‘Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens’ is the One We’ve Been Waiting For

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Average: 3.7 (3 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO (No Spoilers!) – I felt privileged on Tuesday morning. Not just to be a Chicago film critic, but to be a movie lover. Film critics and movie lovers alike wade through scores of yawners hoping for one or two masterpieces that remind us why we fell in love with the experience of watching a film in the company of people we like. Just in time to close out 2015, we’re met with the rare opportunity to take part in moviemaking magic once more.

“Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” brought me back to being a happy little boy (and I should disclose I’m more of a “Star Trek” guy than a “Star Wars” fan). Even more, it’s actually the first film in quite some time that transformed the collective critical manboys and mangirls of Chicago’s media into the best versions of themselves today and many years ago.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Daisy Ridley (left) as Rey and John Boyega as Finn in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Now and before is what resonates most about what J.J. Abrams has pulled off so masterfully with the first new “Star Wars” film since “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith” in 2005. Having earned the acclaim of Hollywood’s current sci-fi master (while even being able to bat for both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” teams), Abrams has bridged a beautiful divide between what’s nostalgic and what’s new.

Strolling into a nightclub, for example, with strange creatures from throughout the galaxy pays familiar homage to “Star Wars” films of yore. The film even weaves in an unexpected amount of humor that pays off with dramatic emotion you actually feel, too. And none of it would have happened, by the way, without Abrams’ wife encouraging him to helm the film when he was otherwise not going to. Harrison Ford took quite a bit of convincing to return as Han Solo, too.

Interestingly, this film’s Death Star-like “planet destroyer” takes more than a page from the “planet killer” doomsday machine in “Star Trek,” which J.J. Abrams also directed.

Adam Driver in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

To become one of the best films of 2015, it took bringing back much of the original team while discovering a new generation of actors – namely Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn. The new era will propel the continuing saga into 2017’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII” (written and directed by “Looper” director Rian Johnson) and 2019’s “Star Wars: Episode VIII” (directed by “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow and written by Rian Johnson).

The final result is a must-see movie that works for everyone – a film that could cross the $1 or even $2 billion mark and give “Avatar” a run for its money. You don’t have to “like sci-fi,” be a “Star Wars” fan or even have an opinion for or against J.J. Abrams. If you like great films – actually, even if you just like epic storytelling in any medium – do yourself a favor and see this film.

Continuing the George Lucas saga and set 30 years after 1983’s “Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi,” the Empire (now renamed the First Order) has fallen and the Resistance (previously known as the Rebel Alliance) must marry old blood with new. The Resistance must battle a dark threat from the Darth Vader-like Kylo Ren (whose mask and voice are an intentional Vader nod).

Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Carrie Fisher as Leia and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Known for his kooky role in HBO’s “Girls,” Adam Driver is an unexpected choice for the villain of this blockbuster film franchise. Though he takes off his mask too much, Driver works. While he could have been used interchangeably with Ezra Miller from “We Need to Talk About Kevin” without hardly noticing a difference, what I fell for most in his performance was his humanity. Villains and heroes are always powerful and always have weaknesses. Will Ren’s past prove to be his strength, weakness or both?

This question furthers his actions and gives his dark force relatable appeal. Even his interaction with our Sarah Connor-like female protagonist, Rey, is a mental battle as much as it is light sabre death match. Rey is the star of the film both because of her importance to the story as well as Daisy Ridley’s ability as a newfound actress to execute the character.

The stars who deserve the biggest nod to what will certainly be a global blockbuster success is legendary “Star Wars” writer Lawrence Kasdan as well as writer and director J.J. Abrams. The duo has figured out how to bring a beloved franchise into the modern age while inspiring a new generation of kids to go “Star Wars” gaga when they didn’t even grow up with the brand. Even more, I can confidently write that this is literally the funniest “Star Wars” film yet.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
“Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

They’ve always been light-hearted and peppered with one-liners, but this film as a whole had the most critical eyes in Chicago laughing consistently from start to finish. Kasdan takes his script seriously when he must, uses Han Solo’s ability to understand Chewy as a constant source of comedy and even introduces an adorable, R2D2-like droid named BB8.

Though a 73-year-old Harrison Ford as Han Solo works on every level, Carrie Fisher returning as Princess Leia is the film’s most glaring problem. She’s only 59, but you wouldn’t think it. It’s not the way her role is written or what she looks like. It’s her performance and her oddly stunted vocal awkwardness. The only time I was ever nervous about whether a scene would pay off or fall flat is when the camera was on her.

While this film could be oversimplified as being too much of a modern-day rehash of 1977’s “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope,” it adds enough new while keeping true to its roots and storyline to properly propel the franchise forward. And though “Star Wars” films are often infamous for overspending on story and special effects only to deprioritize quality acting, J.J. Abrams goes down in history as having been one of the best and only “Star Wars” filmmakers to fire on all cylinders.

Adam Driver in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”.
Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew and Domhnall Gleeson from writer and director J.J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan. The film, which has a running time of 135 minutes and opens on Dec. 18, 2015, is rated “PG-13” for sci-fi action violence.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2015 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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