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“I didn’t think there was this much green in the whole galaxy!”

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS has finally been released to the public and we at Filmthusiast are ready to sink our teeth into the film. We will talk a little about the film generally and then dig into the spoilers, theories, and overall experience of going to:

A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far, Far Away… 

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EPISODE VII

THE FORCE AWAKENS

Luke Skywalker has vanished!

In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed. With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts…

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This is how THE FORCE AWAKENS begins and it only gets better from there! J.J. Abrams and his merry band of collaborators have restored the Star Wars saga to its wonderful, pulpy roots and supplied fans with the dose of force-laden movie magic that they have been longing for since the original trilogy.

The story takes place 30 years after RETURN OF THE JEDI and the rebellion’s epic victory has proven to be short-lived. While they won the war against the Galactic Empire and formed a New Republic, the First Order has arisen from their ashes. They want to destroy the Republic, the Resistance against them, and the rest of the Jedi…

Our leads this time around are a lonely desert scavenger named Rey, a turncoat stormtrooper named Finn, and the villainous Kylo Ren who we really can’t discuss any further without getting into some major spoilers. They are an excellent trio of leads supported expertly by a cast of characters both new and familiar to us.

The movie is so successful in their casting that it is almost impossible to pinpoint an actor as the walkaway star of the picture. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver do incredible work with each of their characters and cement themselves as full-blown stars upon arrival. Each of them bring something fresh and exciting, but ultimately familiar, to the galaxy far, far away.

Before discussing this movie in deep, spoilery details let me say that this movie is a massive success in what it set out to accomplish. It is a good movie with a great cast that sets up a whole new universe of possibilities. The first thought I had after the movie completed was, “I need to see Episode VIII as soon as humanly possible.” They have their work cut out for them, but THE FORCE AWAKENS has teed up the future custodians of this series to deliver something even more audacious, delightful, and emotional.

From here on out… There be SPOILERS!!!

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Just going to throw one more big SPOILER WARNING for you!

Okay.

You’re still here. That’s good. I really want to talk to you about this movie. There is so much I want to say, but I need you to have seen it first. Clearly, you are still reading this and therefore have seen the movie. If you have not seen the movie and are still reading this… I don’t know what to do with you. You are a strange individual for a multitude of reasons and have no respect for even the most casual of movie-going experiences.

But you saw the movie, so this does not pertain to you. (Or you didn’t in which case… UGH.)

You saw the movie. You saw a new STAR WARS movie and if you are anything like me you really, really liked it.

THE FORCE AWAKENS is, like a true STAR WARS tale, about family. The scavenger Rey waits on the desert planet Jakku for her long lost family who left her there years ago. While waiting, she runs into a defected stormtrooper, Finn, who was ripped away from his family while still a baby. Together they go on the run from the mysterious Kylo Ren… Who turns out to be the son of their new smuggler friend, Han Solo. Together they are trying to get a secret map to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, a missing Jedi Master, to The Resistance. They are in a race to find Luke before the evil First Order, the legion behind the destructive Starkiller Base, beat them to it.

This movie is a huge step-up from the prequel trilogy that was released in 1999, 2002, and 2005. Those films were mostly set in the core systems of the galaxy this series is set in. They were far more interest in trade embargos, senate disputes, and power struggles than they were in the more dangerous, outskirts of the galaxy that were constantly featured in the amazing original trilogy. THE FORCE AWAKENS almost has too little politics in it. The only city that we see is on a planet mere moments before the Starkiller Base destroys it with a long-distance death ray. It was the home to the Republic, the government system that Han, Luke, and Leia fought so hard to restore power to in Episodes IV-VI.

THE FORCE AWAKENS succeeds because it knows at it’s heart what a STAR WARS movie is . They know that it is first and foremost a magic space western. It is about the “everyman” (in this case, a beyond-exciting “everywoman”) finding their place in the world (galaxy) that they feel has left them behind. The movie takes place on a desert planet, a forest planet, and a Chicago Winter planet. These planets are familiar to the fans of the originals and that is the point. They have remade the original trilogy in a single motion picture as a way to return the disenfranchised fans of the originals to the series while educating the next generation of fans as to what a badass Star Wars movie truly is.

