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Star Wars:

A Force To Be Reckoned With

By James Hoyle
On January 26, 2016

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is the highest grossing film ever released in America, making over 1 billion dollars globally according to Forbes, and outselling Avatar, the previous record holder. By extension, I have to assume that very few people that wish to see the movie haven’t, but for those that have not seen it yet, massive spoilers are inbound. For those interested in a spoiler free review, scan down to the last paragraph. 

After the mixed bag that was the prequels, Star Wars as a franchise seemed to be at a loss as to where it ought to go next. The comics continued on and so did the video games, but by 2012, a lot of the most interesting stuff dried up. Little did the fans know that all of this lore that had been building up for 20 years would soon be swept away for an entirely new continuity. 

    After the sequel trilogy was announced and Disney bought Lucasfilm lock, stock and barrel, it was announced that the Star Wars comics, games, and anything related to the films released prior to April 25, 2014 would no longer be considered canon. Many fans were outraged by this decision. However, many aspects of the old lore appear in the new, and long-time fans of Star Wars will find as much to love as newcomers, though perhaps a bit too much. 

The Force Awakens begins approximately 30 to 35 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. While the old Galactic Empire has long since vanished, an imperial remnant known as the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, has filled the power vacuum and wills top at nothing until all of the galaxy is under its heels. The Republic authorized Princess Leia (now styling herself as General Leia) to organize a Resistance to combat the First Order. During this time, Luke Skywalker has vanished and both parties are interested in finding him. Finding a clue to her brother’s whereabouts, Leia sends an agent to the desert planet Jakku to retrieve it. But a group of First Order militants, under the leadership of an enigmatic masked Sith named Kylo Ren, attacks Jakku with the intention of finding the information on Skywalker’s whereabouts. The droid carrying the information, BB-8, manages to escape, and falls into contact with local scavenger Rey. Meanwhile, Stormtrooper Finn has second thoughts about his allegiances, and after helping an ace pilot of the Resistance escape imperial captivity, joins up with Rey and BB-8 in a mad rush to get information of Luke’s whereabouts to the Resistance.

If that plotline sounds familiar, it should. J.J Abrams greatly borrowed from the groundwork set by the original trilogy, which is both a good and bad thing. On one hand, it’s great for old fans as it gets their Pavlov going and is bound to get them nostalgic for the first three. On the other, some could argue that this story plays it far too safe. It also makes references to the events of the first three, to the point where I wondered if people being introduced to the series with this film would be able to follow it well. There are so many asides to the original trilogy (the chessboard from the A New Hope even makes a reappearance) that a longtime fan such as myself would point at the screen say “I understood that reference!” However, I could see how these throwback could confuse someone who has never seen Star Wars

    Nostalgia-baiting aside, Abrams made a wise decision playing it safe, since this is a new continuity being introduced with new characters and new drama. After the heated and mixed reaction of the prequel trilogy, I do not blame Abrams for deciding to play it safe in terms of plot. That said, it does enough new things to avoid it from becoming a retread and it gives just enough intrigue to be satisfying while giving enough vague clues to keep the viewer coming back for the other films to come. Unlike the other six in the series, which feel like each could stand on their own, The Force Awakens feels very much like the first third of a much longer film. This is neither a good or a bad thing, just a different method of storytelling. 

Despite this niggle, the new characters are both entertaining and smartly written. Finn and Rey are particularly fun to watch onscreen, and the actors returning from the original trilogy made it feel like the 30 odd years that have passed since Return of the Jedi never happened. Kylo Ren is wonderfully evil, and Supreme Leader Snoke is downright intimidating with his presence. Make no mistake, while Revenge of the Sith is still the darkest in terms of plot and The Empire Strikes Back remains the scariest, The Force Awakens is easily the most atmospherically brooding of the entire series. Much of this is due to the new locations and characters. Abrams used CG only when necessary and practical effects are back in top form. This was welcome after the series practically became a video game cutscene from 1999 to 2005. There is even a cantina scene reminiscent of the first film with all sorts of alien creatures and a band. So, the visual effects are as spectacular as always, and the score by John Williams does not disappoint. 

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is both a visual feast for the eyes and tells an entertaining story with clearly defined good and bad guys. It brings back all of the fun of the original trilogy while delivering enough thrills to make it worth a watch. It gets my fullest recommendation with one teeny tiny asterisk. My one caveat is that newcomers ought to watch the first three films to fully appreciate this film. However, this is likely the best homework anyone can give, as the original trilogy is one of the most entertaining and historically important series of films that Hollywood as ever produced. How well Disney handles the series from here on in remains to be seen, but for now, Star Wars is back, and that is cause for rejoicing. 

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