It almost doesn't even feel right discussing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It has received nothing but attention since it was first announced that Disney was working on another one after purchasing it from George Lucas. The film practically hypes itself, with mentions of it on social media and everywhere else. Most of us who don't want the film spoiled for us have had to go out of our way to ignore certain information. For those that are interested in Spoilers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, as well as a Review, this is the place. If you don't want spoilers, stop reading as five questions will be raised about where the new series is going.
For the first time, an official Star Wars film begins without the 20th Century Fox logo (not to mention the opening notes). Oddly enough, the Disney logo is absent as well. After the traditional "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away", the scrolling tells us that Luke Skywalker is missing. Not only that, the Empire has apparently restarted after a few decades into The First Order, and the Rebellion is now the Resistance.
The film begins on a dark tone on the desert planet of Jakku, and it is very clear from the shadowy special effects that the brightly colorful Computer Generated effects era of the prequels is over. The film went out of its way to film at very real locations and avoided greenscreen sets. For this, the film gets good points right from the start. This is not to say that computer-generated effects are not used, but they are used sparingly in favor of more practical effects.
An X-wing fighter pilot named Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron) picks up some information about the possible location of Luke Skywalker from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow). Unfortunately, some First Order ships land, and proceed to destroy everyone in this small colony on the planet of Jakku. Poe Dameron is captured by the First Order and their leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), but he manages to give the information to a ball-shaped droid named BB-8.
At this point, it is very difficult to talk about the plot of The Force Awakens without comparing it to other movies of the series. The idea of a droid that has to carry secret information is straight out of Star Wars: A New Hope, when C-3PO and R2-D2 were carrying the Death Star plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi. BB-8 is eventually found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young girl who has been living by selling scavenged parts on Jakku. According to Star Wars Battlefront, Jakku was a site of a major battle after events in The Return of the Jedi, and so there are a lot of wrecked and abandoned warships around.
Rey is the heroine of the movie, and she is essentially a female version of Luke Skywalker from A New Hope and the young Anakin from The Phantom Menace. Like Luke, she finds BB-8 wandering in the desert, which has identical moisture farm towers like on Tatooine. Rey barely makes a living scavenging, but she doesn't sell BB-8 because she senses something special about it.
Kylo Ren, who apparently has some dark Jedi powers, interrogates Poe and learns that BB-8 has the information that he wants. Poe is then rescued from the First Order Star Destroyer warship by Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who lately has been questioning his training. At the massacre at Jakku, Finn (who has a name that is only a serial number that starts with FN) refused to take part. Apparently, the First Order trains and conditions Stormtroopers from the cradle instead of the clones established in the prequels.
The escape from the Star Destroyer and the subsequent chase on a TIE Fighter is very reminiscent of the rescue of Princess Leia from A New Hope. Finn and Poe land on Jakku but get separated. Finn is able to find Rey by sheer coincidence and recognizes BB-8. The First Order attacks this area from above with TIE Fighters, forcing Finn and Rey to become allies.
As part of their escape, they are forced to steal a ship that looks like "a hunk of junk". This is a reference to a line Luke has described the Millennium Falcon from A New Hope, and another chase scene ensues that is reminiscent of the one with the TIE Fighters and Asteroids from The Empire Strikes Back.
Kylo Ren and fellow officer, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), are forced to report to the bad news to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). He appears to them as a giant hologram sitting on a throne, looking a lot like the Emperor from The Return of the Jedi. In this scene, it is revealed the Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo. This would be one of the biggest spoilers, because most have speculated that Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Meanwhile, Rey and Finn fly away from Jakku with the Millennium Falcon, and Finn lies about being a part of the Resistance. I have to admit that it wasn't smart of Finn to lie about this, as the audience knew that he would be found out. Fortunately, the film doesn't focus on this storyline too long. However, it is enough to get BB-8 to give the information that he has, but it doesn't really help.
Before this, the Millennium Falcon is picked up by a smuggling ship piloted by none other than Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). After sharing the information from BB-8 with the veterans, Rey and Finn go into hiding as two groups of bandits hijack the ship. Rey and Finn accidentally release three creatures aboard, and now, instead of looking like a Star Wars film, it begins to look like something from the Alien series.
