“Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Episode VII” Review: Evil Always Returns Ahead of The Force

Star_Wars_-_The_Force_Awakens_cast_by_Gage_Skidmore
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

You’ve probably read at least 100 reviews of “The Force Awakens” by the time you read this or discover it squeezed in with other critiques on Google. Back when I wrote film reviews more often, I always attempted to bring something different with an analysis of the audience along with the movie. For “The Force Awakens”, it’s worth the same attempt, though with one caveat: my showing of “The Force Awakens” wasn’t filled with overly excited uberfans dressed in old “Star Wars” cosplay from their dusty closets.

While there were no major surprises in the audience, “The Force Awakens” arguably has one of the most compelling and insightful plot elements of any film this year: A reminder of how evil regimes always return.

Examining our world as it is now, we already see how evil continues rearing its demonic head, sometimes sooner or more intensely than we ever thought possible. The trouble is, not everyone can foresee or acknowledge evil returning. Examples of this in the real world are arguable and enter the controversial realms of recent politics and specific candidates.

In the category of terrorism, we see evil regimes turn up about every decade to 20 years. Each one ultimately gets vanquished, yet it seems we never learn enough lessons to keep it from occurring again.

It’s this dynamic that makes “The Force Awakens” doubly powerful outside its smashingly successful attempt to revive a pop culture behemoth. It’s not hyperbole to say director J.J. Abrams pulled off an out-and-out miracle in making this film have a solidly believable connection with the original trilogy without feeling too far removed.

Catching Up on 32 Years

With The First Order being depicted in the film as more nefarious than the previous Galactic Empire, we see a glaring analogy to terrorist groups we’re trying to eradicate now. We also see how previous heroes who helped destroy prior regimes frequently become mired in myth to a point of frustrating distortion.

In the first quarter of “The Force Awakens”, we see a big idea develop that brings more truth to our real world than any other sci-fi product. In this case, the myth is Luke Skywalker who becomes a former war hero elevated to lofty status. He’s gone missing since the days following “Return of the Jedi”, and nobody knows where he is.

The problem: The First Order is slowly gaining more power over the Republic, now led by General Leia Organa, again played by a regal-looking Carrie Fisher. The Resistance is equivalent to our real-world Homeland Security and only proves its power when in battle action. Fortunately, the Resistance has X-wing fighter pilots with skills even the most decorated U.S. Air Force pilot would genuflect to.

Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is the new roguish equivalent to Han Solo here, and he possesses a map containing information on Luke’s whereabouts. When The First Order tracks Poe down on the planet Jakku to obtain the map, Poe places the map data inside the droid BB-8. The latter is the ubiquitously popular ball-shaped robot that hasn’t yet been made into a cheese ball for further marketing purposes in our world.

Admittedly, BB-8 is cute, fun, and almost overshadows R2D2, but we soon enter the world of the mysterious Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. All the accolades you’ve heard about Ridley’s performance aren’t overwrought. There seems to be a true magic that emanates from unknowns on the big screen, perhaps out of feelings of doing or dying when trying to deliver in the biggest movie franchise of all time.

And, yes, Ridley really does deliver while finally paving a stronger path toward more complex women in lead roles. The same goes to John Boyega playing Finn, a Stormtrooper from The First Order who becomes a conscientious defector. After an escape with Poe above, Finn links up with Rey on Jakku. This leads to the revival of one particularly noteworthy starship you’ll love seeing hitting the skies after sitting idle for 30 years.

Then there’s an entrance stage left: Han Solo and his never-aging sidekick, Chewbacca. If you see “The Force Awakens” in 3D, you’ll get a kick out of seeing the Millennium Falcon’s familiar cockpit again and feeling as if you’re in the passenger seat. All of the expected and perfectly-executed space battle scenes work fantastically in 3D, despite Real D still having troubles with images looking slightly too dark.

At this point in the film, the surprises and unexpected connections start unfurling into a long list of spoilers if revealed. The most interesting non-spoiler revelation here is the psychological study of The First Order’s Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver in one of his best roles to date.

Ren has parallels to tragic Shakespearean characters as a powerful allegory for real-world Millennials and their current ethical struggles. Once his metallized mask comes off, we get a chance to see Driver create one of the most psychologically complex villains in recent memory. His problem is he’s torn between fear and evil, with the latter emotion failingly nurtured by Supreme Leader Snoke.

Snoke is another mysterious (giant) character played through motion-capture by Andy Serkis. Motion-capture has finally taken a flying leap forward, particularly with Lupita Nyong’o and her expressive alien character, Maz Kanata. Maz has lived long enough to throw hints toward many of the mysteriously lost familial connections in the film.

These connections make up the key elements of “The Force Awakens”, and each one were once part of a long slate of rumors.

The Rumors Are True; All of Them

With the above subtitle a play on words for an already popular line Han Solo utters to Rey and Finn about the myth and truth of the Jedi, it’s also a bit meta for many of the film’s longstanding plot rumors. All those plot rumors you’ve heard about are definitely true without any explanation necessary. The only one you can write off is the notion of Luke turning evil, which isn’t fully addressed anyway.

Some may look at the adherence to a few old rumors as a major weakness in “The Force Awakens”, yet it doesn’t lessen the impact. One particularly notable death in the film doesn’t necessarily mean things will stay that way in future episodes. Another rumor you’ve heard about related to Rey is only hinted at and leaves open a lot of questions for the next installment.

Then you have the biggest rumor of all: Where is Luke Skywalker in all of this? He’s definitely there, but you’ll be slightly staggered at how brief his scene is. Nevertheless, the impact of his appearance is one guaranteed to give you chills if you grew up seeing the original trilogy in movie theaters. The beautiful setting of his appearance only adds to the majesty and mystery, enhanced further with John Williams’s new earworm worthy themes.

The Audience

The city where I live used to have a huge “Star Wars” fanbase, yet it seems some of them disappeared. Ticket availability on Fandango for “The Force Awakens” in my hometown was wide open for weeks. Even so, going on a Friday afternoon next to a major mall during the peak of holiday shopping season only gave me visions of sheer chaos.

When arriving, there wasn’t a single person in line at the box office. While the theater had four screens showing “The Force Awakens”, my showing only had 30 people attending at most. Attendees avoided wearing cosplay, and nearly everyone stayed fairly subdued. Whether that’s a sign of the times is up for debate, though there was still an interesting mix of demographics.

Only a quarter of the crowd looked old enough to remember seeing the original “Star Wars” trilogy. The majority were definitely Millennials who only grew up seeing the original trilogy on DVD or endless cable TV plays. They were just as quiet as the older crowd, and no one did much reacting to the film’s breathtaking plot revelations.

Much of this gives me the impression that some audiences find far too many sobering parallels in “Star Wars” to our real world. After construction of a new “Starkiller Base”, the Dark Side in “The Force Awakens” is still strong enough to continue into Episode VIII. All told, there could easily be many more trilogies in the “Star Wars” universe where you’d see the Dark Side continue to return over and over.

If you’re finding real meaning in this new incarnation of “Star Wars”, it’s this: Evil will likely keep on returning in our world as a test of our wills with new lessons learned along the way. Hopefully each vanquishing won’t be forgotten and turned into myth much like Luke Skywalker has in “The Force Awakens” universe.

Total Score: Nine Out of Ten Stars