Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free

Move over shit, there’s a new “s” word in town. “Spoilers” is one of the dirtiest words on the internet. Like shit, we’re always worried about stepping in spoilers when our guard is down. Different websites and forums discourage spoilers with “rules” and alerts, but we all know a lot of people disregard those ‘pick up after your dog’ signs too. They’re minor annoyances, but sometimes they can be enough to ruin your day. Spoilers are the definition of first world problems, yet spoil something like the most recent Game of Thrones episode, and people will look at you like you just spoiled their water supply. 

This sensitivity has seen new heights with the impending release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I can attest to this because I myself became one of those obnoxious people who would stick my fingers in my ears whenever conversation turned to potential plot points. I don’t hang out with J.J. Abrams or Disney execs on the reg, so my friends weren’t exactly trading insider knowledge, but they did watch more of the trailers than I did (I only watched the first one), and putting together the pieces has never been easier than it is in this age of shared knowledge. 

The secrecy around the plot of the new Star Wars has made for some extremely effective marketing. Disney’s strategists parcelled out tidbits in very calculated ways, and my own efforts to avoid trailer and fan theories made the anticipation even greater. It got a to a point where anything could be considered a spoiler. For instance, the first line in the opening crawl states a major plot point that was suspected but never confirmed. Can I talk about this? It’s literally the first thing the film reveals. Since I was so sensitive to any unsanctioned or unsolicited info prior to seeing the film for myself, I will only address elements Disney has already acknowledged in its marketing (scroll down to the TL; DR paragraph at the bottom if you’re just looking for pure overall opinion on the film). 

The Force Awakens - Han and Chewbacca

One of the first announcements regarding this new trilogy was that J.J. Abrams would cowrite and direct Episode VII. I like what he did with Star Trek, and Super 8 was an excellent Spielberg homage. If anything, choosing Abrams was a little too obvious, but it was a safe choice. I still think it’s weird to have the same guy in charge of both Star Trek and Star Wars, it brings those universes much closer together than they should be. This would probably bother me a lot more if I were a Star Trek fan, but I enjoyed Abrams’ 2009 take on Trek because in many ways he was bringing it closer to Star Wars. The Force Awakens trades lens flairs for lightsabers, which is a good deal. 

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Shortly after the Abrams announcement, it was made known that he’d be collaborating on the script with Lawrence Kasdan, whose writing helped make The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi great before Lucas stopped letting other people play with his toys for a quarter century. Abrams and Kasdan were also joined by Michael Arndt, who helped pen Toy Story 3 and Little Miss Sunshine. The writing room was stacked and it paid off. Kasdan and Abrams merge the old with the new, while I imagine Arndt helped with dialogue and flavour. 

Then came casting. The announcements didn’t all come at once, but it wasn’t long until it was confirmed that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher would reprise their roles as Han, Luke and Leia in a story set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi.  Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), John Boyega (Attack The Block) and Daisy Ridley (?) would be playing young heroes Poe, Finn, and Rey, and Adam Driver (Girls), Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina)  and Gwendolin Christie (Game of Thrones) were to be the baddies Kylo Ren, General Hux, and Captain Phasma. The cast is an eclectic mix of familiar faces and up and comers, wisely sidestepping the inclusion of anyone whose existing celebrity status could get in the way of what’s really important here: the story.

force awakens

Already  we can infer quite a bit about the story from the casting, brief character bios, and promotional stills. In addition to Luke, Leia, and Han, we know we’re going to see C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon, lightsabers, and stormtroopers. Wait, stormtroopers? I thought they defeated the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi? This is getting a little too close to spoiler territory, let’s move on. One of the many functions The Force Awakens serves is that of an origin story for these new characters. Fortunately they’re all likeable, and it’s easy to imagine them becoming loveable. There are a lot of torches being passed here, literal, figurative, spiritual, and most of it works.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of the film’s marketing strategy was announcing Hamill’s involvement, teasing Luke with some early images, then completely omitting him from the advertising campaign, leaving everyone wondering “where’s Luke?”  This was practically a tagline these last few months.  Speculation on this topic was impossible to avoid and it’s an excellent hook that will hopefully remain a mystery until you see it.

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Other popular elements we knew were returning included composer John Williams and an emphasis on practical effects. While the lack of the latter made the prequel trilogy look like crap, the presence of the former at least made them sound good. Abrams made it a point to let people know that they were creating hundreds of puppets, animatronics, and sets that would limit their dependence on CGI and green screen. This was apparent from the first trailers, this world did not look or feel like Lucas’ recent green screen mess, this is something more tangible and reminiscent of the original trilogy.

So it turns out that despite trying to avoid trailers and Disney keeping many details under wraps, you probably already know more about this film than you realized. At least you know the important parts, which is that it’s being done right. Lucas has given up his reign of power and Disney has hired the right filmmakers/ fans who have the hindsight, insight, and foresight to learn from Lucas’ successes and more importantly, his failures. Fans have been very vocal about what they didn’t like about the prequels, making it very easy for Abrams and the other filmmakers to identify what people want and don’t want in a Star Wars film. For it to be successful, it need only follow this simple formula:  Original Trilogy + Time – Prequels = Sequel Trilogy.

TL; DR

So now that you’ve read about all those things you already knew, I guess all I can do is assure you that it’s good and that there are still some surprises. It’s not perfect, there are things I had issues with but I can’t get into those in this spoiler-free review, fortunately nothing big enough to ruin the overall experience. As we expected, the film is full of nostalgia and fan service, and as a nostalgic fan, I feel serviced. Abrams has ticked off a lot of boxes necessary to bridge these two trilogies and most importantly has left us wanting more. The Force Awakens needed to feel familiar and be A “New” New Hope so that hopefully Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII can be something truly different.

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