“These are your first steps…” Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi whispered during his audio-cameo, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while fantastically well done, is anything but first steps for the Star Wars franchise itself. Released on December 18th, 2015, The Force Awakens (Episode VII), directed by J. J. Abrams, opened to critical acclaim and billions of dollars, but what exactly drove its success?
The film introduces a new trio of protagonists in the forms of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). The new heroes are extremely likable, which makes the transition from the original trilogy’s Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) feel rather natural, possibly the best aspect to come out of The Force Awakens and easily its main goal. Creating beloved characters is a difficult task, especially when “replacing” already established ones, but The Force Awakens manages to pull it off by using Harrison Ford as iconic Han Solo in a “passing of the torch” role.
Also introduced is the franchise’s newest villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While the protagonists benefit from being crafted in ways similar to past characters, the latest addition to the Dark Side suffers from trying to emulate the same menacing presence as Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), one of the greatest film villains of all time. Instead, audiences are left with a watered down version of the deceased Sith Lord. The film acknowledges this aspect of Kylo Ren, but going forward, hopefully the upcoming installments will focus on the original qualities his character possesses, although the word “original” is used carefully.
While succeeding in introducing viewers, old and new alike, to all of these fresh faces, The Force Awakens truly does lack originality, its greatest flaw. The film is extremely enjoyable, especially for longtime fans craving the vintage Star Wars vibe, but nostalgia can only carry a franchise so far. Episode VII is basically a retelling of the original Star Wars film, now subtitled A New Hope. All four of the new characters parallel the classic roles, while Han Solo takes on the part of mentor from Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. Even the new droid character, BB-8, while effortlessly cute, is just a new take on R2-D2. The film’s entire plot is a rehash of Star Wars‘ original tale:
Rebels Resistance soldiers must destroy a giant war machine known as the Death Star Starkiller Base, a scenario that has now been used three times in half of the franchise’s films. Again, The Force Awakens acknowledges this, and it makes for a humorous beat, but that doesn’t change the fact that fans are probably ready for a new story line.
“The garbage’ll do!” Rey exclaimed, officially endorsing the Millennium Falcon as her ride off of the desert world Jakku, thus beginning her journey in the Star Wars saga. This moment is very metaphorical, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given how self aware The Force Awakens is. It’s because the film is so self aware that it works. Episode VII could have easily turned into a muddled mess of “been there, done that,” but its charming nostalgia and dedication to creating memorable new characters saved it completely. Its main goal was obviously to set up the groundwork for future installments, and to do so, J. J. Abrams used what made Star Wars great in the past to propel it forward. The Millennium Falcon may be “garbage,” but it did make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, and it proves to still be a hit with modern audiences.
Carroll Community College’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) showed The Force Awakens as part of their free film series. To read more about CAB’s movie nights and showtimes, please read here.