Martens' Movie Reviews

Movie Reviews from an avid movie-goer

Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens Review

Release Date: December 18, 2015
Running Time: 2 hours 16 minutes

“Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey, a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.”

When it was announced that Disney would buy Lucasfilm from George Lucas, there was an immediate announcement that there would be a new trilogy of films, starting with Episode VII, taking place 30 years after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The internet blew up with excitement, trepidation and hope that they would be better than the prequels.

With Disney’s track record of greatness in filmmaking, and the way that they’ve managed to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe the biggest franchise in the world, people had good reasons to hope that the movie would be good. The problem with Disney’s track record, is that they also tend to play it safe in terms of their movies.

Force Awakens

John Boyega as FN-2187 / Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, the start of a beautiful bromance – Source: Lucasfilm

When the trailer was first shown, and we all got to see Harrison Ford return as Han Solo, alongside Chewbacca back on the Millennium Falcon saying ‘Chewy, we’re home.’ I went batshit crazy, and watched the trailer approximately 50 times in a row. A lot of people complained that this movie was too safe, too familiar, too much like A New Hope, and all of that is true. All of it.

The thing that they might forget, is that this movie removed any ill taste from the prequels, and made people excited for Star Wars again. It introduced new characters who all seem fun, brought back the original trio of Han, Leia and Luke, and introduced villains that were interesting and shrouded in mystery.

Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens Trailer – Source: Lucasfilm Ltd.


Cast and Crew

Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens was directed by J.J. Abrams, who first broke into the theatrical movie business as a director in 2006’s ‘Mission Impossible III’, afterwhich he followed that up with the new versions of ‘Star Trek’ in 2009 and ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ in 2013, and also directed ‘Super 8’ in 2011. He will be returning to the Star Wars franchise to close out this trilogy which he started with Episode IX, that is planned to be released in 2019, most likely during the holiday season.

The Force Awakens was written by J.J. AbramsLawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt. Michael Arndt goes by a couple of aliases when working on movies for some reason. His work as a writer includes ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ in 2006, ‘Toy Story 3’ in 2010, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ in 2013 before working on this film. While I’ve briefly talked about Kasdan’s filmography as a writer, I purposely left things out so that I would have something to add here for this review, which includes the fact that he wrote the screenplay for the next Star Wars film that will be released in 2018, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Abrams’ work as a writer in movies includes ‘Taking Care of Business’ in 1990, ‘Regarding Henry’ in 1991, as well as Mission Impossible movie and Super 8 that he also directed.

Force Awakens

The First Order – Source: Lucasfilm

Cast includes Harrison FordMark HamillCarrie FisherAdam DriverDaisy RidleyJohn BoyegaOscar IsaacAndy SerkisDomhnall GleesonAnthony DanielsPeter MayhewGwendoline ChristieJoonas SuotamoLupita Nyong’oSimon PeggCailey FlemingKen LeungWarwick DavisGreg GrunbergTim RoseFrank OzErik BauersfeldBillie LourdAlec Guinness and Ewan McGregor


Review

Daisy Ridley did an absolute fantastic job in this movie as the scavenger from Jakku, Rey. We see her exploring and scavenging old ships that crashed on Jakku, and learn that she can speak a ton of languages and can fly ships extremely well. She also ends up learning that she’s Force Sensitive and can use the Force after being exposed to it by Kylo Ren.

As of writing this review, Rey is a absolute mystery other than what we learn in this movie and the couple of books that have her in it, one that leads into The Force Awakens, the other a journal with a bunch of notes that she took. Hopefully we learn a lot more in The Last Jedi.

Force Awakens

Daisy Ridley as Rey discovering that she can use the Jedi mind trick – Source: Lucasfilm

The backstory of FN-2187 / Finn is one where he was kidnapped and ‘brainwashed?’ / conditioned from a very early age, and he was a really good recruit, as per the book that was released prior to the release of the movie, until he saw his first real combat, with real people is when he defected from the First Order. He seems like a character that is extremely selfish and only cares about surviving, but he also has a penchant for helping those in need, especially Rey. John Boyega did a good job at playing the character, but I want to see more from him, as we didn’t really get a good look at his acting abilities with emotions other than fear.

As I mention in the paragraph above, we learn from a conversation between Kylo and Hux that the Stormtroopers are no longer clones. When that change occurred, I’m not entirely sure, but I found that it was an interesting change, especially with the implication that going back to clones was a possibility.

