Published on January 5th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The hype becomes reality as Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theatres. Did JJ Abrams do a good job or is it another Phantom Menace?

“What’s in there?” asks Luke Skywalker of the cave on Dagobah during his Jedi training.

“Only what you take with you,” replies Yoda.

On the radio today, I said that The Force Awakens is one of the hardest movie reviews I’ve ever had to execute, because I want to make sure I’m properly judging it as a movie like any other. I need to weigh my critical duties against my intense fandom for Star Wars, leaving the hype aside, and not crossing over to the dark side of fanboy nitpicking, looking too hard for things to not like. But after a childhood spent living Star Wars and the disappointment of especially The Phantom Menace, it would be easy to take things into the cave with me that would taint my pure intentions. But hey, we’re here for a movie review, so let’s give it a shot.

Let’s get the broad question out of the way: I’m happy to report that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is great. How much more simply can I put it? It’s a wonderful mix of the classic feeling of Star Wars with a bit of a modern update.

As I launch into the plot synopsis, I’ll also mention that this review will be spoiler-free, which is hard to do, considering even the details of the iconic opening crawl. If I mention any details, it will only be stuff that’s readily obvious through the trailers. But let’s just say that it all kicks off with a MacGuffin — a map that’s being held by the cute little soccer ball-looking droid, BB-8. Both the Rebel forces and the new Empire, now called The First Order (read: The Third Reich), want to obtain this map. BB-8 falls into the hands of Rey, an orphan scavenger, and her new friend Finn, a Stormtrooper gone AWOL. Suffuce to say, they want to get BB-8 to the Rebels, which leads to a bigger story. Nuff’ said.

As we also know, the main characters are back and mixing with these new characters, which works surprisingly well. Chief among the new characters is a pretty creepy bad guy, Kylo Ren, who wants to become the new Darth Vader. Ren’s character is a pretty smart writing move if you ask me. How do you get a bad guy as good as Vader without just seeming like you’re copying Vader? By making Ren want to be Vader. Like a teenager emulating his rock star idol. You get a bit of good characterization while still paying homage to a much-loved baddie that would be cheap to bring back. I disagree with anyone saying that Ren has too much nuance for a broad, mythological Star Wars character. He comes off like a cross between Vader and Anakin; powerful, but quick to tantrum. This gives him room to grow as well.

The movie is lively and funny, especially Finn and Han Solo, together and separately, but it never devolves into silliness. There are some winks and nods to the old material, some moments that work better than others. And there are some great twists and big moments along the way. I don’t want to say too much, but there are also some moments of heart-breaking depth in the film that are handled surprisingly well.

The Force Awakens is very well-paced, which even helps gloss over some fridge logic that may become more obvious with repeat viewings. (And I mean, hey, Empire is the best in the franchise, and one of my favourite movies of all time, but it still rings goofy to me that Luke could have become a Jedi in a day or so while Han & co. were on Bespin. So I’ll still give The Force Awakens some latitude here. Again, repeat viewings will answer further questions, but I don’t know if there’s anything in the movie that outright doesn’t make sense).

Some of the only negative comments by reviewers seem to focus on the fact that the film steals too much from the original trilogy, which is totally fair. However, again, I think there’s latitude here. There’s a lot on J.J. Abrams’ shoulders. If he goes too far out there, he could have another Jar Jar Binks on his hands, evoking the ire of the internet and fanboys everyone. If Abrams plays it too safe, then it’s lame milquetoast. I think that for the most part, he has brought balance to the Force. We can also look forward to where the next few movies take the story — perhaps Rian Johnson can take more risks with Episode VIII now that we’ve been eased into the carbonite.

I need to see it again (and again and again and again, no doubt) and I need to process it more, so this writing is very preliminary versus where I may ultimately end up on the movie. But again, I’m happy to report that the Force is strong with this one — they’ve reinvigorated the franchise. I would say that it’s the third best film in the series — behind Empire and A New Hope. But it’s ahead of all others, including Sith and Jedi. Time will tell whether The Force Awakens becomes a classic or is destined to be simply an okay entry in the long history of the series.

Oddly enough, with upcoming spinoffs films like the Rogue One movie, this may be the last time in awhile that we anticipate a new Star Wars movie with such verve. If they intend to pump them out like Bond films or Marvel movies, then my own son may grow up in a world where a new Star Wars movie doesn’t shake the very foundations of pop culture. Weird.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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