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There are so many twists and turns in this movie. We discover that Han and Leia had a child named Ben, he was under his Uncle Luke’s tutelage at a new Jedi Academy, and that he fell prey to the dark side and killed all of Luke’s students. Ben then renamed himself Kylo Ren and took his place as the master of a new order known as The Knights of Ren. This caused Luke to go into exile and lead to Han and Leia separating out of extreme grief. The mysterious loner Rey also seems to factor into this story somehow. We never see her parents, but she was left on the desert planet of Jakku with only the faint memory of her caretaker promising his return. All of these events were manipulated by the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke who appears in massive hologram form to Kylo Ren and General Hux of the First Order. There is nothing but potential with everything that was set up in this film and it seems to have laid the groundwork for some major surprises to be revealed in future installments.

The cast is bananas. Daisy Ridley is the new Luke Skywalker of the franchise, except that she never starts out as a whiny brat and achieves a stronger command of the force quicker than Luke ever did. She brings a breathtaking amount of vulnerability and resilience to the role while also leaving herself room to play an adorable naivety. She has been hit with a lot of flack about being “overpowered” and “too strong” which is absolute malarky. Tom Cruise, Chris Evans, and Daniel Craig would never be accused of being “too strong” and it’s a ridiculous complaint to lob against Daisy Ridley and Rey in this movie. The force is exceptionally strong with her. Maybe stronger than it has ever been with anyone. Her true weakness lies in her desperation to be accepted. She is so tethered the desert plains of Jakku because that is where she last stood on solid ground with a member of her family. She is so blinded by needing to remain on that shared ground that she can’t quite see that her destiny is to be among the stars.

John Boyega is amazing as the stormtrooper FN-2187 who has a crisis of faith during a raid on a small Jakku village and abandons the First Order to save the X-Wing pilot, Poe Dameron. Boyega’s work in ATTACK THE BLOCK was terrific and he seemed to be primed for stardom because of it. Folks… We had no idea. He’s an utterly fresh character to the Star Wars universe with his contemporary sense of humor and over-exaggerated bravado. All of that masks a good man. Someone who doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to decent people. I’m not quite sure if we’ll learn more about what jarred FN-2187 out of his programming to leave his post and become the heroic Finn, but it’s an incredible moment when he makes the decision. His work with Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, and… Hell, everyone in this movie shows that John Boyega isn’t just destined to be a superstar. He’s already there.

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The biggest stand-out for me was Adam Driver as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. I watched a little bit of HBO’s GIRLS and thought Driver was a decent performer and he has had nice little roles in LINCOLN and INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. The work he does in THE FORCE AWAKENS is next level. He imbues Kylo Ren with an immature ferocity that makes him stand apart from the other villains of the series. Also different is his perspective on the dark and light sides of the force. He is obsessed with the dark side and it’s greatest icon, his grandfather, Darth Vader. But he feels the light side tugging at him and he doesn’t want to be seduced by its glow. That conflict brings us the most expertly staged and acted scene in the movie…

A scene that involves Harrison Ford’s Han Solo.

Harrison Ford is back in a big way with this movie. His last dozen films have felt like the actor was phoning it in a little bit, but here he dazzles returning to the role of his once great scoundrel, Han Solo. The character has the same money issues and relationship woes that he always does, but there is a deeper sadness behind those eyes due to losing his son to the dark side of the force. He eventually gets a chance to have a one-on-one conversation on a bridge over an abyss in the Starkiller Base. The moment we see that all of the characters are in place to witness the scene from their separate vantage points… We know what is going to happen. Yet, once the scene begins to play out, we forget any certainty that we had. We don’t want the inevitable to happen not because it’s predictable, but because we want Han to reach Ben and bring him back to the light side of the force. Unfortunately, even if his plan is successful, Han will not be there to celebrate. The most heartbreaking moment of the film is when Kylo Ren puts his lightsaber into his father’s hands, then pulls it back, and thrusts his ignited blade though his father’s chest. That look on Ford’s face before he fell down the chasm turned this very, very good movie into a great one.