Force Awakens

Finn and Rey – Source: Lucasfilm

Probably the coolest new character in terms of actual badassness is the ace resistance pilot Poe Dameron played extremely well by Oscar Isaac. I found that the character was extremely OP (overpowered) in terms of his dogfighting ability, but it was really wonderful seeing someone demolish so many First Order ships and ground troops. I find it really funny that the original plan was for his character to have died after crash landing on Jakku, and Isaac’s charisma and potential for the character made Abrams keep him around a lot longer.

BB-8 is the new R2 / Ewok, and it was amazing. I loved the character of BB-8, and I thought that the emotions that it felt, and the craziness of the droid was really wonderful to see. I was so happy that they gave another droid a personality that is just fun. The fact that they had built a bunch of different versions for the filming of the scenes, I know that I’ve wanted one of those little ones that you can control with a remote for the longest time, and the only reason as to why I don’t own one right now is because I’ve been unemployed until recently and I’ve been paying off stuff instead of buying cool stuff like that remote control BB-8. The scene pictured below was just brilliant and I love that BB-8 played along with Finn.

Force Awakens

The adorable and amazing BB-8 – Source: Lucasfilm

Adam Driver played Kylo Ren / Ben Solo, the offspring of Han and Leia, who is obsessed with his grandfather Darth Vader. He was somehow seduced to the Dark Side at a young age while he was being trained by his uncle Luke, when Snoke managed to start telling him about Vader and the Dark Side. It’s unsure what it was that made it finally click, and he flipped the switch, but I’m sure that we will find out very soon.

We see one of the most powerful displays of the Force when he stops a blaster shot in mid air for at least 2 minutes, before unleashing it in the trajectory that it was headed. That was an extremely good look at the power that he has, as well as a very cool visual. Kylo Ren also has an extremely short temper, and lashes out so often that everyone knows to stay clear of him if there’s the slightest hint that might get angry, as well as being afraid to bring him bad news even if it wasn’t their fault. It’s something that I hope he either learns to control, or that it keeps going. I’m not sure what I want with his temper, but it is highly entertaining.

Force Awakens

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren / Ben Solo and the Knights of Ren – Source: Lucasfilm

Domhnall Gleeson played General Hux in this movie, which is the new generation’s version of Tarkin. Gleeson does an interesting job in playing the General, and does so with a lot of passion that’s for sure, but the biggest difference between Vader and Tarkin’s relationship and the relationship shown between Kylo and Hux in this film, is that Vader respected Tarkin, while it seems that Kylo doesn’t respect Hux.

The character of Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie, was a huge disappointment to the fans in this movie. She looked so awesome and people thought that she was going to be as big or bigger of a badass than Boba and Jango Fett. Unfortunately, she was easily handled by Finn, Chewie and Han Solo and possibly thrown in a garbage disposal due to a wonderful suggestion by Solo. We will hopefully figure out how she escaped Starkiller base in The Last Jedi, as she seems to feature quite a bit in the trailers for that movie so far.

Force Awakens

Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux – Source: Lucasfilm

Andy Serkis plays the Supreme Leader Snoke, who is known by the Solo family as being the one that turned their son to the Dark Side, however not much else is known except that he leads the First Order, and that he’s been around a very long time, as far as before Episode I (info is taken from the novelisation of the movie). I can’t wait to see what he can do, and learn more about the character and the fall of Ben Solo in The Last Jedi.

The Knights of Ren that we see briefly in the Forceback vision that Rey had is the group that Ben Solo is the master of, and we don’t learn or know that much about them, and they’re all cool looking, but shrouded in complete mystery. It’s something that I very much hope we learn more of in The Last Jedi or the following film, because it would be a waste not to explore them more.

Force Awakens

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma – Source: Lucasfilm

Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo, after having wished for his character to have died for the longest time, he finally got his wish. I absolutely loved the character throughout the original trilogy, and I actually shed a tear when I saw him back on the screen and hugging the mother of his child. Harrison Ford is still charismatic, funny, charming and an amazing actor that had a very sad end to his character at the hands of his son.

Chewbacca was played by two different actors in this movie as Peter Mayhew’s legs are not as strong as they used be, and wasn’t able to do a lot of the scenes that required him to stand up. They found Joonas Suotamo who was able to stand in for him during those difficult scenes, and he takes up the mantle almost fully in The Last Jedi. I loved Chewbacca in the series, even though I had some problems with how they were portraying the character at times in Episode V and VI, he’s still the first mate of the Millennium Falcon.

