At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Max von Sydow/ Runtime: 135 minutes

I would just like to start this review up by saying that under penalty by JJ Abrams and Disney of either getting clubbed to death by a group of rampaging Ewoks or being strapped into a chair and having to listen to Jar Jar Binks for an entire day there will be ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS in this review. This is not just because that’s the way I operate to begin with, but also out of respect to all the fans and people out there who have either seen this film or who are about to re-watch it so they can get caught up in time for Rise of Skywalker. That being said: “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” When those famous words appeared on the silver screen once again, followed by the galactic logo and title crawl accompanied by that legendary John Williams score, the crowd in the screening I was in absolutely went nuts. Indeed just seeing the Star Wars logo on a theater screen again solely almost brought tears to my eyes after 10 long years, but what followed was even more incredible. I say that because what followed truly was a film that was everything I had dreamed it would be: dazzling, exhilarating, funny, heart-warming, and yes even a little bit heart-breaking. Indeed this is the Star Wars film that not only have fans all over the planet been waiting for, but I can safely say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is also the film that, after Lucas betrayed all of our trusts with his hit or miss prequel trilogy, will actually bring you back to the world of Star Wars that we all know and love.

The plot is as follows: 30 years after Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker has mysteriously vanished and in his absence 2 warring factions have once again developed: The First Order, an Empire offshoot hell-bent on tracking Luke down and killing him thereby getting rid of the Jedi for good and The Resistance, a New Republic-sponsored force headed by Luke’s sister now-General Leia Organa that is hell-bent on finding Luke before The First Order and convincing him to return to help turn the tide against the First Order and their fierce lieutenant: the mysterious yet highly-strong in the Force Kylo Ren (whose teacher Snoke could best be described as Emperor Palpatine meets the aliens from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind). Yet when the Resistance’s best pilot Poe Dameron is captured and then subsequently freed by a defecting Stormtrooper he dubs “Finn” an extraordinary new adventure begins and soon the fate of the Galaxy lies in the hands of not only Finn, and to a lesser extent, Poe, but also a desert scavenger named Rey and an adorable new droid named BB-8 as well….

Now the film is incredibly fast paced which came as a big surprise to me, because I expected a longer intro and a much slower build up and you might find yourself kind of disappointed before, hopefully, managing to adjust to the film’s tempo. In addition, the editing – thank God – is not of the fit-inducing, quick-cut kind that seems to be so popular among many younger directors, and as a result I was able to fully enjoy even the more hectic moments. The action scenes are obviously spectacular, but despite my statement that this is a very fast film, The Force Awakens doesn’t just consist of one action scene after another. This is because, as Abrams already showed with his excellent Star Trek reboot, he clearly knows that there can be too much of a good thing, and while he propels the story forward at a swift pace and there sure is plenty of action in his movie, he does a fantastic job of using the obligatory space battles, light-saber fights and chase scenes sparingly enough to make them count and as a result, they have an impact and feel truly epic. It’s also that restraint which elevates The Force Awakens over the prequels, and it’s also the reason why Abrams was such a perfect choice for this insanely prestigious project as he has an almost Spielbergian gift for storytelling with heart and soul. Indeed it’s here where The Force Awakens truly exceeded my expectations because through all the fun and spectacle, this film actually manages to touch and even move you to the point of tears.

Now Abrams also managed to pull off another impressive trick that was key to the success of this gargantuan endeavor and that was credible world-building. I say that because unlike in the prequels, there is not a second in The Force Awakens where you might mistake the film for a video game because every shot, every gravity defying chase or fight scene, every spacecraft and every creature as well as every planet all has a believable physicality to it that makes the film feel grounded in reality and alive right from the first frame. Yet while naturally, there is a bit of CGI it’s actually never distracting and Abrams was smart enough to almost always blend real backgrounds, miniatures or even life-sized models with computer generated images, and the combinations appear seamless with the Millennium Falcon, for example, actually being a real ship, as they apparently built the whole damn thing, and once it starts moving in the movie, you honestly can’t tell where the model ends and the CGI begins.

