Passing the Saber
By Mason Manuel
Being born after the original trilogy was released in theatres, I never got to have that feeling of wonder and awe after watching a Star Wars film. Sure, I saw the movies later and the abominable prequels, but they never felt like they were for me. They were for a generation that came before. But no more. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is everything it needs to be and more; a palate cleanser with refreshingly engaging stories and characters that can be loved by present, later, and older generations alike. So thank you J.J. Thank you for giving me my own great Star Wars film (hopefully great trilogy from the other directors) to get the same feeling that nerds before me did. But enough of me gushing. How does it hold up against RDR standards? Well…
The Force Awakens is very much its own story. The motivation deals on a character from the past, but it never feels like the main focus of the film. Rather, we spend most of the two hour runtime with our new heroes and villains, with our old favorites coming back as little more than cameos. There is a terrific medley of relatively unknown actors here, from protagonists Finn and Rey played by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley respectively, to our villains Kylo Ren and General Hux (Adam Driver and Ex Machina’s Domhnall Gleeson). All of these fresh faces have excellent chemistry with their counterparts and have plenty of witty banter to keep viewers laughing, even in the looming threat of another massive weapon of destruction killing everyone. It may surprise some to learn that Kylo Ren is actually quite funny. When he’s not obsessing over the destruction of his enemies he can be fun, playful, even… charming. It’s a much different direction than the normal brooding silence of Darth Vader and the Emperor but not an unwelcome one by any means. Unfortunately, there are so many great new characters that The Force Awakens introduces, that many of them are forgotten after a few minutes. I would’ve loved to see a deeper exploration in more of these secondary beings’ stories but I guess that will have to (hopefully) be left to later films.
But what about the wars and special effects that the films have become known for themselves? Director J.J. Abrams thankfully puts a very, very, VERY refreshing use of practical effects into a majority of the flashier scenes. Most of the aliens in the background are simple prosthetic costumes that look very real in the gritty futuristic (past? It is a long time ago but… whatever) universe. Sure, there is some CGI but it never lingers around enough to feel unwelcome. There is an awesome battle scene teased in the trailers that is placed in a very simple looking, wintery forest but is easily the most nail-biting section of the film. Fights feel grounded here. There are no crazy flips or jumps that sends its user 100 feet in the air. Stormtroopers don’t get hit by blaster bolts and just fall down. The grime and blood of war is never forgotten even when we are geeking out over lightsaber battles. Loss is felt rather than feeling like a cheap tug for heart. It feels like a love letter to the style of the original trilogy that is fully realized and executed with grace. Fans will definitely love what is offered here and the possibilities that are hinted at for future entries in the series.
There is very little not to enjoy here. Great performances, fun effects, plenty of nostalgia for everyone – there is almost nothing that feels left out. I would have enjoyed a more prominent role for some of the older characters, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) being the only one that really gets to have a story. It feels like The Force Awakens relies on it being the first part of a trilogy a little bit too much. That being said, I am definitely hungry for more as my appetite has been reawakened (see what I did there). Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a spectacular film that is sure to be loved for generations to come. RDR gives it a 9 out of 10.