Cary, NC — The Force Awakens is the long-awaited continuation of the original trilogy that changed everything almost 40 years ago. Episode VII doesn’t quite reach the levels of those original and beloved films, but, thanks to incredible new characters and a few old friends, I can safely say that Star Wars is back and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
New Characters Are Exciting & Memorable
The main reason The Force Awakens succeeds as well as it does is because of the new characters who are introduced. All of our favorite crew is back in some way or another, but this new cast is intended to carry the franchise on for another generation, and they really couldn’t have found better actors. First, we’re introduced to Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac.
Poe is an ace pilot working for the resistance under the leadership of General Leia. Unfortunately, Poe doesn’t have a lot of screen time (something that will surely be made up in the sequels), but Isaac makes the most of every second he has. Poe is so likable and so good that you can’t help but instantly root for him.
Isaac has been on the verge of super-stardom for years now with incredible performances in the Coen Bros’ Inside Llewyn Davis and this year’s under-seen Sci-Fi drama Ex-Machina. But Poe Dameron is a character for the ages, and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of him.
Next, we have Finn, played by John Boyega. Finn has a great backstory that I won’t get into here, even though it’s not too much of a spoiler. Suffice to say, Finn has quite the hero’s journey, learning to find courage in himself and to fight for what’s right. Together, Finn and Poe have a lot of great moments together. And, again, he’s just a character that you root for.
Boyega brings a lot of humor to the role, but his chemistry with Poe and Rey (more on her next) helps turn these characters into people you care about. Every action scene when this group gets separated or hurt, you feel it, and that in turn makes the stakes much bigger.
Now, my absolute two favorite characters in the movie represent each side of the force. First, we have Rey, played by newcomer Daisy Ridley. Ridley is incredible. Rey is the strongest character in the film in every sense. She befriends Finn early on, and there are numerous times when they get into trouble and Finn scrambles to try and save her only to have Rey save him every time.
Ridley has amazing chemistry with Boyega, and their friendship is one of the centerpieces of the movie. Rey has been searching for her family almost her entire life, and the revelation that she may have found another in her friends is fantastic. This movie is all about the characters – they are real and likable, and the movie soars because of it.
Fantastic New Villain
But, the best new introduction is the film’s big bad Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver (Girls, Inside Llewyn Davis). Ren is emulating Darth Varder in every way he can, even down to a recognizable wardrobe. But Vader he is not, as Vader was ice cold and calculating and as his every action thought through. Kylo, on the other hand, is red hot and emotional, throwing full-blown tantrums when things go awry. He’s easily the most fascinating character in the movie, though to truly tell you why would ruin the fun.
He has great conflict with a few major characters, and even gets to take part in one of the best and most emotional light-saber duels in the franchise. Just fantastic.
Great to See Old Friends
As for the returning cast members, well, they’re great of course! Ford gets the most screen time as Han Solo, and he slips right back into the part as if no time had passed at all. His interactions with Chewbacca are just as wonderful (and sometimes emotional) as they ever were.
Carrie Fisher probably gets the short end of the stick here. She also fits right back into character, but her scenes are mostly expositional, and she never gets a chance to do much. Though I can’t deny how amazing it was to see her and Ford together again. Hopefully she’ll have more to do in the sequels. And Mark Hamill as Luke? Well, the less said the better.
This vaguely leads to my last talking point. Episode VII is a great entry and feels like a complete story thanks to its characters and their arcs, but this is the seventh entry in a 40 year-old franchise that has always been about long form storytelling.
So, there are, of course, questions yet to be answered, mysteries yet to be solved and characters whose fates are uncertain. But that’s part of the ride. And, thanks to the groundwork laid here, I have no doubt that Episode VIII will be a doozy!
So is The Force Awakens worth seeing in theaters? YES. See it big, see it with a crowd. Let yourself be taken back to a galaxy far, far away!