Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler-Free)

By Chip Tamplin

Published on Friday, December 18, 2015

It’s been roughly twenty years since the first time my dad sat me down and made me watch Star Wars Episode 4 (A New Hope). I remember not wanting to do it. I had no interest. After some persuasion, I finally sat down and watched it. For the next two hours I was taken on a journey to the farthest depths of the galaxy with some of the most approachable and lovable characters ever. As we finished the remainder of the trilogy, all I wanted was more.

Like every other Star Wars fan on the planet, I couldn’t wait for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when it was released in 1999. It had been sixteen years since Episode 6: Return of the Jedi had aired and Star Wars fans were desperately wanting more. There wasn’t a huge expanded universe yet. There weren’t tons of novels, comics and TV shows to hold fans over that were waiting and hoping for more. For Star Wars fans, it was grueling wait. When the moment finally arrived, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone was so excited. And, like most Star Wars fans, I left the theater scratching my head. Where were all the amazing characters we were promised? This grand story that would tie into the originals? It was hard to leave the theater thinking about much other than the ill-conceived Jar Jar Binks, who became the staple for everything that was wrong with the prequel trilogy. Sure, I’d be lying if I said they didn’t have some great moments, and for the most part each prequel was better than its predecessor, but its over-reliance on CGI, poor writing and even worse direction, made it hard for fans not to feel disappointed and even a bit angry. Which leads us to last night.

Once again, it’s been a decade since Star Wars was on the big screen. The tag line used most often by fans when asked if they were excited for The Force Awakens was well, it can’t possibly be worse than the prequels. That’s sad, but that’s the world we lived in. I was a subscriber to this line of thinking as well. The first bit of optimism I felt for The Force Awakens was when it was announced that JJ Abrams would be the one in the directors chair.

I was never really a big fan of Star Trek, but thoroughly enjoyed both Star Trek films helmed by JJ Abrams (2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness). If he was able to make me care about a franchise I never cared about, he has to be able to rekindle our love for and trust in Star Wars again, right? Yes. This all leads us to last night. The trailers were cool, quotes from previous cast members and new ones alike, promising, but what would we think? Early reviews were overly positive, but it was finally time to see it for ourselves.

My movie theater had showings starting every fifteen minutes, with lines amassing well over two hours before each showing. We sat through the trailers. We sat through commercials for gift cards and concessions. Finally the lights went down. FINALLY.

The screen went dark and then “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” lit up the screen. Everyone gasped. We’d seen it before, but it was finally real now. As the Star Wars logo flashed across our screen followed promptly by Star Wars signature up-scrolling text and John Williams’ incredible score, the entire theater started cheering and clapping. It was electric.

From the opening scene and throughout the entire movie, I never felt bored. I never felt letdown. I just sat there in complete and utter amazement at what I was watching. JJ Abrams completely and totally redeemed the franchise from the disappointment of the prequels and made us all believe again. One moment I was smiling ear to ear, then laughing out loud to tearing up and every emotion in between.

Every time an original cast member made their entrance, the theater erupted in applause. The first time you saw Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Leia (Carrie Fisher), R2-D2 and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and yes, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), you were filled with such joy. Hello, old friends. We’ve known they’d all be in the movie, but seeing them – finally – was indescribable. They were all able to jump back into their characters after a thirty-two year absence and not miss a beat. But this movie, while featuring many familiar faces, isn’t really about them. It’s about our newcomers, and if you were worried about them – don’t be. They were incredible.

Rey (portrayed by relative newcomer Daisy Ridley, pictured below) was the true standout of the film for me. Set to somewhat fill the Luke Skywalker role of the franchise, Ridley’s character is very accessible and immediately lovable. She’s stronger, but more vulnerable and while she doesn’t suffer much from naivety, her level of awe is understandable given how she was thrust into the conflict.

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Our other main character, Finn (played by John Boyega, pictured above), is fleshed out quickly and well. His inner struggles with being raised to be a stormtrooper are touched on early and often, but when he’s needed to step up, he does. His chemistry with Rey was absolutely brilliant.

New villain Kylo Ren was played brilliantly by Adam Driver. We’ve only gotten a taste of the tortured villain, but it’s safe to say that he’ll be hugely complex character, if his role in The Force Awakens is any indication. I really can’t say much more without going into spoilers.

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One of the biggest surprises for me, was Star Wars newcomer Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac). A legendary Resistance pilot and son of two rebel operatives. He plays a pretty big part in some of the movies bigger moments, and was brilliant. One of my only complaints of the movie was that I’d wished he’d been given more screen time, but he’ll be in Episode 8 and I wish everyone had been given more screen time, so it’s hardly even a real complaint.

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There were several other amazing actors that had roles in the film, whose characters screen time was a bit disappointing. Andy Serkis (top photo below, left) who plays Supreme Leader Snoke, Lupita Nyong’o (top photo below, right) who plays force-sensitive Maz Kanata and Gwendoline Christie who plays Captain Phasma (bottom photo). Each character has a ton of promise, but we learned very little about them. I have a feeling they’ll play major roles in the Episode 8.

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If I really dove into the movie and tried to find issues, I could probably find some minor things here and there, but there are absolutely no major issues with this movie. Everything from the acting to the writing, directing, and score were about as close to perfection as you could ask for from a movie with this much pressure to be good. On pretty much every front, it felt a lot like A New Hope 2.0. You’re introduced to new characters, new conflicts and left with more questions than answers. But that’s the beauty of Star Wars, you’re always left wanting more. The new characters were engaging, intriguing and worthy of introduction to a new generation of Star Wars fans.

I went into Star Wars: The Force Awakens with optimism, but also the unescapable feeling that this might not be as good as it looks. When I left, the only thing my friends and I debated was where it ranked all-time. It’s easily top three, we all agreed on that. I’d personally place it right behind The Empire Strikes Back and before Return of the Jedi, and it’s entirely possible that my nostalgia and love for Empire makes it impossible to be beaten. Whether you’re a new fan or have been with the franchise for decades, there’s something for everyone.

Thank you to JJ Abrams, the entire cast, crew, and writers for returning one of the best sci-fi franchises ever to its former glory. Thank you for making us all feel like kids again as we explore a galaxy far, far away. The Force is strong with this one.

The Good

+ A return to form.

+ Old cast perfectly passes the torch.

+ New cast was exceptional.

+ Practical effects return.

+ Score and sound effects were second to none.

+ Perfect balance of emotions.


The Bad

- First film sets up story, meaning less screen time for certain characters.

Verdict9.5

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