Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is just one week away, continuing the Skywalker family saga and plunging Rey, Finn, and Poe into new, uncharted territory. With its release, this will be the final Star Wars review from SBM of the preceding films. And so, it’s time we revisit the chapter that brought the beloved saga back into the forefront of pop culture, while simultaneously reigniting a franchise that we believed would never go on to see a seventh installment.
When Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in 2005, I believed that I’d be seeing my very last brand new Star Wars movie on the big screen. I was an 11 year old boy, with endless amounts of Star Wars figures and ships pouring out of the toy box at home. I still remember sitting in the theater on that warm and sunny May day, blankly staring at the enormous screen that seemed so much bigger at the time. The lights went down. The orchestrated music crept into my ears, each new beat widening my eyes like a crank. Those blue familiar words faded into view.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Here I was again in 2015, seeing a brand new Star Wars movie. And like the rest of the Star Wars fans spread out all over the globe, I was eagerly anticipating that December day, when The Force Awakens would finally be with us. But for some, the franchise lost a bit of it’s muster after the original trilogy ended with Return of the Jedi, and I was left to wonder… is this going to deliver? Is this the Star Wars movie that will finally recapture the magic that was arguably lost in 1983?
The Force Awakens picks up roughly 30 years after Return of the Jedi, focusing on a group of brand new characters, as well as featuring more than a few familiar faces. The plot focuses on Rey, a scavenger from the planet Jakku, accompanied by former stormtrooper Finn, the adorable droid BB-8, and the legendary Han Solo aiding the Resistance in a search for the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker. What unfolds is a fun, joyful, and heartfelt ride surfing on a wave of beautiful, unapologetic nostalgia.
The entire cast does an incredible job throughout the entire film, with not a bad performance in the house. Newcomer Daisy Ridley shines as the headstrong, self reliant Rey, creating an excellent lead character to journey with in this new trilogy. John Boyega gives Finn undeniable layers of innocence and naiveté, as well as a steadfast heart of gold. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron carries himself with a Han Solo like swagger, and though he’s confident, he’s never cocky, and he manages to be one of the most likable new characters despite his limited screen time. Lupita Nyongo’s Maz Kanata is also a welcome addition, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the future.
From the get go, Kylo Ren proves to be a more than worthy antagonist for our new batch of heroes. Formerly Ben Solo, Kylo Ren is a damaged and troubled individual, and Adam Driver’s performance may be the most tragic of any in the film. There really hasn’t been a villain like him yet, as his character at times is torn between the dark side and the light, giving him more depth than just another run of the mill bad guy. Plus, he ends up killing his own father Han Solo, an unforgivable sin in the eyes of most Star Wars fans.
Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux seems to be this trilogy’s Grand Moff Tarkin, and a good one at that. Though he doesn’t appear that often, Hux comes off as a cold, ruthless First Order general with very little regard for anyone but himself. Even though the film doesn’t really give us any information regarding his history, it’s easy to assume that he’s a more dishonorable type. A man of his age with such a high ranking postion probably didn’t get that job by playing nice with anyone.
If I have a disappointment with any of the film’s characters, it’s Captain Phasma. Her design is immediately eye catching, and she gives off a commanding presence but despite being so heavily featured in the marketing, she barely does anything in the actual film. It’s a shame really, considering that Gwendoline Christie is such a great actor. Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke was also featured sparsely, but I can forgive that. The filmmakers clearly intended to save more of him for sequels, and his mangled, grotesque appearance hints at a story that I don’t want the answer to just yet.
As stated above, the plot of The Force Awakens centers on the idea of finding Luke Skywalker. Part of what makes that so intriguing is that Rey and Finn have never met him before, with Rey at one point believing him to be no more than a myth. Seeing these new young heroes get swept up in the drama surrounding the Skywalker family is an absolute blast, and seeing so many familiar faces appear during the journey are moments of pure joy.
Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and more return, passing the torch to a new generation of heroes. Carrie Fisher once again establishes herself as the no nonsense Leia, but also brings with her a genuine kindness that only she could pull off. Chewie is as lovable as ever, and Harrison Ford delivers as Han Solo, bringing a new level of depth to the character and also turning out to be the biggest tragedy in the entire film.
Han’s death shook us all, and even more shocking was that it was at the hands of his own son. At the time of his death, Han was no longer just a man seeking payment for smuggling, but instead, a man longing for the return of his only son to the light. A father who only wanted to bring his boy home.
Mark Hamill’s appearance as Luke at the end is brief, and though he doesn’t utter a single word, it’s clear that he’s become a broken man. After hearing about the loss of his Jedi academy and the pain Kylo Ren caused him, you only need to look at him to understand his sorrow.
The film’s plot does follow A New Hope a bit too closely at times, (a droid carrying something important and a final battle at the enemy base) but there’s just enough original new content that broadens the Star Wars mythology even further. Building this film on the bones of the 1977 original is a safe move, but it also feels like the right one.
The effects, most of which are practical, are outstanding. The sets and creatures were all constructed in incredible detail, and I feel sure that the film will hold up as the years go by. There’s no overuse of green screen either, providing the film with an almost old school Steven Spielberg feel here and there. The only area I found the CGI to be somewhat spotty was the Rathtar sequence. It doesn’t look bad, but when compared to other segments in the film, it just seems a bit lacking. The creatures roaming through Maz Kanata’s castle are especially great, and they add another layer of believability to the galaxy far, far away.
The story’s pacing is quick, so much so that it’s hard to catch a breath at times. The dialogue is classic Star Wars, and the film’s “go, go, go” attitude keeps the excitement going. There really isn’t a dull moment to be found here, and when the action does stop, there’s plenty of heart and humor to keep you watching. Han Solo’s retelling of Luke’s tragedy and the Jedi’s existence to Rey and Finn is one of the more touching moments in the film, and BB-8 never fails to provide a good laugh. In fact, I’d say this might be the funniest Star Wars film, even more so than The Empire Strikes Back.
The action is very well directed throughout the entire film. Rey and Kylo Ren’s lightsaber duel in the snowy forrest of Starkiller Base is absolutely thrilling, and the battle scenes on Jakku and Maz Kanata’s castle make for some really exciting set pieces. These moments coupled with John Williams’ score feel like true Star Wars, and hearing brand new music from the legendary composer is a delight. Though The Force Awakens doesn’t have a score as memorable as other Star Wars films, tracks like “Rey’s Theme” and “The Jedi Steps” are among some of the best work Williams has done for the franchise.
By the end of it, I was that 11 year old boy again, mesmerized by this incredible new chapter in the Star Wars saga. The Force Awakens feels almost like the first home cooked meal you’ve had since 1983, sprinkled with all of the ingredients that make Star Wars what it is. Despite some minor flaws, JJ Abrams’ journey to the galaxy far, far away is an absolute return to form, with plenty of heart, humor, and just the right amount of nostalgia that will have you rewatching it again and again.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters on December 15.
Written by Danny O’Brien
Before I forget, here’s how I’d rank the Star Wars saga:
1. The Empire Strikes Back
2. A New Hope
3. The Force Awakens
4. Return of the Jedi
5. Rogue One
6. Revenge of the Sith
7. Attack of the Clones
8. The Phantom Menace