Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt
Starring: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker
Runtime: 136 min
Star Wars, one of the most popular and influential franchises of all-time, returns with Episode VII - The Force Awakens to begin its new trilogy, set 30 years after the events of Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).
J.J. Abrams is directing and co-writing this movie and he counts with the help of some new rising stars (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, amongst others) as well as some members from the original cast (like Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher).
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017) was just released, but my time didn't yet allow me to watch it. However, I do have time to review the film that started this new trilogy: The Force Awakens. At the time, it was my most anticipated movie of the year and I placed it second on the list of my favorite films of 2015 (just a bit below Mad Max: Fury Road).
So, yes, I do love this movie and it is definitely on the top3 of the saga! The cast choices are the undoubtful proof of the huge success that this film achieved. Daisy Ridley (Rey) is a massive discovery, her talent is limitless and she embraces her role like no other. She delivers a very emotional and powerful display, showing all of her acting skills. I can feel that she is 100% committed to her character and what a character to portray at your first big movie appearance.
Rey is excellently-developed throughout the film, she might mislead people into thinking she is just a mere scavenger, but once the movie gets going, she becomes an awesome character sharing some of the most epic moments in the whole runtime. She has an oddly mysterious backstory, which is going to produce theories and plot twists that I can't wait for, in the next films.
John Boyega (Finn) is a fantastic supporting actor and another great casting. He brings just the right amount of humor with some exceptionally delivered lines and his facial expressions and timing are perfect. Finn is going to be one of the audience's favorites for sure, his journey to encounter Rey is interesting and unique in the saga. In my opinion, it is his story that carries the beginning of the movie and that sets up a lot of characters and plot points.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren ... Oh. My. God. What a performance! Driver is so subtle in the most meaningful moments but so compelling in the most menacing ones. He elevates Ren into a phenomenal antagonist with a splendidly written script. J.J. Abrams and co. do a wonderful job writing both the plot and the characters. Kylo Ren stands out, he is a multi-layered character with so much untold and hidden behind his personality and intriguing past. Once again, there are many theories and plot twists ahead that I'm drooling to know which one they are going to follow with.
Oscar Isaac is very exciting as Poe Dameron, another fabulous addition to the franchise. His character creates an honest bond with Finn and their interactions are pretty cool. They share some amazing scenes and Poe has all of the awesome X-Wing fights, which are outstanding. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) does not show up that much, but he definitely is a very threatening presence and a very well achieved motion capture work.
As for the original cast/characters, Harrison Ford has one of his best performances in the more recent years. Han Solo is one of his most popular characters and he portrays him flawlessly. Carrie Fisher returns as Leia and she offers a touch of reality to all of this. Every time she is on screen, everything becomes more realistic and tangible due to her graceful and humble display. Chewbacca has the usual funny "dialogues" with Solo and some glorious action set pieces.
BB-8 is what people feared the most since he could easily be annoying or irrelevant. Thankfully, he is another checkbox on the list of marvelous additions to the Star Wars universe. It is mind-blowing how a droid can provide so much laughter and terrific action scenes, he is unquestionably a toy worth spending your money on for Christmas. C-3PO also appears and elevates the level of nostalgia that everyone is already full of.
Moving to the technical aspects of the film, J.J. Abrams proves himself to every single person that doubted him since he is the main reason why this movie is one of the greats. From the seamless editing to the great camera work during the impressive action sequences, he enhances the story so much with his distinct use of visual storytelling. It feels like a real film and not just a Star Wars typical movie.
The visual effects are top notch and the cinematography could not be better due to the unbelievable practical backgrounds. Abrams uses a lot of long, wide shots with beautiful landscapes and mostly everything is real (besides the obvious, there is very few CGI, less than you probably think), which transforms every scene, every shot, into something more special. The tone is very well balanced between comedy and action, the storytelling process is astonishingly well handled and the pacing always maintains the tremendous excitement.
One of the common issues of all Star Wars films are the excessive exposition scenes. Well, J.J. massively improves on that aspect having just a couple of them and I am counting the traditional text that starts the movie. Like I said above, there is an extensive use of visual storytelling, in other words, everything that you see is giving you information while advancing the plot without actually literally telling you what is going on or what is going to happen.
John Williams' score continues to superbly accompany every scene, not only the action ones, but it also strengthens dialogues. I love the ending, but here is where both fans and critics are going to become very divisive. It ends with a huge cliffhanger and some people are going to be disappointed because they are left with this feeling of unfulfillment and if you don't know how to deal with it, you might think you didn't enjoy the film.
The truth is you can't have everything right now. This is a trilogy, so it is absurd to even expect that you are going to have everything that you wish for in the first movie of a new era. I wanted more from the second the film finished, I also felt a bit let down because the movie concludes with something I had been expecting forever. However, this is a great feeling to have because it means the film meant something, it means the movie was so amazing that I just can't wait anymore for the next one!
Nevertheless, The Force Awakens can't escape some minor flaws. While pretty much every single character is great, Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) is not. With so much practical effects surrounding every environment, a 100% CGI character is going to (negatively) standout. Besides, the whole subplot involving meeting with Maz feels a bit unnecessary and the story could have easily progressed without her.
However, my main issue with this film is its lack of originality when it comes to creating a new actual danger for the galaxy. I mean, the Starkiller Base is essentially another Death Star, just bigger ... Really? They couldn't figure out anything else besides another giant planet destroyer? It does not reflect J.J. Abrams' incredible direction and the production team's excellent work, at all.
Finally, there are some "problems" that I don't yet know if they are, in fact, problems. This is the first movie of the trilogy and some things happened that I don't know how or why they did, so I can't really fault the screenplay ... yet. We all know the huge plot device that Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) supposedly had for decades, but then Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) was released and brilliantly solved what was already considered an internet meme.
This film does not have such a massive plot device, but there is one little moment that occurs in the first act that I still don't know if it is, in fact, a flaw or if there is an explanation waiting for us in the next movies.
All in all, The Force Awakens proves that the Star Wars franchise is still, very much, alive! This is easily one of the best films of 2015 and one of the best in the franchise, which includes an outstanding cast with some remarkable performances from the new actors to join the saga and more powerfully nostalgic displays from the original cast. Incredibly-developed characters carry this movie with the help of a mysterious script, a captivating story and a lot of visually exciting action sequences. J.J. Abrams has his stamp all over the film, with beautiful wide shots and an excellent use of visual storytelling. A cheap third Death Star and some very minor issues here and there don't allow the movie to shine flawlessly, but it is still freaking awesome!