A Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free For Your Protection

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, posterTITLE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Issaac
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 135 min
RELEASED: December 18, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, The Los Angeles Times ran article about John Williams composing the music for The Force Awakens. The famous film score composer said he felt “a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of [George] Lucas’ creation — but revivified it.”

That’s pretty much been the energy surrounding The Force Awakens as a whole. We’ve all felt it. This film represents a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. And the box office figures indicate, we’re ready to greet the day.

The plot for this movie has been delightfully shrouded in mystery from the get-go, and I see no reason to go into detail now. But here are the basics. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Near the top of their ranks is Kylo Ren, a mysterious warrior following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. But new heroes will rise, such as Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku. At her side is Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose conscious led him away from the violent First Order. This duo will fight alongside none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, heroes of the Galactic Civil War. All the while, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, searches for the one hero missing amidst the conflict: Luke Skywalker.

Rey, Finn, BB-8, Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs a life-long Star Wars fan, I can indeed confirm that The Force Awakens is good. But it’s a different kind of Star Wars movie. Not drastically so, but Star Wars die-hards may notice. Certain portions have dimmer lighting, which leads to a darker vibe. There’s also a little more blood than we’re used to seeing from Star Wars. It’s still a scarce amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable. I attribute this to the absence of George Lucas, who wasn’t there to micromanage things in his own…ehem…unique way.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m a George Lucas fan. But if The Force Awakens proves anything, it’s that Star Wars needed to get away from him. The man who wrote and directed the prequels could not have created a movie like this. This movie gives us new heroes we can invest in and care about. While it doesn’t shy away from nostalgiac winks here and there, it doesn’t need to be propped up by original trilogy elements the way the prequels did. It’s a thrill ride very much worthy of the Star Wars legacy.

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe original trilogy character we spend the most time with is Han Solo, who is as charming and witty as ever. Harrison Ford essentially gives us exactly what we wanted to see from that character. He’s not necessarily the same daring rogue. But he’s still Han Solo. We also see a good amount of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. It’s especially cathartic to see her in the role again. It’s such an iconic character, and she deserved that renewed spotlight. As for Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker…that would be a spoiler.

Most of the new characters we meet are intriguing. But for my money, none are more interesting than Kylo Ren. It’s encouraging that he’s not simply a Darth Vader clone. He’s very much his own man, with his own demons. Some may argue that makes him less threatening than Vader, or other Star Wars villains. But without saying too much, there’s a level of instability there that should make for an entertaining journey.

Captain Phasma, Star Wars: The Force AwakensA fair complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s simply the original Star Wars film done over again. The similarities are undeniable. We have our hero on a desert planet who gets a call-to-action from a droid, and is quickly swept into a galactic war against a Nazi-like organization with a base that has the power to destroy planets. Sound familiar? At one point, they even do a side-by-side comparison of Starkiller Base and the Death Star. The inside of the base is also clearly modeled after the Death Star!

Given what we’d seen from our most recent Star Wars movies, I’d argue a throwback isn’t the worst thing in the world. This movie gives people the Star Wars they want to see. Good and evil, the Rebellion and the Empire, Jedi and Sith. Some of the names have changed, but at their core, they’re the same. As a bonus, we even get to see some of the faces we fell in love with from the original trilogy.

131416_ori The Force Awakens is designed to jump-start the Star Wars franchise, getting us to remember what we loved about the originals while introducing new faces to carry the brand into the future. It accomplishes that goal, easily giving us the best installment in the series since Return of the Jedi. Lingering questions do remain, but I expect they’ll be resolved in future films. It’s fun to watch The Force Awakens, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from Star Wars in recent years, it’s that sense of fun and adventure. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and everybody else involved with this movie deserve credit for living up to the hype, and restoring something that was lost.

So rejoice Jedi, wookies, droids, and even you damn gungans! Star Wars is fun again!

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.

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A Star Wars #1 Review – A Bittersweet Beginning

Star Wars #1 (January 2015)TITLE: Star Wars #1
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: John Cassaday
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: January 14, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Seeing the Star Wars comic book license go back to Marvel was extremely bittersweet for yours truly. Dark Horse had more than done right by everybody’s favorite galaxy far, far away. Particularly in the last year and a half or so, when Brian Wood was penning a title simply called Star Wars, something of a throwback series featuring the classic characters we all know and love. It was the same thing, in essence, that this book is doing.

