Warning: There are spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t bother reading if you’re still planning to watch it.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, also called Star Wars Episode VII, opened with a premiere last December 16 followed by the official December 17 opener all over the Philippines in conjunction with the rest of the world except China. By the first week of January all countries showing The Force Awakens broke almost every film showing record, all, that is except in the Philippines because the film ran for only a week before being replaced on December 25 by films from the Metro Manila Film Festival. This caused dismal disappointment with the film’s international distributors.
Back to the review, and a point of clarification pertaining to the title of this film review; contrary to some popular belief going around that the prequels – Episode I, II, and III – were all bad films, all the Star Wars films were good in their own way. As a film critic, I felt that the prequels were necessary to establish the origins and personalities of the main characters as well as the storyline of the Republic and the Siths. Thus, with The Force Awakens, it is a mix of introducing some new characters and bringing back some old ones that are necessary for the storyline.
The thrills are strong with this one (A return to greatness, it is)
Contrary to fans feeling “betrayed” by the prequels, had it not been for these prequels, they wouldn’t even know what a Sith is, let alone know who Darth Vader is. As for The Force Awakens, it feels like Episode IV “A New Hope” all over again with a touch of “Phantom Menace” and “Revenge of the Sith” (Episodes I and III) thrown in.
Perhaps what makes the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, different from the rest (aside from being the director of the Star Trek films) is that he is a Star Wars fan himself. And because of this he knew just the right combination of nostalgia, new and encore characters and villains, heart-thumping surprises, thrills, and adventure, and memorable battle sequences. Probably the best thing he brought to Force Awakens is taking away most of the action from space and putting them on land. Who could still breathe watching the Millennium Falcon dart up and down, back and forth, just several feet from the ground, watching X-Wing fighters darting at ground attack level and fighting Tie Fighters in the atmosphere, or attacking stormtroopers on the ground?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place around 30 years after the end of the events in Return of the Jedi. And as soon as those iconic familiar blue texts “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by the iconic yellow crawl text has brought the audience up to speed, it’s all typical Star Wars flying, soaring, zigging, zagging, and then, boom, boom, the action begins with blasters, screams, and iconic music welcoming the stormtroopers, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and the new villain Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver (contrary to popular belief again, he’s not yet a Sith since he doesn’t have a mentor after breaking away from being Luke Skywalker’s Padawan and going over to the Dark Side).
Since Han Solo is already on the old side and eventually dies after being killed by his son, Kylo Ren, Oscar Isaac as the ace X-Wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron combines that old Solo swagger with the leadership of their former squadron leader, Wedge Antilles (seen in Episodes IV, V, and VI). Unlike the funny back and forth exchanges of R2D2 and C3PO, the new droid BB8 is made to be lovable and cute, though he does have his funny moments when he exchanges quips with Finn, a First Order stormtrooper deserter (FN-2187), and one of the new characters introduced, played by John Boyega. Both Isaac and Boyega display brilliant acting talents since their roles had to display vulnerabilities, fear, conflict, and some crisis of conscience even while showing bravery.
The best new entry is British actress Daisy Ridley as the scavenger, Rey. She definitely gives a breakout performance, especially when she eventually discovers that the Force is strong with her. She can be tough, brave, resourceful, even cocky, and utterly terrified when she comes face to face with the Dark Side of the Force.
Of course, the encores of Mark Hamil (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Gen. Leia Organa), Chewbacca, C3P0, R2D2, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb have nothing to prove, and all are vital cogs in the overall mysteries of the storyline. Likewise, the breakout performances of the CGI heavy characters were just superb, such as Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), supreme leader Snokes (Andy Serkis), and Unkar Plutt, the junkyard dealer on Jakku (Simon Pegg).
Other Star Wars films coming soon
While Force Awakens ends with the good guys winning (for now), the end feeling is like that of “A New Hope” wherein more questions and mysteries need answers, and definitely Rian Johnson (Looper, Breaking Bad) will be directing Star Wars VIII for May 2017 while Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) will be directing Star Wars IX for May 2019. All Force Awakens characters except Harrison Ford will reprise their roles in Episode VIII, with the addition of Benicio del Toro. In between these episodes, two offshoot films are already in production, Rogue One and Scoundrel Gentleman, the former about the ace X-Wing fighter squadron of the Resistance and its leader, Wedge Antilles, and the latter about the life of Han Solo before he met Luke and Obi Wan on Tatooine.
As the character Maz Kanata would say, “I assume you need something. Desperately.” And this is definitely what old and new fans of Force Awakens got. It’s the old Star Wars all over again, the magic, the story, the mysteries, the thrills, the action, and with plenty of new things thrown in. As a film critic that thoroughly enjoyed Force Awakens, it is hoped that the coming episodes won’t disappoint. With that, “Chewie, we’re home,” and so, “may the Force be with you.”