The other side of The Force Awakens’ successful world-building is rooted in the simple – but very effective – script. This is because the universe we get to know in The Force Awakens is not just richly detailed in a visual sense, but this world also seems both so credible and complete because it also has an equally rich and detailed history, even a mythology if you will, behind it. Indeed Abrams’ and Kasdan’s script does a fantastic job of cleverly using our, the audience’s, knowledge of this world’s past to its advantage because one of The Force Awakens’ biggest strengths is that there is a sense of mystery and wonder that permeates the story throughout the whole film. This is because unlike us and this is something that we have been let in on via the trailers, most of the new characters don’t exactly know what happened in their universe in the past as they either grew up with it being myths or even downright propaganda-stylized and completely distorted versions of the truth. Thus this new Star Wars adventure is also a journey of discovery for its new protagonists, and I was even reminded a bit of the Hobbits’ journey through Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings as we get to see Rey, Finn and Poe discover the remains (not only in the physical sense) from battles (and films) long past with our young heroes’ ignorance also proving to be the source of much of the film’s humor, and it is also the key to the great chemistry and banter between Han and Finn.

Speaking of which, the cast – old and new – is plain and simply absolutely marvelous. Forgotten are the often-occurring bland characters and wooden performances from the prequels (sorry, George but you know it’s true) or the often cringe-worthy dialog (sorry again, George but as I said before you know it’s true) and back are 3-dimensional characters with personality and actually enjoyable dialogue. Indeed this starts with Harrison Ford once again nailing it hook, line, and sinker as the grizzled, slightly battle-worn (and cranky) Han Solo and Carrie Fisher absolutely doing a wonderful job in her screen time as now-General Organa and she and Ford really have some wonderfully touching scenes together. As for Luke…..well the less said about him the better so don’t expect me to really say anything about him. The new cast also does a fantastic job of holding their own alongside the old guard as we get Adam Driver bringing unexpected depth and gravitas to the curious enigma that is Kylo Ren. Indeed at first glance Kylo might seem like a second-rate Vader what with his metal Donald Duck-beak looking helmet, but he has much more depth than that. Indeed when all is said and done, Kylo Ren is not only a great villain but a great character as he’s charismatic but insecure, arrogant but unexperienced and while you can empathize with him at times it’s obvious there’s great darkness within him. Indeed if I could best describe him I would either tell you complicated or what you would get if Darth Vader was prone to sudden, violent, but at times unusually hilarious temper tantrums and yes that is just a rough sketch of the character but that’s all you’ll get from me. Sorry. In addition, Oscar Isaac also proves to be intensely likable as the slightly cocky but fantastic pilot Poe Dameron, and John Boyega gives us an absolutely fantastic performance as the former Stormtrooper Finn and I like Finn because he really truly has in a sense one of the best arcs in the entire movie. That and, in a sense, Finn really is the heart of this movie as we see him go from someone who’s used to simply taking orders to finally finding the inner hero within himself and just letting loose with it. However, the best out of all of the main new cast is Daisy Ridley as Rey and that is because Ridley just imbues this character not only with a sense of purpose and self-sufficiency but also a lot of heart, and a wry sense of humor that comes in handy as we get to see her hold her own against the sarcastic force of nature that is Han Solo. Yet the most remarkable thing about her is the fact that she doesn’t feel like a character, but more like a real-life person yet at the same time is a person who ultimately proves to be the character to reckon with and when you see the movie you will know exactly what I am talking about. Indeed exciting things are afoot in this universe, and I just can’t wait to see where the story takes Rey after this.

All in all Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not only the best since the original trilogy, but this movie will make you laugh, make you cheer and your spirit soar, and will make you even cry a little. Yet by the end of this movie I promise you that you WILL find yourself applauding along with the rest of the audience and saying either to yourself, or to whoever you went with “now THAT is what I call a Star Wars movie”. It is that fantastic, that amazing, and that much of a triumph. May the Force be With You. On a scale of 1-5 I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 4.5 out of 5.