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By Adam Cutrone
“There’s been an awakening, have you felt it?”
This reviewer certainly did, alongside millions that were in attendance worldwide for the massively anticipated blockbuster behemoth, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. It’s one thing to be able to meet the extraordinary expectations of a notoriously fickle fan base, but this film truly earns the respect and heartfelt praise of the most hardened of Jedi’s warriors. Despite the blitzkrieg of marketing, advertising and merchandising, JJ Abrams’ “Star Wars” manages to fire through any and all franchise fatigue and launch us all back to 1977.
The iconic fanfare of John Williams Star Wars theme erupts as its bright yellow namesake appears over a bed of stars and a 400 capacity theater bursts with pure exuberance. From its very first moments, the film is so satisfyingly gripping, all due in part to its genuine sense of risk and danger and its pursuit of hope. Long gone are the storm troopers of yesteryear who are curiously incapable of shooting the broadside of a barn while standing six feet in front of it. Not only are the villains of “Force Awakens” dangerous, but they’re people. Real people with hopes, fears, aspirations and deadly skill.
There is no mistaking that this film just feels like a Star Wars movie purely by design. Abrams famously rejected the input of tumultuous Star Wars creator George Lucas in favor of a partnership with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, whom you viewers may know from a few projects he wrote including The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to name a few. The characters of this world are unique, complicated, imperfect and more often than not, surprisingly witty. In a world where villains are so purely menacing and unpredictable, it’s in its heroes that viewers can be grounded in a perfectly distilled sense of hope and camaraderie that only Star Wars can provide.
One of the most difficult aspects of reinvigorating a franchise as beloved and revered as the original Star Wars and its cast of characters is to introduce totally new ones. Taking a note from the very first trilogy of films in the late 70s, the weight of Abrams’ epic rests firmly and comfortably upon the shoulders of an almost entirely unknown cast of remarkably talented young actors and actresses. Abrams very consciously selected a cast that would leave as much Hollywood baggage at the door as possible. For instance, Tom Cruise is fantastic in the 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow”. However, regardless of how strong his performance may be, viewers rarely lose sight of the fact that they’re watching Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”. So without the familiarity and safety that comes along with Hollywood’s finest, what we are left with is a film made purely by its characters, not actors playing those characters.
It’s in that youthful energy and refreshing diversity that Abrams’ “Force Awakens” shines brightest. Standout performances by the colorful ensemble include (and are in no way limited to); John Boyega’s infectious wit and earnestness; Daisy Ridley’s strength of will, athletic presence and warm vulnerability; Oscar Isaac’s perfect hair and impossible charm; Domhnall Gleeson’s scathing and venomous authority and without a doubt Adam Driver’s masterful performance of the film’s main villain, Kylo Ren, is absolutely incendiary. Behind a thick black mask, distorted voice and heavy cloak for much of the film, Driver’s sheer physicality and dynamism excites and compels for every second he’s on screen.
It must also be noted that as Han Solo, Harrison Ford excels in every aspect that you’d hope he would. It’s a testament to the ability of the affable scoundrel in the sincerity that’s Ford is able to pick up right where he left off 32 years ago, bickering with his smart-mouth fur-ball, Chewie, and fighting for the affection of now General Leia. It’s in Ford’s undeniable magnetism that our camaraderie with newer characters is forged and validated.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is enormous in scope while remaining incredible intimate and heartfelt, never pandering and always exciting. In a film that could have crashed and burned in a million different ways over the course of its three year production schedule, it is an extraordinary feat to be able to succeed on such a unanimous level. Its two hour and sixteen minute run time will be gone in a flash and leave you anxiously awaiting your next journey to a galaxy far, far away.