Why The Force Awakens is the film we deserved (Spoiler-Free)

 

This wouldn’t be a fair article if I didn’t get something off my chest first…

I really liked The Force Awakens, but I didn’t love it. There I said it.

I wasn’t in the aisles crying my eyes out and I wasn’t swooned with nostalgia.  However, I’am still a fan boy and it did give me great pleasure to see a franchise that was misguided for several movies come back to life in a rousing way.

I know the internet has made numerous efforts to point out their frustrations with the prequel trilogy, but this article isn’t about that. It’s about how The Force Awakens has not only renewed our faith in Star Wars, but has given us hope for a new trilogy that will entertain us for decades to come.

Let’s start with the casting shall we?

1. The New Faces of the Force

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The moment the casting was announced, I knew we were in for something special.  A lot of people have forgotten this but in the early days of the casting, EVERYONE in Hollywood was auditioning for The Force Awakens.  Actors ranging from Michael B. Jordan to Cholë Grace Moretz were all going for Star Wars gold.

I was really hoping they would choose some fresh blood but it looked like all hope for that was lost…

Until April 2014!

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When they announced that John Boyega was cast as the lead along with Oscar Issac, Domhall Gleeson, and newcomer Daisy Ridely, I let out a huge sigh of relief.  Not only did JJ Abrams cast fresh faces, he reeled in great actors.

There’s nothing wrong with casting well known actors, but part of the joy of the original trilogy was seeing people we had hardly seen before play the now iconic roles.  I think some of that magic would’ve been lost if we had Jennifer Lawrence as Rey or something.

Thankfully, this casting came with an added bonus…

2. The best acting in any Star Wars film. Period.

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There’s a moment in the film when Finn sees Rey for the first time and I could feel all that attraction and wonder off the screen.  It was the first time in the whole entire saga that I felt a character had a unique, genuine emotion other than yelling or crying.

That’s a testament to good acting.

John Boyega and Daisy Ridley will be stars after this. I guarantee it. They both brought a level of humanity and humor to the roles that seemed organic and best of all, engaging.

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JJ Abrams has been known for copying a lot of Spielberg’s directing style, such as separated parents and misunderstood geniuses, but I think it was a wise choice he borrowed, “The Spielberg Look of Wonder”.

The Spielberg Look of Wonder is when a character is confronted with something so enticing and out of the realm of possibilities, all they can do is stare and feel like anything could in fact be possible.  Whether it’s Finn seeing Rey for the first time, or Poe Dameron being confronted in the beginning of the film, the hands of Spielberg are ever present.

Daisy Ridley wins the acting crown though,  because she’s given the most to do and better yet, succeeds and then some, at delivering everything that’s given to her.

Although there were some things I didn’t care for during her arc, she sold it with gusto and I honestly can’t wait to see what she does next.

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I almost don’t want to mention Oscar Issac’s turn as Poe Dameron because of his comments about how Star Wars didn’t challenge him in the acting department, but I have to mention him because he’s really good here.

He’s charming, confident, and best of all, essential to the film.  By a lesser actor, I could easily see this character fading into the background. Thankfully in Issac’s hands, this is a character worth rooting for.

On the villain side, the acting is a mixed bag to say the least.  I don’t want to get into that because I feel like I will spoil the film for others and that’s not what I want to do.

Thankfully I can talk about how wonderful Harrison Ford is as Han Solo.

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Hello Old Friend“, is what I said the moment Ford took the screen. There’s something instantly magical about Ford’s presence in the film and no it isn’t because he’s back as Han Solo.

Ford is undoubtedly a better actor than he was since Return of the Jedi and better yet, he’s happy to be in the film.  Each line and each nuance on his face is the product of someone that cares about what’s happening.

Bravo Mr. Ford.

3. JJ Abrams didn’t fail the audience

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The biggest enemy George Lucas faced with his prequel trilogy wasn’t Hollywood, it was his audience.

After two horribly received entries he finally did some fan service (to his dismay) with Revenge of the Sith and critics and audiences ate it up.

Sadly it was too little too late.  Years passed and the hate for the prequel trilogy only grew and fans wanted something that wasn’t going to disappoint them.

Enter JJ Abrams: Star Wars nerd. He was offered a chance to direct The Force Awakens early on and he wisely passed.  It’s an enticing offer but JJ knew what lied ahead if he failed his audience…chaos.