Force Awakens

Peter Mayhew or Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca & Harrison Ford as Han Solo – Source: Lucasfilm

Lupita Nyong’o did the voice and motion capture for the character of Maz Kanata, someone who has lived over a thousand years, and runs a bar on the greenest planet that we’ve seen since Naboo. She somehow managed to acquire Luke’s old lightsaber, and is also Force sensitive, but not a Jedi. I can’t wait to learn more about her character in future films.

Former Princess, now General Leia (Solo, Organa, Skywalker?) is once again played by the amazing Carrie Fisher, and while she wasn’t given much to do in this movie, I feel like she easily slipped back into the role after being away from it for over 30 years. She instantly felt liked Leia to me, and I was giddy and jumping in my seat everytime I saw the original characters on the screen. It’s very sad knowing that we might never know what would have happened in the original plan for Episode IX, but I feel happy knowing that we get to see her one last time in The Last Jedi.

Force Awakens

Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata – Source: Lucasfilm

The first meeting between Finn and Rey was hilarious and something that I didn’t expect, especially when he sees her kicking ass with her staff, and then goes charging after him. BB-8 is also extremely likeable and cute in those scenes. They end up being found by the First Order, and after Finn lied to Rey telling her that he’s from the Resistance, she helps him to help BB-8, and they escape Jakku on the Millennium Falcon, the piece of garbage ship.

The scene that everyone was waiting for, when Han and Chewie ended up on the Millennium Falcon after finding Rey and Finn was something absolutely beautiful to watch as well as banking heavily on nostalgia. Everything that happened on Han’s other ship seemed pointless to me, but the good stuff was the interactions between the old heroes and the new heroes of the film, as well as Han’s reaction to being back on the Falcon. It was a wonderful moment.

While on Takodana, Rey finds Luke / Anakin’s lightsaber, and touches it, as it was calling to her from afar. Touching the lightsaber starts a chain reaction of several visions, from the first duel between Luke and his father, the collapse of Luke’s Jedi school?, Kylo and the Knights of Ren killing people in the rain, and her younger self being abandoned by what seems to be her parents and then something from the future of Kylo in the snow that we would see later on in this film. All the while in that vision, we hear Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi talking from previous films, as well as some new phrases.

Force Awakens

Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 watching his ?school? burn – Source: Lucasfilm

The Hosnian Cataclysm is when the First Order attacks the Republic with their new version of the Death Star, Starkiller Base. Which happens while Solo, Finn, Chewie, BB-8, and Rey are on a planet in the same system, Takodana. Starkiller Base sucks the power out of a nearby Sun, and blasts at least 5 lasers beams towards at least 5 different targets and completely obliterates them. Something that makes the Death Star seem extremely small in comparison.

What follows is the Battle of Takodana, where Rey has run out into the forest after having the visions with the lightsaber, and the First Order have arrived after receiving word that the droid that their looking for is on the planet. We see Han take out a bunch of Stormtroopers, and Poe Dameron and the Resistance come in to save the day in a beautifully shot scene where the X-Wings are all coming in across the water, and a dog fight ensues. Poe Dameron absolutely destroys the opposition in a mini montage where the death toll is at least 20 in the span of a few seconds.

Force Awakens

Battle of Takodana – Source: Lucasfilm

On Takodana, Kylo runs into the Rey in the forest, and paralizes her with the Force, and escapes from the Resistance when notified after having put her to sleep to take with him because he sees that she had seen the map that he’s looking for. The scene where he goes one on one with Rey in the torture room is something that took a lot of people by surprise, especially when he decided to take off his mask and what was revealed was not at all what people were expecting. It was just a guy who looked to be in his 20s, who had a faint resemblance to Han as well as Anakin. I loved that what Rey sees in her dreams when she can’t sleep is the island in the middle of the ocean, implying that she’s dreaming of the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, already showing her connection to the Force in some way.

When she fights back and goes into Kylo’s mind without fully realising what she’s doing, that was a very well acted scene by the two actors as the fear and confusion on Adam Driver’s face was 100% believable and well timed. The fact that she then goes on to use the old Jedi Mind Trick on an unsuspecting Stormtrooper after failing a couple of times first really shows that once her powers were ‘unlocked’ that she was going to grow exponentially stronger the more that she used it.

