BlueCat Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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I’m not sure anyone expected the release of a new Star Wars film to be met with anything other than unfettered excitement and enthusiasm. However, I also can’t imagine that the latest installment, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, was entirely expected to do as well as it has, smashing through nearly every box-office record imaginable. In its first weekend alone, it has dethroned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 for the preview and opening day records. Jurassic World, which debuted to a seemingly insurmountable $208.8 million in its opening weekend this summer, was left in the dust as The Force Awakens raked in a staggering $248 million in its first three days.

And, you know what? The Force Awakens deserves it. When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would acquire Lucasfilm (for a meager $4 billion no less), and subsequently produce new Star Wars films, I felt a conflicting mixture of emotions. Was I excited at the prospect of new, big screen stories within the Star Wars universe? Absolutely. Was I also hesitant, wary of the countless ways that this new direction for the franchise could go horribly awry? Undoubtedly.

I wasn’t alone in my fear. The Internet quickly exploded with cries of trepidation. Yet, it quickly became clear that the franchise was in good hands. Kathleen Kennedy, who has notably worked on multiple genre classics, from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park to The Goonies and Back to the Future, would oversee the development and production of the new film. Then, JJ Abrams was brought on board to direct, and my fears subsided even further. He had, after all, rejuvenated the stagnant Star Trek franchise, bringing to it a considerably greater sense of adventure, something arguably much more notable of Star Wars than Star Trek. But, perhaps the most exciting addition to the film’s development was when Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was brought on to co-write the film’s script with Abrams.

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Now, having seen The Force Awakens, I can’t imagine anyone other than Kasdan writing this film. He and Abrams brought a refreshing amount of new-ness to The Force Awakens, while heavily imbuing it with a sense of nostalgia. Who better to write the return of Han Solo to the silver screen than the man who helped create the character 30 years ago? Finding that perfect balance between the new and old was I’m sure no small feat, but Kasdan and Abrams manage to do so spectacularly.

In The Force Awakens, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is on a secret mission to retrieve a piece of intelligence vital to the Resistance’s fight against the evil First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire. But, the First Order captures Dameron on the desert planet Jakku, and the intel is left with his trustful droid BB-8, who manages to steal nearly every scene he (or she?) is in. BB-8 eventually meets up with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a scavenger who has lived much of her life on Jakku. The two find trouble when the First Order comes looking for the spherical droid. With the help of an AWOL Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), the trio must return the intel to the Resistance, running into a familiar smuggler and Wookie along the way.

As a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember, it’s hard for me to find a flaw in this movie. I loved every minute of it, sitting there in the theater with a giant grin plastered across my face. The story introduces us to new and exciting characters, each with his or her own mystery and intrigue, while still giving us the sense of nostalgia that we needed, but ultimately never received, from the prequel trilogy. The action is second to none, from the brilliant dogfights, to the climactic lightsaber duel, one of the franchise’s best.

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And, yes, parallels can be drawn to A New Hope, perhaps, a few too many parallels for some. A lonely orphan searches for greater purpose, stuck on a desert planet. A droid is dispatched with information, key to the Resistance’s/Rebellion’s fight against the New Order/Empire. The orphan meeting the droid is the catalyst that puts the orphan’s story into motion. They are pursued by a menacing figure of the Dark Side, clad in black, who answers to a higher authority. Even Han Solo takes on the role of old Ben Kenobi, becoming a mentor for Rey, introducing her to a world she didn’t know existed.

Such parallels may seem distracting for some, but, considering the task handed to Abrams, you can hardly blame him for sticking to a reliable formula. He was entrusted with a franchise that is both beloved and reviled, depending on the film, and was tasked with winning back Star Wars fans. Not the millennial generation that grew up with the overly digitized, nonsensical stories of the prequel trilogy, but those who grew up with the originals, in all of their narrative simplicity. The Force Awakens succeeds in its intention, re-introducing us to the galaxy far, far away that we love, while also passing the torch to a new generation of characters and their stories.

And that new generation is wonderful. Boyega and Isaac delight, and I can only hope their friendship is further explored in future installments. Ridley is spectacular as Rey, her performance being one of the film’s highlights. Adam Driver brings new dimension and depth to the film’s big bad, Kylo Ren, in a way that has arguably not yet been seen in a Star Wars villain. And, of course, Harrison Ford is at the top of his game, easily stepping back into the role of Han Solo, a role he made iconic.

I felt nearly every emotion imaginable while watching The Force Awakens. It is both funny and sad, exhilarating and heartbreaking. Much of the film’s praise should be directed to its impeccable cast and Abrams’ direction. I feel like he accomplished exactly what he set out to do; to take us back to the universe of Star Wars in a way that would feel comfortably familiar, while also introducing us to these wonderful, new characters. And, in harkening back to the Original Trilogy, he brought the fun back to Star Wars. Watching The Force Awakens, I laughed, I cried, and I certainly had fun. I can’t wait to see it again.

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