Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow and Simon Pegg.
The cast from the original Star Wars trilogy meets a new generation of heroes and villains as the First Order (formerly the Empire) battles the Resistance, which was once the Rebel Alliance.
When I heard that a new Star Wars movie was in the works, and that it would be the first in an annual series of new trilogy installments as well as standalones, I admit I was a bit skeptical. I’m one of those fans who was swept up in Star Wars fervor when that star destroyer rumbled over my head during the summer of 1977 but ended up feeling a bit jaded by the time Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in 2005 and concluded the lackluster prequel trilogy.
Even though George Lucas had sold his company and stepped away from any creative involvement in the new films, I still wondered how Disney would steer the ship. Sure, Lucas took an odd left turn after The Empire Strikes Back, but at least the buck stopped with him when he helmed the Special Editions of the original trilogy and the prequels, for better or worse. Turning the property over to a corporation meant that competing creatives with outsized egos might end up yanking it in so many different directions that it could end up a bloated carcass rotting on a dune somewhere in the Jundland Wastes.
However, my fears were allayed by the installation of Kathleen Kennedy as Lucasfilm’s President, given her solid track record, and the selection of Michael Arndt and J.J. Abrams to write and direct Episode VII, respectively, gave me some hope. Later, the addition of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to the team made me cautiously optimistic. Could we finally see a new Star Wars movie worthy of the first two installments? (Yes, I’m not a big Return of the Jedi fan.)
After watching the film for a second time when this new Blu-ray + DVD set showed up on my doorstep, my answer is “Yes.” The Force Awakens is a good movie on the verge of being great, and it’s my third-favorite Star Wars installment, after Empire in the top slot and A New Hope in the second position. The fact that it feels like a remake of the original movie bothered me quite a bit during my initial viewing in the theater, but the second time around, I was able to push that aside and simply enjoy seeing the original characters’ adventures with a group of newcomers who have set the stage for many interesting questions to be answered in Episodes VIII and IX.
Sure, I wish the film had been more of a traditional quest, like the Indiana Jones movies, with the good guys trying to find the missing Luke Skywalker before the bad guys get a hold of him. The crawl at the beginning and the opening scenes set that stage, but the story takes a detour as we’re introduced to Rey, who was abandoned on the desert planet Jakku and forced to fend for herself, and turncoat Stormtrooper FN-2187, or Finn, who encounters her after he helps captured Resistance pilot Poe Dameron escape from the star destroyer belonging to Kylo Ren.
However, the second time watching the movie, I found myself more willing to let go of my preconceived notions and simply go along for the ride. I’m glad I did, because The Force Awakens really is a rollicking good time at the movies. As in the original trilogy, each character steps onto the stage, so to speak, with their own introduction meant to give us a sense of who they are and the conflicts potentially bubbling below the surface. Even the older cast members are well-served by this technique, most notably Han Solo and Chewbacca, whose entrance aboard the Millennium Falcon has all the hallmarks of Kasdan’s wry sensibilities.
The new cast members all handle their roles admirably, although I was never 100% sold on Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. I realize that the intention, as explained in the documentary, was to go against expectation and not show us someone grim and battle-scarred, but I couldn’t help but see Driver as a petulant kid angry at his parents for taking away his Cure CDs. (Yes, I know that reference dates me, and, yes, I’ve seen the Emo Kylo Ren Twitter account.)
For the record, I don’t see Rey as a Mary Sue character at all. She obviously has latent Force abilities, and she clearly had to learn some fighting skills to survive on Jakku for so many years, so I had no issue with how she was able to fight her way through some sticky situations. The first time around, I was a bit bothered by Finn’s ability to hold his own against Kylo Ren, but during the second viewing, I had a few new reactions: He could have some latent Force powers of his own; Ren was badly hurt, which diminished his prowess; and Finn didn’t really hold out long in the fight anyway.
I also have to give some grudging respect to BB-8, the rolling droid who initially bothered me when I saw the first teaser trailer. The brilliance of the Star Wars droids has always been that their forms follow their functions, and here was an astromech droid whose form follows … intergalactic billiards? However, upon further reflection, two thoughts struck me: First, maybe I need to stop over thinking this stuff, and second, giving a droid a ball-shaped body has its advantages over an R2 unit’s tripod form, which can get bogged down in treacherous environments. BB-8 can simply roll across sand and over certain obstacles, so perhaps that makes more sense for a droid belonging to the Resistance’s best fighter pilot.
Among the returning crew, only Carrie Fisher’s General Leia struck some false notes. I realize Fisher doesn’t do much acting anymore, but she consistently felt flat, leading me to wonder if her role will be kept in the background in the next two films. And returning briefly to the subject of droids, I wish C-3PO hadn’t been given that line about his red arm: Seeing it was enough to tease at the kind of back stories Star Wars has always been great at alluding to, without the need for on-the-nose dialogue. (My favorite such moment from Empire: Chewbacca says something as the Falcon approaches Cloud City, and Han Solo responds, “Well, that was a long time ago, I’m sure he’s forgotten about that.”)
So that’s the movie. I’m sure you probably made up your mind about it a few months ago, and you’re skimming through this review to see if this release is worth the purchase. I’d say “Yes,” given the copious amount of bonus material on the second Blu-ray disc. I was disappointed by the lack of any commentary tracks, but perhaps that’s being saved for a later release. (I’m annoyed too by studios’ insistence on putting out movies on home video over and over again, but that ship sailed long ago, so it’s not worth expending much angry fist waving.)
The centerpiece of the second disc is The Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey, which runs a little over an hour and covers the making of the movie from start to finish. I love a nice in-depth documentary, and this one was put together by Laurent Bouzereau, who has a long history of creating docs for not just Spielberg and Lucas films but also many classics. This one does a good job of tying the original trilogy to this film, and it answers my biggest burning question, which was, “Why did Michael Arndt leave the project?”
Also included is a series of seven featurettes that each clock in under ten minutes and focus on a different aspect of the movie: the first table read; building BB-8; the creation of the new creatures in the film; a closer look at the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren in the snow; composer John Williams’ thoughts on returning to the Star Wars universe for a seventh time; an overview of ILM’s work on the movie; and a glimpse into Star Wars: Force For Change, a Disney initiative that brings a charity element to their marketing machine. When you add those pieces to the documentary, you have somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours of making-of material.
Finally, there are six deleted scenes that total only about four minutes. I can understand why much of it was cut, but the scene of Kylo Ren aboard the Falcon was a memorable one that could have been worthy of keeping in the movie. There’s another deleted scene of Han, Finn, and Rey dealing with First Order Stormtroopers under Maz Kanata’s castle, but it’s only available with the digital version. This release includes a code to redeem the digital version, which I used, but it wasn’t clear that I would be getting the one with the bonus features or just the movie by itself, since it didn’t show up in my Amazon video library. I guess that was because I used the code before the April 1th release date for the digital version. Hopefully the code gives you the version with the bonus features, but it’s annoying that one of the deleted scenes wasn’t included in the Blu-ray release.
If you want The Force Awakens on DVD too, you’re in luck because a standard-def disc was thrown in as well. I’m glad DVDs are still included these days, since many people have upgraded to Blu-ray players for their TVs, but they often have computers with DVD drives, portable DVD players, and so forth, so that disc comes in handy.
SEE ALSO: Pre-order Star Wars: The Force Awakens via Amazon UK or Amazon US
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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