Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens redeems the franchise for fans while also raising the bar in every conceivable way. This might just be one of the very best films in the whole franchise.
As a fan of the Star Wars franchise practically since birth, my expectations for Episode VII were about as low as low can possibly get. George Lucas burned us hard with Episodes I & II, and while I believe director JJ Abrams is brilliant, there were too many variables at play, and any one of those could ruin the latest Star Wars film right out of the gate.
The Story (no spoilers, we promise!)
Episode VII takes place many decades after the conclusion of Return of the Jedi. The story revolves primarily around five principal characters: a young scavenger woman from the Tatooine-like planet of Jakku, a young disillusioned storm trooper desperate to get as far away from The First Order (basically The Empire 2.o) as possible, a young Jedi consumed by the dark side of the force who idolizes Darth Vader, and the continuing adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca, who have returned to their space smuggler roots.
George Lucas once said that Star Wars is really a saga about the franchise’s iconic droids, R2-D2 and C-3P0, so keeping with that tradition, Abrams introduces us to a new droid, BB-8, a sparky, upbeat astro-droid who provides some of the funniest and most heartwarming moments from the film.
Disney Actually Listens To Star Wars Fans!
Why were Episodes I, II, and III such massive disappointments? Simply put, George Lucas failed — refused, even — to put fans first. He made those films for himself, and any fans who appreciated it along the way lucked out. But Disney? Disney took the higher road.
Everything you hated about Episode I: The Phantom Menace has been wholly rectified in Episode VII. The film uses mostly live-action cinematics, with CGI used only to highlight the action and to bridge your suspension of disbelief… not for set-building and populating said sets with ridiculous, childish characters.
Don’t worry about obnoxious characters like Jar Jar Binks, either. Disney and JJ Abrams appreciate the fact that you can make a film family-friendly without a slew of screwball characters aimed entirely and wholly at appeasing children. This is a movie made for adults that kids can also watch, rather than what George Lucas made with Episode I… a children’s movie trying desperately and failing miserably to draw an older audience.
JJ Abrams’ Best Film… But Where Does It Rank?
Let’s not beat around the bush here: without going into too much depth about the plot, this is easily the best film JJ Abrams has ever made, by a long shot. The energy, the story, the character development, the action… it was all perfect or near-perfect from start to finish. Abrams has officially raised the bar to an insane new level, one that Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, who are directing episodes VIII and IX respectively, are going to struggle to hit.
That’s great for JJ Abrams, but where would I personally rank Episode VII in the list of all seven Star Wars films made to date? That’s a tough question. My brain wants to say that this is the best Star Wars film ever made… it really, truly does. But my heart has an unwavering allegiance to Empire Strikes Back. This conflict means we’ll have to trust my gut instead: This is the second-best Star Wars film from the franchise, in my humble opinion anyway.
I came into Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens fully expecting to be let-down from beginning to end. I was planning on referring to its director as “Jar Jar Abrams” throughout this entire review, and probably filling a whole paragraph with the words “this sucks” over and over again. That’s how I’d been conditioned to approach new Star Wars films. That’s how we fans keep ourselves from getting burned again.
That skepticism wasn’t really necessary, and yes, you can let your guard down. Simply put, this is an absolutely incredible film, and easily one of the best in the franchise to date, one that will not be easily topped by future Star Wars films. Thank you, Disney and JJ Abrams. You’ve redeemed a great deal with this movie, and we Star Wars fans will be eternally grateful for that.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Story = 10
To play on the old reviewer’s cliché: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll fall in love with Star Wars all over again. The story is marvelous and checks every box you want to see checked.
Originality = 10
Abrams and Disney introduce incredible new characters and mechanics to the Star Wars franchise, while artfully dodging the pitfalls that ruined Episode I. Episode VII stands on its own in this franchise without being completely separate from it.
Character Development = 8
The new characters are brilliantly developed, and you feel comfortable with them almost immediately, thanks largely to the outstanding casting. I dropped two points here because we still don’t understand how or why some characters can understand BB-8, and because the main baddie from the film, Kylo Ren, is a little too emo for my liking.
Pacing = 10
The film starts out with high energy and maintains it to the very end, slowing down just enough, and at just the right moments, to let you catch your breath. Simply put, Episode VII has the very best pacing of any Star Wars film to date.
Directing = 10
Sorry, George… Episode VII is without question the best-directed film in the franchise. That’s not easy for me to say, but I’m saying it regardless.
Acting = 9
Genuinely high marks for everyone in the film, with the exception of Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren; this reflects less on Driver himself though, and more on the character and Driver’s mismatch there.
Casting = 9
Most of the casting was excellent. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie almost seem to have been born for their roles here. I dropped one point because Adam Driver’s character, Kylo Ren, would’ve probably been better-portrayed by someone else. Adam Driver is a great actor, but this character just isn’t for him.
Visuals/ Effects = 10
JJ Abrams totally nailed it. Episode VII has the perfect blend of live scenery and live-action shots infused with supportive, rather than dependent, CGI, all while bringing back the seemingly lost art form of costuming and puppetry. This is exactly what we wanted Star Wars to look like.
Audio = 9
Star Wars’ iconic orchestral soundtrack is back, with some clever, creative new music to refresh that experience. The sound effects are classic, with a few subtle winks of freshness mixed in here and there. The only upsetting part — and I’m sorry that I keep piling it on Kylo Ren here — but his masked voice is scratchy, annoying, and completely unnecessary. If it weren’t for that, we’d see another 10 here.
Wow Factor = 10
I came into this film expecting to be disappointed; not being upset when I left the theater was where I had set the bar. Episode VII laid that bar to waste and raised it to a shocking, dizzying new height. It’s rare to see a movie live up to its hype. With Episode VII, the hype somehow didn’t live up to the movie, and given how much hype this film has had, that’s saying quite a lot.