MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Flexes The Power Of Escapism (And The Light Side)

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Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver
Directed By: JJ Abrams

I’m not going to sit here and reflect upon the personal relationship I had with the Star Wars franchise as a kid. We grow up, move on, get a job and the magic in life fades a little bit. That’s when escapism hits the most: it provides a breath of fresh air, a release from your daily life. That’s what Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings to the table. The gang’s all back and they couldn’t be happier to be swashbuckling in space again. Blazing a new trail isn’t The Force Awakens’ bag. It’s much safer than that, drawing on as many original trilogy callbacks needed to satiate the most impatient of audiences. This is a film made by fans for fans. Whether that’s for better or worse is up to you. To me, I can’t remember the last time this universe had so much life seeping out of every pore. It’s a frenetic, sometimes incoherent blast of entertainment and I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

It’s been three decades since the destruction of the Death Star. The First Order, a new military brigade running on Sith values has emerged, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). As is with any Star Wars entry, there’s a rebellion doing their best to fight that evil. One thing is setting the rebellion back, though: the Jedi are gone. The last of them, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), missing with no sign of wanting to be found. That’s where the new main players come in. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger living on the desert planet of Jakku, gets swept up in the fight (no, I won’t tell you how). Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who decides to choose his own destiny, gets swept up, too. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the best fighter pilot in the rebellion, unearths a secret to Skywalker’s location and forces The First Order’s hand into a manhunt. Oh, and The First Order are pretty powerful.

The stakes have been raised, the plot twists like a dancer in Jabba the Hutt’s club and sacrifices are made for the power of the light side to prevail. We’ve seen this story before, people. We’ve never seen it so breezy, exciting and thrill-a-minute though. Director/writer JJ Abrams focuses his gaze on the underdog, Rey. She’s a scavenger, a girl wandering through life like a ghost without meaning. That is until she’s found to be vital in the fight against The First Order. She’s exposed to the galaxy and her life is reaffirmed, no matter how dangerous it gets. That’s JJ’s goal here—he wants to remind you that the galaxy is full of surprises, familiar faces and revelations that will shake your life down to the core. Maybe I’m just a sucker for hopeless optimism in sci-fi, but this singular worldview launches the movie into a cinematic adrenaline rush.

The Force Awakens planet-hops with reckless abandon, hoping that the viewer can somehow deduce that there’s a big battle coming and some people are going to learn some stuff about their life. Sure, that may sound remedial, but it’s delivered in such a manner that your brain may despair at any sense of logic in the story. There’s fun to be had in some films and then there’s pure unadulterated joy to be mined from others. This is the hand-clapping, fist-clenching, and tear-jerking antidote to some sour and turgid fare crowding theaters today. No matter how dangerous things get, the seventh Star Wars entry never forgets to have fun.

Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega. Rey, Finn, and Poe are this franchise’s new heroes and heroine—tough beings constantly being picked up and dropped by the universe, only to rub off the dirt and continue wisecracking. You know, the kind of welcome respite we haven’t seen since the original trilogy. That isn’t meant to say that there isn’t room for Han, Chewie and Leia’s time to shine, but the narrative firmly purports that this new beginning has enough room for old and new.

Lest we forget, this is still blockbuster cinema. Things blow up, people are chased and two hours of buildup all leads to some rollicking climax, only to rush into an ending that promises more and more of the same. It may seem like I keep calling out The Force Awakens because of its contrivances, but I’m doing exactly the contrary. Despite every single pitfall that you could address this for having, the film cruises on genuine emotion and wide-eyed amazement at the expansion of a galaxy far, far away. This is the Star Wars film that we’ve wanted for so many years. Messy, exciting and heartbreaking is the way of the force.

 

GRADE: A-

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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