Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, reviewed

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By Stewart Grant and Dan Rankin
As Star Wars is a franchise that spans generations, we had two staff members who are longtime fans from different generations give their takes on the latest, record-breaking film:
SG: When Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion back in 2012, Star Wars fans across the galaxy wondered if this was a good thing for the beloved franchise. The newly released Episode VII – The Force Awakens answered that question loud and clear. It’s everything that a great Star Wars movie should be, and more.
Part of the magic of the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) involved the element of discovery: new worlds, intriguing new characters, and surprising revelations about how key characters related to each other. This magic was renewed within Episode VII.
DR: I couldn’t agree more. The hated Star Wars prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith) are remembered for their over-reliance on green-screen technology, boring plots revolving around inter-planetary trade relations and the intricacies of the Galactic Senate, and characters barely more compelling than cardboard cutouts. During pivotal scenes in those movies, more thought was put into choreographing the backflips Obi Wan Kenobi would do during a lightsabre duel than setting up an interesting reason for him to fight in the first place. All of these problems have been rectified in J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. It’s the shot in the arm the franchise needed to draw back old fans and win over a whole generation of new ones.
SG: Abrams directed the film brilliantly. Watching Episode VII on December 18th (within the first 24 hours of release) was particularly exciting, and the audience erupted with cheers each time a long-time character was introduced. 1983′s Return of the Jedi was a long, long time ago, and The Force Awakens did an excellent job of stirring up nostalgic feelings from the original trilogy. The first hour in particular was non-stop intrigue and excitement, with the Millennium Falcon/TIE Fighter chase on Jakku providing arguably the finest and best-executed spacecraft scene in the history of the franchise.
That being said, what ultimately made Episode VII successful was the strength of the new characters that will carry the Star Wars franchise into the future. Actress Daisy Ridley was mesmerizing in her role as the heroine Rey, and the instant chemistry between characters Poe Dameron and Finn left us looking forward to more in Episode VIII. Even the cute droid BB-8 was an instant classic.
DR: I didn’t see the film until Dec. 22, but I still had to watch from the theatre’s front row. I too witnessed giddy fans applaud when the classic logo and text crawl flashed on the screen. But I must say, as exciting as it was whenever my geeky brain recognized a character, or a piece of machinery, or a reference to a past adventure, I enjoyed the all-new elements almost as much. Rey, as the idealistic, daydreaming pilot stuck on a desert planet, fills the role of Luke from A New Hope. She’s the heroic and capable female lead that this franchise has always lacked – all due respect to Princess Leia and Padmé. Even the slimy General Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is the perfect kind of second-tier bad guy you love to hate but hope hangs around anyways. And then there’s the new Darth Vader-style Sith Knight Kylo Ren.
SG: The revelation of Kylo Ren’s character was interesting to watch. In prior films, we haven’t been given much of an inside look into the feelings of the “Dark Side” characters, so this was an interesting area to explore.
DR: It’s certainly a more fun look at the Dark Side than we got with the cool-looking, but ultimately pointless Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace. I really didn’t like those movies. This time around? Sure, there might be a few convenient coincidences to help drive the story along, and I may have rolled my eyes at some of the fan-service moments that got thrown in (like when the Millenium Falcon’s holographic chess game gets fired up by accident) – but as a whole, I loved it. Look for me in the front row when the next one comes out.
SG: Going back to my original comment about the magic of the original trilogy, the ending of the film left me with a similar feeling of anticipation that’s only going to build until the next movie. At the conclusion of 1980′s The Empire Strikes Back, it was a long three years to wait until Return of the Jedi, and there were so many questions for fans to ponder and debate.
The Force Awakens left us on the edge of our seats, in wild anticipation of Episode VIII and what is to come. May 26, 2017 can’t come soon enough.
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