“The Force Awakens” Delivers

After a ten year hiatus the space opera franchise Star Wars makes its triumphant return with “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” Released on Dec. 18 2015, the J.J. Abrams directed sequel was met with overwhelming critical success. While Abrams’ film plays it safe with a derivative plot, it delivers an entertaining experience rife with action, humor, and tragedy communicated through slick cinematography.


The mixed to negative responses to the Prequel Trilogy appear to have informed Abrams’ decision to give “The Force Awakens” a plot derivative of “A New Hope” as well as “The Empire Strikes Back.”
“The Force Awakens” focuses on Rey, a scavenger abandoned and raised on the desert planet of Jakku. Through seemingly unrelated events, Rey is joined by an obedient and energetic droid named BB-8. Assisting the droid on a confidential mission for the Resistance, Rey comes to discover her strength in the Force. Along the way she is joined by Han Solo acting as a mentor/father figure. Leading an assault against the evil First Order’s battle station, Starkiller Base, Solo is killed by his son and former Jedi Kylo Ren. Witnessing the death of her Mentor, Rey seeks out the elusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker following the destruction of Starkiller Base.


While its plot evokes key moments of the Original Trilogy, Abrams breathes fresh air into the production including elements of comedy and tragedy many found lacking in the Prequel films.
Much of the humor in “The Force Awakens” is situational in nature and gives audiences occasional breaks from an otherwise serious adventure. Early in the film Resistance pilot Poe Dameron finds himself captured by the First Order and Kylo Ren. As his interrogation, Dameron quips poking fun at the difficulty in understanding Kylo through his mask. BB-8 also provides comedic relief throughout the film, similar to the burlesque body humor of the silent film era. Other humor comes from the former Stormtrooper FN-2187’s—Finn’s—affection for Rey. Running from the First Order on Jakku, Finna grabs Rey’s hand leading her away. Rey quickly takes her hand back, asserting that she doesn’t to hold his hand to know how to run.


Abrams’ film is also packed with action and dramatic set pieces. The film’s opening sequence involves a First Order assault on Jakku. The scene features some slick camera work which excellently shows off the new Stormtrooper designs as well as introducing the series’ new villain Kylo Ren. Later in the film the protagonists visit Maz Kanata, one of Solo’s allies. Their presence draws the attention of Kylo and the First Order prompting an intense battle. The sequence features intense aerial combat between the iconic Tie Fighters and X-Wings as well as a light saber battle between Finn and a riot-stick wielding Stormtrooper. Of particular note is the film’s climactic conclusion on Starkiller Base. The epic conclusion includes another intense session of fighter combat culminating in a trench run similar to the conclusion of “A New Hope.” There’s also an emotional lightsaber conflict between Kylo and Rey which returns to the heavy-hitting fighting style of the Original Trilogy. This is a marked departure from the highly choreographed and acrobatic fights of the Prequel series.


One of the films’ most memorable scenes is the tragic confrontation between Solo and his fallen son Kylo. Lured into believing Kylo wishes to return to the Light Side, Solo reaches out to his seemingly distraught son. Kylo asks for his father’s help and appearing to embrace him, ignites his lightsaber impaling Solo. Solo then falls to his death inside the depths of Starkiller Base.


Through his reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Abrams cemented his ability to effectively direct slick, action-packed science fiction. Though Abrams’ style has influences in the directorial styles of James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, he competently synthesizes these elements into an effective cinematic language.

“The Force Awakens” finds itself in a strange place, utilizing the successful elements of the Original Trilogy—lightsaber fights and heroic storytelling—while distancing itself from the errors of the Prequel Trilogy. Through Abrams’ competent directing and a liberal use of practical effects, “The Force Awakens” is an exciting, entertaining, and fresh return to the things which made Star Wars a beloved classic.

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