Force Awakens

Chase on Jakku – Source: Lucasfilm

The reunion of Han and Leia was something that almost made me tear up, and I was surprised at how much I wanted to see them together again on screen. It was touching, yet showed that they had been through a tragedy together and didn’t know how to handle it. Their last interaction together before Han goes to Starkiller Base is a very sad one, as Leia’s last request is what got Han killed, she wanted him to bring back their son, he tried and ultimately failed.

The death of Han Solo is something that almost everyone saw coming even before seeing the movie. Harrison Ford has gone on record that he wanted the character to be killed off since The Empire Strikes back, and he got his wish. When Solo walked out on that long and narrow bridge to see his son Ben, and try and convince him to come home, I knew that was the end for him, and I had prepared myself for that scene. It was still very difficult watching one of your heroes die, and at the hands on his son, making it that much worse. How bad of a parent do you have to have been to your child for him to kill you in belief that it would make him stronger? It’s sad knowing that we will not be seeing Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill on screen together one last time, but one can always hope for a flashback in future films.

Force Awakens
Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke – Source: Lucasfilm

Poe Dameron, the character that was originally planned to be killed off in the first half of the movie comes to the rescue and ends up being the new generation’s version of an ace pilot, and destroys the Starkiller Base.

The fight scene that was hinted at in the trailers and the one that people were excited to see was the Finn vs Kylo Ren lightsaber duel. Kylo Ren, after committing patricide and getting shot in the ribs by Chewbacca’s extremely powerful crossbow takes on Finn after launching Rey into a tree knocking her temporarily unconscious. This whole scene was beautifully shot in the dark forest while it’s snowing, and it was just gorgeous. Kylo wants his grandfather’s and uncle’s lightsaber. Finn decides to try and fight him and you can see that he is extremely outmatched in their short duel. After Finn gets a lucky shot on Kylo’s shoulder, Ren then proceeds to disarm Finn, and slash his back open? right along his spine. Kylo tries to pull his family’s lightsaber from the snow when he launched it, and it goes flying past him, surprising the audience and the characters involved.

Force Awakens

Jimmy Vee as R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO – Source: Lucasfilm

Now, like I explain later in this review, I thought the lightsaber would go flying towards Luke Skywalker, and when it went to Rey instead, I was shocked, excited and fearful for her character after seeing how easily Finn was dispatched. True, Rey seemed to be more of a fighter and was capable of defending herself with her staff, but a saber is different than a staff. You can see at the beginning of their duel that she’s trying to use the lightsaber as if it was a staff, and things start go badly for her. Fortunately, Kylo doesn’t want to kill her, he wants to teach her the ways of the Force, to gain an ally that he can use against his uncle, however that backfires on him.

At the mention of the Force, Rey is transported back to when Maz Kanata told her “close her eyes, feel it, the light, it has always been there, it will guide you”, which she proceeds to do and when she opens her eyes, she is being guided by the Force rather than trying to manipulate it, which is the big question on everyone’s mind as to why the Jedi must end. My theory is that it’s because there is no light or dark, just the Force, and rather than trying to manipulate the Force, people who are able to feel it, should let it guide them, and it will serve them both.

Rey then proceeds to whoop Kylo’s ass, and while a lot of people have problems with that, remember that he was already severely injured by the crossbow shot to the ribs, emotionally and psychologically still confused over having killed his father, and was told to bring Rey to Snoke alive by his Master, so he wasn’t trying to kill her, just subdue her. Which he failed in doing, and Rey ended up cutting his leg, arm and face before the ground split them apart due to Poe’s heroics in the other scene.

Force Awakens

Carrie Fisher as General Leia and Han Solo – Source: Lucasfilm

After defeating Kylo, being rescued by Chewie, and bringing Finn back to the Rebel base to be healed, Rey goes out to find Luke Skywalker, after finding out that the other peice of the map was in R2-D2 all along, and that BB-8 was right. Rey finds Luke on Ach-To, where she climbs the many steps to the top of the cliff, and finds Luke there, and she holds out his old lightsaber in the most literal interpretation of a cliffhanger that I’ve ever seen. When the credits started I was so upset and excited at the same time, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hope that at the very least, The Last Jedi doesn’t end on another cliffhanger.

The general feel of the movie to me, is one of extreme nostalgia, excitement, hope, and fun. This was a movie that I saw in theatres 11 times. That is extremely excessive yes, but I was entertained and had a blast every single time I sat there in those theatres. I haven’t seen a movie that many times in the theatre since, and I’m not sure if I will end up doing the same for The Last Jedi, but I do have plans to see it twice in the first 24 hours of its release.

