did with their respective stories, and I left the movie looking forward to seeing where the filmmakers would take their stories going forward.

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Con: The Millennium Falcon (-2pts)

The Millennium Falcon shows up very conveniently in this movie. The protagonists need a ship, and low and behold an old ship is just lying around, and that ship just so happens to be the Millennium Falcon. There is a very lazy explanation given for this, but the real reason is clearly just a plot device to make sure the movie goes in the desired direction. It was just really convenient for the protagonists, which just left me thinking that the filmmakers could have done a better job of introducing the ship. They could have had characters comment on the legendary Millennium Falcon earlier in the movie, suggesting that they know about the ship and assume that it no longer works. They could have also had Rey living on that junk of a ship, trying to save up to buy the parts necessary to fix it. Honestly, they could have done an infinite number of things with it, but instead they went with this really convenient and lazy introduction.

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Pro: Kylo Ren (+8pts)

I liked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) a lot, because I thought he was what George Lucas wanted Anakin Skywalker to be in the prequels. Kylo Ren was angry, he was powerful, he was trying to find his place, and he felt betrayed. This did not come out as a winy teenager, although I acknowledge that this character was further down the path of the dark side than Anakin was in the prequels. Instead, this character came across as powerful, angry, and severely unstable.

Kylo Ren was unpredictable and very emotional, and I thought Adam Driver did a really good job of bringing this to the screen effectively. He was an effective antagonist for this movie, he got plenty of interesting development, and the filmmakers left the door open for a lot more character development for this character going forward. Sure, this is a movie that follows the protagonists, but this movie felt like it was the first chapter in Kylo Ren's story, as much as it was the first chapter in Rey's. It established a sort of yin-yang relationship between the two characters, and while I liked the character of Rey, I found Kylo Ren to be a much more compelling character. His emotional instability made him very interesting -- Adam Driver's performance certainly helped this -- and I left the movie looking forward to seeing how his story would progress with future movies.

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Con: Captain Phasma & General Hux (-3pts)

These were two promising antagonists that were unfortunately used poorly in this movie. To start: Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). She was a visual badass in all of the marketing leading up to this movie, and she faced a fair comparison of being similar to Boba Fett from the original trilogy. The character was a mysterious and visually intimidating antagonist, and fans (including myself) were excited to see what her role would be in the movie. Unfortunately, her comparison to Boba Fett ended up being more fitting than anyone realized. The filmmakers hardly used Captain Phasma, which felt like a pretty big missed opportunity. Honestly, the movie would have been better off leaving this character out of the movie all together, much like the next character I am about to discuss.

General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) could have been an intimidating high ranking officer of the First Order (like Tarkin). However, he ended up being just as emotionally unstable as Kylo Ren and I really do not think there was room for two characters like this in one movie. Kylo Ren was more effective, as he was still an intimidating screen presence. However, General Hux seemed like a small dog whose bark was a lot worse than his bite, and I think the movie would have been better off if he were more restrained or if he was left out of the movie entirely.

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Pro: Star Wars Action & The Special Effects (+8pts)

The action in this movie was pretty good. There were no incredibly choreographed duels, but there was an intense showdown at the climax of the movie. There were also plenty of other strong action sequences with blasters, lightsabers, batons, explosives, and a couple of great sequences featuring X-Wings versus T.I.E. Fighters. The action was intense and entertaining, and it looked excellent.

The special effects were also done really well. While the original trilogy used almost exclusively practical effects, due to the technical limitations of their time, the prequel trilogy relied too heavily on CGI. This movie marked the beginning of the sequel trilogy and showed that the filmmakers learned from the mistakes of the heavy CGI in the prequels. The filmmakers of this movie seemed to know when to use practical effects, and when to use CGI, while also benefiting from having far more advanced CGI than the prequels did. The result was special effects that had the best of both worlds. They had the realism of practical effects, and had digital effects to hide any flaws or to do what simply could not have been done practically. The effects were excellent and made it very easy to submerse myself in this movie.

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Con: A New Hope (-4pts)

I liked the movie for trying to bring back a classic Star Wars feel. I thought it succeeded for the most part, with utilizing practical effects whenever possible and with delivering personal character-focused stories with big stakes. However, the filmmakers decided to make this movie too similar to Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope by basically copying the bones of that plot. There was a young force-sensitive protagonist on a desert planet whose parents are a mystery and there were factions identical to the Empire and Rebellion in every way but their names. There was a super-weapon and space-station (now called Starkiller Base) and the whole climax was about trying to find its weakness and trying to destroy it. There were many additional similarities, but I think you get my point.

The similarities between the two plots were so abundant, that it is hard to refer to them as similarities. The filmmakers basically copied that plot, and made some tweaks. I get making this movie similar to the originals in terms of effects and the type of storytelling. However, I truly believe that this movie could have been a lot better and more exciting if the filmmakers went in a new direction with the plot, rather than re-hashing an old one.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: A- (90pts)

I like Star Wars, even the prequels, but I know to manage my expectations going into these movies. I am a big fan of the movies, the games, and the lore, but I know that the movies are not perfect (with some being a lot better than others). With that in mind, I went into this movie excited, but I kept my expectations blank so that I could enjoy this movie for what it was rather than hate on it for what I wanted it to be. Then I saw the movie and ended up liking it quite a bit.

I think spending so much of this movie rehashing the plot of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope was a bad move and I would have preferred if the filmmakers did something new with this movie, but there was a lot to like about it nonetheless. It had a great group of protagonists that included classic Star Wars heroes like Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca, but it also introduced a few interesting and promising new protagonists with Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron. Then there was the villain, Kylo Ren, who was as menacing and powerful with the force as he was emotionally unstable, which made him a captivating, commanding, and unpredictable screen presence. I also liked the filmmakers' use of special effects, where they used primarily practical effects whenever possible and used digital effects to enhance the practical effects or to do what simply could not be done practically. The movie had some issues, but it was entertaining, had intense action, had great characters, and it looked incredible visually. This made it a great way to kick-off a new trilogy of Star Wars movies.

Best of the Star Wars Franchise

RankMoviePoints

1

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

95pts

2

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

93pts

3

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

92pts

4

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

90pts

5

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

89pts

6

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

87pts

7

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

86pts

8

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

83pts

9

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

79pts

10

Solo: A Star Wars Story

78pts

11

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

77pts