The rest of the cast fills out this movie in amazing ways. Oscar Isaac is at his most heroic and swashbuckling as the best X-Wing pilot in the galaxy. His maneuvers would put Luke Skywalker to shame and my only gripe about his character is that there wasn’t more of him in the movie. Oh well, I do hear that they might make a couple more of these. Domhnall Gleeson is also pretty great as the wretched General Hux who is the liaison between the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke and the First Order. Carrie Fisher does fine work as General Leia who seems to have lost a bit of her fire with age. She too seems to be dealing with the loss of her son and has thrown herself into her fight against the First Order to distract herself. Lupita Nyong’o is also terrific as the small tavern owner Maz Kanata whose history I’m desperate to learn more about over the next several films. Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, and Max Von Sydow round out the rest of the main cast and all do admirable work in their limited roles.

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I don’t know what more I can add to all of the praise that his movie has received for it’s look and feel. It expertly recaptured the feeling and tone of the original series while updating the imagery of the film for an audience far more comfortable with hyper-kinetic visuals. I have yet to see the film on an IMAX screen, but you can be certain that I will remedy that at the first possible moment. I can’t wait to see the shot from above play out on one of those monstrous screens. There is also nothing like hearing an original Star Wars score composed by John Williams. It was a real treat to have the old themes back and I happen to be quite partial to the new theme that he created for Rey. The movie also has dozens of jokes which land harder and faster than the jokes in most mainstream comedies these days. The movie also has a flurry of incredible emotional moments from Finn seeing his fellow stormtrooper killed in a village massacre, Rey watching a starship taking off longingly, Han Solo revealing to Leia that he saw their son, a series of flashbacks (and maybe a flash forward or two) that Rey sees when touching Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, the reaction that Chewbacca has to seeing his best friend slain in front of him, and the final moment of the film where Rey finds herself face-to-face with Luke Skywalker. This movie has it all.

That is not to say that it is a perfect film. It has it’s flaws. While it’s an enjoyable refrain of elements from STAR WARS, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RETURN OF THE JEDI it does lean on those moments a bit too often. It also is very self-referential to them. There are moments where Finn leans on a table and you see the old 3D chess board! There is a moment where Finn is going through a box and finds Luke’s old target practice remote! There’s a moment where they need to store a bad guy somewhere and Han suggests a trash compactor! You get the idea.  These moments make it feel like no time has passed between the last movie and this one when the creases on Harrison Ford’s face say otherwise. There are also several characters who show up and are under serviced. Christie’s Captain Phasma has absolutely nothing to do besides looking awesome. There are several actors from THE RAID who show up and look like they are about to break into some of the badass martial arts work that they are known for… Then they also do absolutely nothing. Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata has a wonderful introduction and seems to have a very important part in the story that is being told and once her castle is under attack by the First Order… She vanishes. Listen, I’m sure that Maz and Phasma will show up in future installments, but each of them could have used just one more meaningful moment to push us towards being excited about their return.

And there is zero excuse for how they deployed Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in the film. ZERO.

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The movie leaves us with almost more questions than we went in with and I have a few theories about some of the bigger moments:

-Rey is Harry Potter. She was one of the students at Luke’s Jedi Academy and when Ben Solo went to dark side she was the only one that he couldn’t kill. Think about it. When Kylo Ren learned that Finn and BB-8’s escape was aided by “a girl,” he completely lost it. She is the girl who lived.

-Han Solo touching his son’s face after being impaled by a lightsaber won’t cure Kylo Ren of the dark side. It will bring Ben Solo back to the light. I have to imagine we will be getting a flashback to this moment in Episode VIII while Kylo Ren is enjoying some alone time with Vader’s helmet. That sounded way grosser than intended.

-I really think Rey could be Luke’s kid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers threw us a curveball with this one. She could totally be someone else’s kid or a clone of a past enemy. That would be a major reveal on the level of “Luke… am your father.”

-Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma, and Maz Kanata are going to get larger roles in the next one. That’s not a theory. It’s a fact.

In a recent interview with J.J. Abrams he said it was their singular goal to delight the audience, but they have done so much more than that. They have restored the once shining beacon of blockbuster entertainment back to its once blinding luminescence. They brought balance to the force by showing the originals weren’t a fluke after the prequels sullied their reputation. They have given a new generation a quality installment of Star Wars that we can all rally behind.

They have made it so that the force will be with us.

Always.

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