Which to my surprise, a couple months later he took the offer and went full steam ahead.  I feared for him.  He had less than two years to make not only a good film, but to right the wrongs Lucas had done. No offense Lucas.

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Everything in this shot is real. The X-Wing, The Millennium Falcon set, The numerous people walking around. This is the real deal.

The first thing I noticed about JJ’s commitment to making this film work, was his instance on practical sets.  I know that might not seem like much to the average moviegoer, but in terms of Star Wars, it meant quite a bit.

There was always something very phony about the prequel trilogy and the fact that The Force Awakens felt very inhabited, rustic, and best of all, just like the old saga, made it even more entertaining.

JJ has always had a good eye for casting and this film was no exception.  I loved that he took a chance on Daisy Ridley and an even bigger one on John Boyega.  He knew what would work best for his story and didn’t let the temptation into casting well known actors soil his new characters.

Fan service has always been a thing Star Wars fans have loved and JJ gave us what we wanted and more.

The way he introduced the Millennium Falcon and characters from the old trilogy, were a thing of giddiness. I wasn’t as ecstatic as the people around me, but I was happy to see everything come into place.

His overall script with Lawrence Kasdan was not perfect though, but he did a great job setting up new heroes and villains, new planets, and best of all, setting up a new story.  Thank you JJ.

4. The Cinematography was out of this world. (Sorry for the pun)

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Audiences like a pretty film.  It’s a known fact.

Although the Star Wars films have always had pretty images and memorable sets, I wouldn’t say they were filmed with much sophistication. Enter in Director of Photography: Dan Mindel.

I’ve never been a huge fan of his work, especially his over grainy lensing on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I really dug what him and JJ came up with here.

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The wide shots are a thing of beauty and reminded me of a John Ford western.  They are framed in such a way that it’s cluttered yet so vast and interesting.   The over indulgence on lens flares was also missing here thank god.  There’s nothing wrong with the JJ lens flares, but he admitted over did them in Star Trek Into Darkness and I couldn’t agree more.

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Even when the CGI took center stage in some shots, he was very much in control of the picture.  The shot of Kylo Ren using his force is a wonderful zoom in/close up, that instantly grabs you and puts you on the edge.

Wonderful work here.

5. The action was epic in all the right ways

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Although I’m a huge fan of lightsabers, (I still make the lightsaber sounds when  I pretend sword fight), I was glad to see them take a back seat this time around.

Most of the action in The Force Awakens deals with X-Wing and Tie Fighter dogfights and Finn using a lightsaber without knowing how to use one.  The latter adds some fun comic relief and reminds you of how you would fare in a lightsaber battle.

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The Millennium Falcon action scenes are nostalgic in the best sense of the word.  It reminded me of all the fun scenes in Empire Strikes Back and felt like it had an identity of it’s own. I wasn’t jumping for joy, but I was happy to see it happen.

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The best thing about the action scenes though was that there was a sense of urgency.

Every time there had to be a battle or confrontation, there was  the feeling of “I got a bad feeling about this” and BOOM the action came at you like a hurricane.  Rey in particular had quite a few action scenes but that’s all I can say without spoiling things.

6. The Characters were lovable, emotional, and worth rooting for

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I’ll be honest…I was afraid I was going to hate BB-8.  I didn’t think he was going to be as annoying as Jar Jar Binks or anything, but I felt like it would come off as a rip off of R2D2 and not much else.

Thankfully I was wrong, yet again.  BB-8 was cute and essential to the plot at hand and made me chuckle quite a few times. I’m on board with it being in more movies. Just no spin-offs.

As I’ve mentioned before, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley really did wonderful jobs with their characters, but I want to talk about why they worked so well for the movie and the auidience.

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They are very relatable and unlike the whininess of Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, these are characters filled with passion and goals.  Finn wants a life that’s his own and Rey wants to be reunited with people from her past.  You feel for them and you want them to be happy.

Poe Dameron isn’t given much depth in the character department but he’s cool and Oscar Issac plays him as such and that’s all that’s needed. Also he says the first joke of the film and it’s hilarious.

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Han and Chewie are as excellent as ever and they are put through the ringer on this one.  You see what they’re up to and you see them in danger like we’ve never seen before.  It’s emotional and funny and that’s all I can say without adding spoilers.

Seriously, go see this movie.  It’s not perfect but it does have a lot of things we fans want and more. It’s emotional, funny, action-packed, beautifully filmed, and directed with confidence.

May the force be with you.

 

 

 

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