‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Spoiler-Free Review: Essential If Derivative, The Force Flows Through ‘Episode 7’

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NOTE: This article is a contribution and do not necessarily represent the views of Player One.
'Star Wars: Episode 7 The Force Awakens' has finally arrived.
'Star Wars: Episode 7 The Force Awakens' has finally arrived. Lucasfilm

Occasionally aggravating but often attuned to your needs, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is like C-3PO. As a protocol droid his friendliness is part programming, part a nervous sense of duty. He is reliable but reliably fussy, even in the face of the extraordinary. Like 3PO, The Force Awakens has your heart, even when it’s getting in your face and loudly telling you things you already know.

In pacing, The Force Awakens is relentless. Planets and plot fly by. And if the action onboard that one freighter (you’ll know the one) falls flat on its alien face soon enough you’re somewhere else. Every moment is as spare as possible. While this is often an asset, it would be impossible to call Star Wars: The Force Awakens boring; it occasionally feels too insecure to sit still for even a moment.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Spoiler-Free! Ultra Vague!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens never luxuriates. There is no lounging on the Millennium Falcon playing holochess (a quick callback will have to do), since even distant systems, lost to the civilized galaxy, can be reached by warp in a matter of seconds. There is no lore wallowing in The Force Awakens and certainly not a moment spent bogged down with politics.

For a series entry meant to refresh the Star Wars mythology it’s disappointing The Force Awakens ends with so little new information about the state of the galaxy or the Republic. Everything we learn about the The Resistance and the First Order can (and has!) fit on the side of a toy box. Still, that I wanted more, not less, is evidence enough that The Force Awakens has placed us back in the most enticing sector of the Star Wars galaxy.

But more than the planets (which feel like reskins of Tatooine, Yavin, and Hoth) or the politics, The Force Awakens invests in character and that choice pays out.

... And The Light

The new Star Wars characters are astonishingly alive. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is more dashing than a dozen Wedge Antilles. Rey (Daisy Ridley)—with her hardscrabble self-actualization—is worthy of the hero’s journey put before her. Finn (John Boyega) is reluctant and out of his element, but audacious. Together their relationship is something different and sweeter than we’ve seen in a Star Wars movie before.

The new cast slots in perfectly alongside the old, with Han Solo mucking around with the new crew on the Millennium Falcon and in familiar (too familiar) evil Empire bases. General Leia Organa feels shortchanged by comparison, largely in The Force Awakens to service an emotional arc for her and Han that could have used more heart and less plot. Too much of their emotional lives are sacrificed in service of a major development that mostly works but should have worked better.

The Dark Side...

On the opposite side of the war is the First Order, headed by Kylo Ren and General Hux under the authority of Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren isn’t quite like any Star Wars character that has come before. His temptation comes not from the Dark Side, but the Light. He is conflicted and fascinating, flying into angry rages and depressive shame. Adam Driver’s soft features are only revealed in moments of exquisite turmoil, creating in Kylo Ren a two-faced monster that complicates the moral simplicity we’ve come to expect of the series. Both Hux, who is too lickspittle, and Supreme Leader Snoke, who is too ill defined (with a design that feels more suitable to a Harry Potter or Hobbit movie), are less successful additions to the Dark Side.

But simply going through Star Wars: The Force Awakens and ticking off the credits and deficits does a disservice to what has been accomplished here. It may well be true that The Force Awakens feels like a sutured together remake of Star Wars (the one some people call A New Hope) and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, but it is more than just a retread.

There are moments in The Force Awakens worthy of the series’ peaks, including a snowbound lightsaber duel that captures the ferocious stillness that comes from two luminous beings sizing each other up. While too much of Star Wars: The Force Awakens rushes by (even the X-wing battles feel cursory), the power of its occasional quietude resonates through the experience of Episode 7, sounding in concert with our own individual intimacies with the Star Wars series.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will earn a place in your personal canon, even if too much of its charm is salvaged parts from older moments. Nevertheless, it throbs with new life. Embrace all contrivances and The Force Awakens feels essential.

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