It had only been a decade since Star Wars had graced the big screen. However, the perception of the franchise left the franchise in a perilous state. For many, George Lucas had run the ship aground. Longtime fans of the films had acknowledged the dwindling quality of the Prequel Trilogy. Then in 2012, Disney bought LucasFilm in one of the most shocking sell-offs in recent history. The House of Mouse immediately launched production on a new franchise and quickly handed the reigns over to J.J. Abrams. What would come in 2015 would restart the most exciting franchise in Sci-Fi history.
The Force Awakens opens on the planet Jakku. Decades after a battle raged over the planet, the vicious Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leads an assault on a Resistance village. He captures pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), but not before Dameron sends secret plans away inside of his trusted droid BB-8. BB comes across a young salvager named Rey (Daisy Ridley), who saves the droid in the desert. She later meets former First Order Trooper Finn (John Boyega) when BB recognizes his master’s jacket. The three escape on the Millenium Falcon only to find themselves on an adventure with the legendary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo).
While The Force Awakens cribs from several previous incarnations of the franchise, the true power lies in the heart of the characters. Both Ridley and Boyega pop off the screen. They became instant superstars thanks to their movie star personas. The excitement that Ridley channels throughout the film makes her the perfect embodiment of the lifelong fans of the franchise. It’s easy to empathize with her, connect to her, and wish you were on your very own Star Wars adventure. Meanwhile, Boyega gets to show off his comedic chops throughout the film. While he refuses the call time and time again, his care for his new friend echoes throughout the story. His chemistry with Ridley is off the charts and the two usher the franchise in a new direction.
Ford’s return to the iconic character ties us to the adventure. Expertly utilized to create an emotional connection to the audience, he wears the weight on his life in every gesture. He brings the emotion and love that made us fall in love with Solo in the first place. He’s at his best when he gets to mentor Rey, but his secret weapon remains his humor and charm. Ford had not been this good since The Fugitive in the 1990s. Limited screentime for Carrie Fisher felt special, and the two rekindle their spark. Fisher employs her own quick wit to bring her presence back to the franchise. Watching the two actors feel right and their scenes together make it hard to not smile.
The real divisive figure in The Force Awakens remains Driver. The actor keys into the anger and selfish nature of the character. His performance of Kylo never feels out of place. The problem lies in the writing, which often forces him to lash out like an unpredictable animal. There is no doubt he is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, but to bring those character traits back into the universe was not the smartest choice. While Driver elevates the material, the first run at Kylo does not totally work.
The direction from Abrams stands out for its jaw-dropping visuals. He perfectly keys into the aesthetics and practical effects that made the original films thrive. For the first time since the 1980s, the grandiose setpieces matched the seemingly infinite galaxies. Rey riding across a desert felt right. Prosthetic monsters roam in cantinas and fighters fly through the skies within a newfound dexterity. Few directors can create as much emotion in a shot, but The Force Awakens does just that.
For many, The Force Awakens popped off the screen. The links to the new characters brought the franchise back in full force. You cannot really critique the storyline, because frankly it had already been told before. Despite this, it’s tough to ignore the amazing performances at the heart of the film. The Force Awakens is so earnest that it charms your pants off. Abrams writes the ultimate love-letter to the franchise. With the technical advancements and brilliant casting, The Force Awakens overshadows several classics, but falls short of some of the ingenuity of other films in the franchise.