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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review: J.J. Abrams Did It

By B. Alan Orange — December 16th, 2015

(Note: This review is 97% SPOILER free!) Star Wars is a lot of things to a lot of people, and to say anything negative about The Force Awakens before it officially opens is sure to rile up a certain faction of fans eagerly awaiting their own chance to watch it on Thursday night. The reason you've seen so little in the trailers is because the whole movie is one giant spoiler. Every moment rocks the Star Wars world with a resonance not felt since Empire Strikes Back. There is one big reveal early on that we won't spoil here, but when we learn the truth about Kylo Ren and his true mission, it works. And it sets up a new trilogy that we can't wait to finish.

Yes, Kylo Ren rules this movie. As does Han Solo. It's really their adventure, split down the middle, as we watch hero and villain race to save or destroy the galaxy's new hope in this grand sci-fi adventure. More than anything else, this is a religious experience in a time when most people have abandoned any real concept of God. It doesn't replace any doctrine, and that statement shouldn't be taken as sacrilege. But this week, millions of people are going to gather in one space, and worship at the alter of the Force. And they will never feel more electrified than when that LucasFilm title appears, followed by the iconic Star Wars logo and John Williams' score. I'm guessing many of you will feel touched by the hands of the lord! People were visibly shaking in their seats during the premiere. A lot of fans have complained over the years about the crawls in the prequel trilogy. Once you read the crawl attached to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a smile will stretch wide across your face. You will know what story you are about to embark on. And you will feel like you've just been transported back into the world of the original Star Wars universe.

For the most part, director J.J. Abrams nails it. And that's because he goes back to those original three films to see what made them work internally. The dialogue here is swift and often funny. And there's some great banter between new hero Finn, played by John Boyega, and Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. It takes Ford at least 30 minutes to make his grand entrance, because the film needs to set up its new heroes and villains first. But once he and Chewbacca are on the scene, it's their movie from there on out. And Harrison Ford hasn't been this alive in years. He slips back into these old smuggler boots with ease, and he schools us on why this particular character is so beloved. Watching Han and Chewbacca run around in a brand new adventure is akin to an out of body experience. You are there with them, and it's the best thing that is going to happen in any movie coming out in quite some time. I don't think there is anything else that will come close in comparison. It's just pure bliss. 100% fun. And that's what it is supposed to be. Though, their latest plight is not without its complications and heartbreak.

But let's forget that for a moment. Because their re-introduction is a doozy. And while not everyone will agree, I think it's one of the overall best scenes in the entire two hour run time. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but J.J. Abrams goes back to certain elements utilized in Cloverfield and Super 8, and even Star Trek (a little bit) to explain where Han Solo and Chewbacca have been. I know that sounds crazy, but wait until you've seen the monster movie scene Abrams has audaciously dropped into the middle of his Star Wars movie. The whole scenario is set up to show Han hasn't lost his space pirate spirit. And it's an indirect call back to the Astroid scene where Han, Leia, Chewy and C-3PO are accosted by Mynocks before realizing they're in the belly of a exogorth. This key set piece also utilizes cast members from The Raid. It's the type of moment that would have worked perfectly in the original trilogy. It's the kind of scene we didn't get in the prequels. It's the kind of scene that, if you're not sold yet, will pull you in and keep you glued to your seat for the duration of the ride from here on out.

And let's focus on something here. This is a ride. Nothing more, nothing less. It's zippy from start to finish. Though there is one scene that will drop your stomach to your knees and had a theater full of fifty year old men crying. But that's what Star Wars has always been. An adventure movie. With great characters. And great heart. And there is not a Jar Jar Binks in the bunch. Adam Driver steals the show as Kylo Ren, but he's not like any villain you've ever seen before. And if you've heard that his journey is the mirror opposite of Luke Skywalker's, boy they weren't kidding. His plight is done in such an amazing way, that it feels fresh and new. It's definitely something that has never been done before. Not here. Perhaps not in any movie. And the 'brat' aspects that people find hilarious in Luke and Anakin are taken to a new, weird, interesting height that is sometimes hilarious. There are quite a few times in the movie where Stormtroopers are used for comedic relief to amazing effect. Again, this is where J.J. Abrams got it right. This looks and feels like the original movies to such an extent, it is one.

But that may upset and rank some people. Possibly young fans who grew up with the prequels. J.J. Abrams is a mimic. That's a gimmick some people hate. In selling Star Wars it works, but I recall certain aspects of Super 8 where the filmmaker tried to immolate Steven Spielberg and he fell flat on his face. That doesn't happen here. But that's possibly because he was surrounded by an immensely talented group of people who have been with this franchise from the start. And his biggest helping hand comes from co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. He writes scenes that feel like Star Wars. And that's why this works. He knows how these characters talk. He brings the American Graffiti aspects back to space here. That's something George Lucas forgot to do when he set out to make the prequels.

That all said, I may need to see this film a couple more times to know how I truly feel about it. It's like a deep, detailed new record from your favorite musician. While this is a solid piece of fan service that works in everyone's favor, it is also it's own thing. There is a definite style on display that is different from what we've seen before, without deviating off that iconic path. It's thick and layered with awesome aspects that you surely won't catch on the first or even second viewing.

The new cast is great. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have a unique relationship as Finn and Rey, and their friendship is an interesting one. Will it turn romantic? We don't know. Possibly. Though, it looks like they may be separated throughout the next chapter, much as the heroes in Empire and Jedi were separated. Oscar Isaac is a smart mouth, and possibly the greatest X-Wing Pilot in the galaxy. He gets some very funny moments, and is perfect in his role as the new rogue, gleefully taking the mantle from Harrison Ford. Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast as General Hux. But those expected something great out of Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma will be disappointed. She is this movie's Boba Fett. Intentionally. And because of that, she only gets a few key scenes where she is not the centerpiece of the action. And watch the end closely. Does she survive? You tell us.

Andy Serkis' Snoke is a great surprise, and he sort of takes the place of the Emperor. But there is so much to this guy that we don't know about yet. It's interesting in the way that the movie sets up certain characters that will be further utilized in the future. Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata seems to be playing the opposite of Snoke, and could be this trilogy's Yoda. We're not sure. But if there is one giant fight that might take place in the third film, our betting money is on Snoke and Maz. Once you see them in the movie, you'll think that is impossible. But again, this is one of those aspects where you have to watch closely.

So, I just wrote a whole review and didn't tell you what the movie is about. That's good. You don't need to know. This entire thing is one big surprise after the next, which I got to experience first hand. I want the same for you, dear reader. Someone else can ruin the fun for you. I will say, 98% of the spoilers you've heard throughout the past three years have been false. There are a few that ring true. But you've only seen about 1.5% of the movie in trailers and TV spots. It's going to be a fun ride. Go enjoy yourself. And don't take it too seriously, or you might get hurt. My end verdict? Whoop-Doo! Oh, and if you noticed I failed to mention Luke Skywalker, there's a reason for that...Is he even in the movie? You'll have to watch and find out. But after you see this, you'll definitely go, 'Oh. Okay. That's why he's not on the poster.'

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