Han and Chewie take Rey and Finn to a cantina that is very reminiscent of the one from A New Hope. Instead of the quick cuts that George Lucas did in the original Star Wars, the director J.J. Abrams does it with one long cut. Here they meet up with Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), and I was honestly very worried about this character. Star Wars Episode I was heavily criticized for showing Asian stereotypes with certain Trade Federation aliens, and it looked like Maz was an Asian stereotype of the wise old woman, similar to the goat lady from Kung Fu Panda 2. However, she has a lot of character for the short amount of screen time that she does have.
Rey senses something nearby, and it is Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. At this point, the film suddenly becomes very visionary with flashbacks. It is reminiscent of the cave trial Luke faced on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, and the audience learns that Rey wants to stay on Jakku because she is waiting for someone. It looks like she was painfully separated from this someone, but this is not revealed.
It is then revealed that the First Order have created a superweapon that is over fifty times larger than the Death Star. Unlike the Death Stars of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, this is a massive cannon that can destroy the planets of entire star systems, from a great distance. It soon destroys some nearby planets where the heroes are at, and this place is then attacked by the First Order. It is interesting that the First Order has a presence that looks like Nazi Germany with a huge red banner, and the destruction of the planets feels very emotionally charged in a post 9/11 world.
Han, Finn, and Chewbacca are led out as prisoners of the First Order, looking like the scene where they are taken the prisoner in Return of the Jedi after their first attack on the shield generator base. There are no Ewoks to save them this time, but a squad of X-wing fighters, with Poe among them. The X-wings defeat the First Order, but Kylo Ren manages to capture Rey.
A ship then comes in, and Princess Leia is aboard along with C-3PO (who has a red arm for some reason). Han and Leia haven't seen each other for quite a while, and Finn officially joins the Resistance. From there, Han, Chewie, and Finn use the Falcon to break through the First Order's massive superweapon defense in order to turn off the shields.
It is then discovered that Rey has the power of the Force. She can use the Jedi mind trick to free herself and meets up with the others. They managed to shut down the shields, and the Resistance starts their attack.
At this time, Han Solo finally reunites with his son. Earlier, Han regretted allowing his son to go away and be taught, as Snoke got a hold of him. Luke may have disappeared because he was also ashamed of what happened. It looks like that Han is almost able to turn his son back from the dark side, but then Kylo Ren kills Han Solo with his red lightsaber. This would be another big spoiler, and it is quite sad.
Ren then meets up with Finn and Rey, and they fight. Finn is seriously injured, but Rey is able to fight back, even using telekinesis to pick up a lightsaber. She beats Ren and manages to leave the planet on the Falcon with Chewie and Finn before the massive superweapon blows up.
What happens at the end is a wrap-up as Leia meets with Rey, and gives her an embrace. It is pretty clear that Leia could feel that Han was killed by her son. Finn will live, and Rey says goodbye with a kiss, which could signal a possible romance.
After the superweapon is destroyed, R2-D2 suddenly comes out of his low-power mode and has information about Luke Skywalker with a holographic map. BB-8 has the last part of the map, and the end shows Rey in the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca as her co-pilot. The two of them, along with R2-D2, fly to a planet where they meet with Luke Skywalker, who has no lines before the credits roll.
Okay, so that was Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, in a nutshell, and it leaves a lot of questions unanswered:
1) Why did Finn suddenly grow a conscience? It seems like he was trained to be a Stormtrooper, but the first time he sees action, he refuses to take part in a massacre. His superior, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), reports to Kylo Ren that Finn never had any trouble before that. Unlike Rey, he doesn't demonstrate any powers with the Force, and his backstory is pretty unknown.
2) How does Rey have the Force? Is she a part of the Skywalker family? Leia hugged her pretty strong at the end of the film like she was a family member. However, Han Solo didn't seem to acknowledge her as his daughter and didn't seem to act like she was anything special other than asking her to become part of his ship's crew. Considering that Rey has been reportedly left on Jakku for years, to be picked up by persons unknown, who left her there to begin with? Considering the look that Luke gave her at the end of the film, is Luke her father? Who is the mother then? Fans of Star Wars know that there was an extended universe of Star Wars where Luke, Leia, and Han have children, but this was abandoned by Disney, so there is a new plan for the Star Wars extended family.
3) Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? He looks rather human or some other race, but he appears to be powerful in the dark side of the Force. Wasn't it announced that Luke and Leia Skywalker were the last Jedi in Return of the Jedi? Wasn't the whole point of the prequels to introduce a prophecy of one that would "restore balance to the Force"? Wasn't that supposed to be leading up to the actions of Luke Skywalker or even Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) with the death of Emperor Palpatine? Where did this Snoke come from and how did he learn the dark side?
4) What has Luke been doing all these years? Considering R2-D2 just suddenly comes back online at the end of the film, it feels rather convenient, pointing the way to the missing Skywalker. Does Luke go into hiding like Yoda did after Revenge of the Sith? If so, why? Was he waiting for Rey the whole time? Is he the one who was supposed to pick up Rey on Jakku?
5) What will happen now that the First Order's weapon is defeated? An Empire Strikes Back is required here, but how will the First Order respond to this attack.
As someone who first saw the original Star Wars movie back in 1977 at age 5, remembers the shock of Darth Vader being Luke's father in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back, and was quite satisfied with the wrap-up in 1983 in Return of the Jedi, I was not positive about more Star Wars movies. Especially with the prequels, which were good movies, but they were not the great movies that the original trilogy started. Those films established the "sight and sound" generation and changed everything about movies and how they were marketed afterward. Particularly in the seventies, when it was rare to have a movie with such advanced special effects. Now they are in every movie, and there are still good imaginations out there putting their creations to live-action and animated film.
I figured that Star Wars would simply live on in books and graphic novels, with an extended universe that I didn't want to follow. In the nineties, Star Wars books were coming out all the time, and it carried on until Disney purchased Star Wars so they could make more films. I was especially not excited when I found out that J.J. Abrams was directing it.
J.J. Abrams was someone that I didn't trust, as he tends to start TV series like Alias, Lost, and Fringe. All of these shows had a slow but great start, but never ended as good as they started. It was as if any project that he touched had only a short time before it just fizzled out. When he took over Star Trek, he produced a good reboot of the franchise, but Star Trek: Into Darkness was not able to repeat that energy. Worse yet, his film Super 8 film like a badly executed version of a Steven Spielberg magic realism film from the 80's. For him to try and bring back life to Star Wars seemed unlikely, but he has made his best film.
I am not certain if Abrams is to blame for why Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens works well. Perhaps he was raised by it, and he realized that unlike the prequels, which attempted new characters and situations that didn't capture the audience's interest, Abrams kept the characters from the old and introduced newer ones that are full of personality.
There are also scenes that capture the magic, and they are simple. There is a scene where Harrison Ford comes to the Millennium Falcon and just smiles. Then seeing him with Leia as an old married couple instead of the young lovers they were in the eighties feels genuine. I would have to say that Harrison Ford saved this film, and it is a shame that it took so long for this film to be made.
So with all that, is the film good? I am going to have to say yes. At first, all I could do was just compare it to the original trilogy and the prequels, and sadly, there isn't a lot of originality. Then again, does there really need to be? Star Wars always took place in a universe that was huge from the get-go, and it has been developed even more over the years. Most of the books were often about the Imperials attempting to rebuild to defeat the new Rebellion Republic, but since the entire universe was revised, it begins with a universe where evil has taken over once again. It may seem that it counteracts the very happy ending of Return of the Jedi, but this makes it a bit more lifelike as "happily ever after endings" seldom occur.
The final verdict is that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is worth seeing, twice. It does bring the magic back, but it is possible that the magic could lack something with its repeating. This one is going to be difficult to top, and if it starts to repeat so many elements of the original trilogy, then they won't be worth seeing at all.
The next Star Wars project is Star Wars: Rogue One, due out on December 16, 2016. This film, according to the IMDB site, is about Rebels setting out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. So it could be another prequel. The reported date of Star Wars: Episode VIII will be May 26, 2017, which will bring the Star Wars films back in the summer again.