Force Awakens

Rey with Luke / Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber – Source: Lucasfilm

The marketing for this movie was extremely deceptive in their heavy use of showing Finn with the lightsaber, and featuring him heavily fighting with it. This is one of those moments where I actually appreciated the use of that strategy because when that lightsaber was flying past Kylo Ren, I thought for sure it was going to be Luke, and he was about to whoop Kylo’s ass for killing Han. Even after we sort of saw her use the Force a couple of times, I didn’t think they would actually have her face off against Kylo, let alone be able to defeat him (yes, he was severely injured and still conflicted with the patricide that he just committed).

Also, as many films do, there are a lot of scenes that were shot for use in the trailers that are never meant to be in the film, as well as scenes that are left on the cutting room floor, and will feature in the deleted scenes, and there were several for this movie, but the small scene pictured below is something that I wish I would know the story behind it, as it’s not in the deleted scenes, but was what seemed like a key scene in the trailers.

Force Awakens

Deceptive or misdirecting via marketing – Source: Lucasfilm

The music in Episode VII: The Force Awakens was done once again by the musical genius that is John Williams. He brought back many of the amazing themes from the original trilogy, while also bringing in many new themes for the new characters, and I loved almost all of them. When I first heard the theme that he wrote for Rey, at first I thought that it sounded so much like Harry Potter (he wrote the score for that as well), with how light and hopeful that song was, and I was happy when I heard it, and I was rooting for Rey right off the bat. Music is a wonderful tool to enhance the scenes and make people feel emotions, and John Williams is one of, if not the best composers in film history.

The cinematography was done by Dan Mindel, and he did a fabulous job in capturing the amazing scenery and the beautiful frames throughout the movie. I was extremely happy with the visuals of this movie, and I when I think of Star Wars I think of a beautiful looking movie, and this did not disappoint whatsoever.

This movie while being mostly a great movie with almost every scene serving the story, I feel like there were several small sequences that I could have done without, especially the scenes on Han’s new ship with Kanjiclub, the Guavian Death Gang and the Rathtars.

Force Awakens

Rey and Luke, literal cliffhanger – Source: Lucasfilm

There a several plot points and visuals that are almost directly copied from Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode I: The Phantom Menace; the major weapon, Starkiller Base compared to the Death Star and the Trade Federation’s blockade. one of the old heroes gets killed by someone he used to know in front of the other heroes, Ben Solo killing his father in front of Rey and Finn compared to Darth Vader killing Obi-Wan Kenobi in front of Luke, Leia and Han and Darth Maul killing Qui-Gon Jinn in front of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Cantina type scene, with Maz Kanata’s castle compared to the Cantina on Tatooine. The young and extremely skilled pilot taking out the major weapon of the bad guys, Poe Dameron taking out Starkiller Base compared to Luke Skywalker taking out the Death Star and Anakin Skywalker taking out the Trade Federation’s droid control ship.

There’s a lot of similarities and familiar themes in this movie, and while that might upset some people who want more originality, I feel like it was a smart move by Disney, Lucasfilm and Abrams to go back to what worked so well with the first trilogy, and try to fix the mistakes that Lucas had made with the prequels. This movie is not perfect in anyway, but it’s a wonderful breath of fresh air that brought hope and excitement back to the Star Wars franchise, and that’s all that I could have asked for from this movie.

Force Awakens

Kylo Ren watching the Hosnian Cataclysm about to unfold – Source: Lucasfilm

Overall, this movie had a lot of similarities as previous films in the franchise, as well as bringing in new and interesting characters. The overall story and execution of it made the film a lot better than it should be, and the acting was overall well done. There were some problems with the movie overall, however for me, the fact that this movie brought back Star Wars, and wasn’t a huge disappointment in the same way that The Phantom Menace turned out to be was a huge relief. This movie was a really great film, but didn’t come close to touching the top Star Wars film in my opinion, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. This movie is tied for 2nd on my list of Star Wars films as of Wednesday December 13, the day before I see The Last Jedi. At the end of the day, I would give this movie a score of 8.5/10.

What did you think of the first movie of the planned sequel trilogy to the original films? After looking back on the film, do you have a different opinion than what you had when you first watched it? Do you agree with my score, if not what would you give it? Let me know in the comment section below, I would love to hear your opinions!

Thanks for reading,

Alex Martens

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