Obviously, since it’s a review of the film, this article is going to contain some major spoilers for the plot of The Force Awakens. If you haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, you may want to stop reading now.
It’s been over a decade since the last installment in the Star Wars saga was released (Revenge of the Sith, 2005). Since then, The Walt Disney Company bought out George Lucas and purchased Lucasfilm — the production company which gave the world Star Wars — for a staggering $4.06 billion. Disney wasted almost no time in working to make their new investment profitable, expanding on Lucas’ concepts for an additional trilogy, and began work on The Force Awakens in 2013. The film is directed by J. J. Abrams (Lost, Mission: Impossible III, Super 8, Alias), hand-picked by George Lucas himself, and has composer John Williams return for a seventh time to write the musical score.
This was my third time attending a Star Wars premier opening weekend screening. Perhaps it’s because of the cult-like following, but going to an opening weekend screening of Star Wars is just somehow more… fun. When that hallmark opening sequence starts and the musical theme blasts in the theater, the entire audience really gets into it. So, here’s a short recap of The Force Awakens and my thoughts on this latest entry in the epic space opera.
When I left the theatre after attending the Thursday night preview, I found myself asking a lot of questions and looking for more explanation, as I’m sure a lot of moviegoers did.
Leave it to Disney to create the darkest, most dystopian film in the Star Wars saga yet. Gone is the over-animated and obnoxious Jar-Jar Binks. Instead, now there’s a huge hologram of a demonic figure with a scarred face, known as Snoke. No more podracing on Naboo with various creatures from all over the galaxy. Now, there are legions of Stormtroopers participating in fascist rallies, then destroying entire planets. Even the lightsaber, the trademark weapon of the Star Wars series, seems to have been made into more of a raw tool for destruction.
There’s the question of what transpired in the storyline between Episode VI and Episode VII. Return of the Jedi (Episode VII) ends with the Rebel Alliance having destroyed the second Death Star, in the process leaving both antagonists Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious) dead. It appears that the Galactic Empire substantially fell apart after Return of the Jedi and left a power void which came to be filled by the First Order — primary antagonists in The Force Awakens. Again, the gap in storyline between Episode VI and Episode VII leaves open the possibility of many future stand-alone expansion options (should Disney and Lucasfilm decide to do so), explaining what happened and how the First Order came into being and eventually rose to power.
One of the best parts of seeing this film was to witness the technological advancements in film-making and special effects. There's been a lot of technological advancement in film production and special effects in the last 40 years, since the release of A New Hope. It's evident that things have come a long way if you go back and re-watch the original trilogy which was released in the 1970's and 1980's. Noticeably, in The Force Awakens, animated characters which haven't been filmed in 30 years have received a nice update in their appearance — particularly to Admiral Ackbar and to Nien Nunb. Physics seem to matter a lot more now, too — a noticeably more than they did in earlier releases in the series. Ranged weapons (blasters, lasers) do a lot more visible damage to their targets. Oh, and apparently Storm Troopers can use weapons like flamethrowers now, too (as during the opening sequence during the massacre on Jakku). Somewhat annoyingly, the dark side can’t seem to stop building mega-weapons in spherical planetary shapes, each with a hugely-exploitable critical vulnerability.
There’s obviously something special about using the same actors in one project over a period of almost 40 years — the aging process isn’t computer-generated. It’s very natural, very organic to witness the same actors undergo so much change. The anticipation of seeing what an aged Han Solo (Harrison Ford) looked like turned out to be one of the best experiences of the film. Leia Organa (Carrier Fisher) made another appearance too, embracing Han Solo as her love interest, a love with a lifespan of nearly a half-century. Not to be outdone, a grey-haired Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) capped off The Force Awakens with that ending on a remote, isolated planet that perfectly sets up a future sequel.
In doing some research for this article, I discovered that a graphic novel, Star Wars: Shattered Empire, was released by Marvel Comics in November 2015 — meant to set up the storyline for The Force Awakens. While I haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of Shattered Empire, it does sound like an attempt to clear up at least some of the questions of what happened after the events of Return of the Jedi. Many characters new to the Star Wars films are introduced in The Force Awakens — Rey, BB-8, Poe Dameron, Finn, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, General Hux… the list goes on and on. Who these characters are, where in the galaxy they came from, and who else they may (or may not be) related to are all great questions that should be answered at some point. And let’s not forget the mystery of what happened to the Jedi Order after Episode VI and what made Luke Skywalker go into hiding.
The Force Awakens is a must-see, and in my opinion, the best film yet released in the entire Star Wars series. It does a good of a job as it can in living to the hype surrounding it’s release, and the film is an excellent showcase of the special effects power in the collaboration between Lucasfilm and Disney. Go see it — at least once. The 3D version is pretty spectacular as well.
If early numbers are any indication, The Force Awakens is going to make Disney a lot of money. Just the earnings fromthe Thursday night previews alone were $57 million. There’s a very high likelihood that Disney and Bad Robot will be able to earn back the film’s $200 million budget in just the opening weekend itself.
It’d be awesome to see Disney re-invest a majority of the income made from Star Wars releases back into the franchise itself, thus being able to fund several future mega-budget releases in the series.
And if series’ fans are hungry for more Star Wars — they won’t have to wait that long. The next installment in this latest trilogy, Episode VIII (which is, as of yet, still unnamed) is set to release in May of 2017.