Movie Review/My Culture/Teen Culture

Catholic Movie Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

PG-13

MPAA Rating

Life Teen Rating

Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking

Fans of the franchise will no doubt be well-versed in not only the backstory in the films themselves but also the “behind the scenes drama,” as it were. For the uninitiated, though, I offer this brief primer: George Lucas made three brilliant Star Wars movies thirty years ago. Around a decade ago, there was a lackluster effort to make three “prequels” to the Star Wars movies which essentially resulted in clunky CGI saturated B movies and the existence of Jar Jar Binks. With me so far? Great! Now, fast forward to the most recent three years wherein Disney came charging in, bought the rights, sent George Lucas a nice fat check and a gift basket, and hired J.J. Abrams to finally continue the story for the legions of rabid fans the world over who were never quite ready for the fairytale to end. In case the internet explosion hasn’t already made it glaringly obvious to you, THIS MOVIE is “the droid you are looking for.”

SPOILER-FREE Review Ahead

The Empire has been defeated and the Galaxy is left in relative peace until a new threat, the First Order, arises. The Resistance, now led by General Leia, must hold strong against the Order and find the missing Jedi Master if they have any hope of training future Jedi to fight on their side. Unexpected heroes in the form of a turncoat Stormtrooper and a space trash scavenger arrive on the scene and now it’s a race to get to Skywalker.

Director J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness) has teamed up with Walt Disney pictures and a titanic level budget to revive the Star Wars franchise and infuse it with a shot of contemporary relevance. Lovingly crafted, The Force Awakens is both a love letter to the loyal fandom and a bridge into the exciting future of everyone’s favorite galaxy. All of the things that made the original three films so loveable—the witty banter, the loyal droids, the world building—are present in this film and, much as Han remarks to Chewie at one point in the film, it does indeed feel as though we’re all finally home. Eschewing the sterile, cartoonish CGI efforts of the prequels, The Force Awakens instead relies on the beautiful artistry of well-crafted models, sets, and practical effects whenever possible to recapture the familiar tone that we all know, love, and had missed.

Another interesting thing to note in this film is that “the Dark Side” has a slightly different twist. Whereas before we had a giant ship called the Death Star that was essentially a huge weapon of destruction, there is much more of a subtle ‘cult full of bright-eyed acolytes full of righteous hate’ vibe. They also intend to retrofit an entire planet for their needs rather than merely a single vessel. This leaves the door wide open for some really intriguing story ideas in the future.

The film opens on a panorama shot of a vast ravaged planet onto which the entirety of the film is built, scene by scene. What an awesome illustration of the franchise itself, for surely The Force Awakens is the strong foundation onto which the future of this tale can and will continue to build. Seriously, I think they should have called this one “A New Hope” because that’s definitely the way it feels. Pacing is excellent throughout and it felt exciting without being rushed. Much of that is no doubt aided by the score of the incomparable John Williams who has never written a bad note. Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are thoroughly enjoyable to watch and the dynamics of their partnership will feel very familiar to long-time fans and will definitely remind you of another film duo. Their partnership is well written and acted and even better, it’s not needlessly sexualized as so often happens in Hollywood when two attractive folks work together. That’s not to say these two don’t have some wonderful on-screen chemistry, though. I’ll freely admit to you that I ‘ship it. I ‘ship it hard. Despite how wonderful both Boyega and Ridley are, however, for me, it was Oscar Isaac in the role of Poe who was the acting powerhouse of this piece.

If I had one major complaint about this film, it would be the character of Supreme Leader Snoke. His name makes him sound like a cartoon villain from an 80s Saturday morning show and it’s hard to take him very seriously. None of that seems to matter in the grand scheme, though, because we the viewers have zero problems lumping him into the generic “bad guy” category where he needs to be so that we can get back to enjoying our soaring TIE fighter dogfights and light sabre battles while we root for the good guys. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Han Solo and it gave me all of the feels to see him sharing screen time with Carrie Fisher as General Leia. Fans are given just enough backstory through dialogue to piece together what has happened to our favorite couple over the last three decades. Mark Hamill also reprises his role as Luke, for what it’s worth.

What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie

It is absolutely the Good vs. Evil story which we’ve grown to expect from Star Wars. There are some great additional messages, though. For example, Finn is a Stormtrooper. He is programmed to be one thing: a mindless killer. It’s when he decides to exercise his free will and think for himself that he becomes a whole person and his real journey begins. This is a wonderful example of how one’s upbringing, familial expectations, or current situation need not define his entire life. Moreover, the Force and the teachings of the Jedi have always been an unapologetic allusion to spirituality and God. There’s a great moment where Han is talking to Ren and Finn and tells them “The Force, the Jedi, it’s all true.”

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie

This film is EXTREMELY family-friendly. There is almost no foul language to speak of and absolutely no inappropriate sexual content. The film is lengthy, though, at over two hours and some of the fighting scenes might be scary for younger viewers because of flashing and loud noise.

That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments

OMGOSH, GENERAL Leia. GENERAL. GENERAL!!! I want to stand up and FIST PUMP. GENERAL LEIA.

Never have been a big fan of Mark Hamill, not sad that he’s not in this movie more.

I probably need to buy a BB-8. But I definitely need a General Leia shirt more.

This movie is a total set-up for the next one and I am entirely okay with that, but it’s also the reason for only four stars instead of five. It’s more an homage and a stepping stone than a stand-alone film.

This is the kind of movie that reminds me why I love movies so much.

About the Author

Jessica Salmans
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