But while Marvel has no shortage of A-list creators at its disposal, and is undoubtedly capable of providing us quality books, the company’s first crack at Star Wars in the 21st century leaves something to be desired in the realm of depth and logic.

Star Wars #1 brings Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 to the Empire’s largest weapons factory, with the intent to infiltrate and destroy. But little to they know that Darth Vader himself is very near, and he’ll soon come face-to-face with the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star….

Star Wars #1, John CassadayOn paper, it’s a simple but effective way to kick off a Star Wars series. Stick all your main characters in the middle of an Imperial hotspot, and have them fight their way out. Just like they did on the Death Star, just like the did at Cloud City, just like they did on Endor, etc. Using this formula definitely helps capture the classic Star Wars feel they’re looking for.

Another crucial element in this respect is the issue’s four-page replication of the Star Wars opening title crawl. We’ve got a page dedicated entirely to “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” a two-page spread of the big Star Wars flash, and on the fourth page the issue gets its own title crawl. Then, in typical Star Wars movie fashion, we go to empty space, and a ship flies into frame. If you’re a Star Wars geek, they’ve easily got you at this point. And low and behold the first hero we see is Han Solo, doing his witty Han Solo stuff!

Star Wars #1, John Cassaday, Han SoloBut the biggest selling point of this issue by far is seeing John Cassaday draw Star Wars stuff. I once read his artistic style described as “instantly iconic,” and that’s certainly the case here. He’s got a great handle on the likenesses of ‘70s Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. His Mark Hamill isn’t perfect, but that’s forgivable. Hell, the man’s face literally changed between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. And unlike other artists who’ve done these characters, Cassaday’s take on the Darth Vader death mask and C-3PO’s ever-distinguishable headcover remain frozen and consistent throughout the issue. Elements from all three classic films are incorporated into this issue, and if I were a betting man, I’d say Cassaday had fun with this one.

All this said, this issue lacks a lot of the depth and heart that made Brian Wood’s stuff so good. It relies on spectacle over substance. Case in point, Luke’s use of the lightsaber. Yes, we all love lightsabers, but I’m a firm subscriber to the Harry S. Plinkett philosophy on their overuse, and how they can sometimes be a sign of lazy or bad writing.

In Star Wars #1 we see Luke use the lightsaber to fight off a guy with a laser-whip weapon. Shortly after cheaply paraphrasing a line from A New Hope, an off-panel fight ensues, during which all we see is the lightsaber swinging for two panels. A splash page of Luke soon follows, the ignited weapon in his hand. We also see Vader use his lightsaber later, though only for an instant.

Star Wars #1, 2015, Luke SkywalkerThis is where I get a bit nitpicky: How proficient was Luke with the lightsaber at this point? It’s heavily implied that this issue takes place shortly after the Death Star was destroyed. So Luke’s knowledge about his heritage and the Jedi ways, much less this new weapon (which he didn’t even use in A New Hope) are still rather limited. And yet he’s able to dispose of this guard pretty quickly.

My proposed solution? Give us a little more action by extending this scene a page. Have this guard with the whip get the better of Luke at first. But in the end, he perseveres and wins. This gives our young hero a small victory, and we also get a sense that he’s grown a bit in experience, but is still nowhere near where he wants to be.

An extra page for the scene with Luke might have eliminated the completely contrived and ridiculous one in which we see Leia question Han’s motivation for helping the rebels. In the middle of the Empire’s largest weapons factory, on a mission that’s rather time-sensitive, Leia stops to thank Han for his contribution, and ask him why he’d publicly associate himself with the Rebel Alliance. She literally asks: “What is it you really want, Han Solo?” At this point, even Han himself says: “Maybe now’s not really the best time…”

Star Wars, John Cassaday, Falcon, C-3POAlso, why is Leia even on this mission? Why is one of the Rebellions’ top leaders being sent into the middle of enemy territory? Hell, they don’t even keep her in the Millennium Falcon with Threepio. She’s directly in the line of fire. From a creative standpoint, it’s obviously so we can have our three main heroes together. But logistically, it makes no sense.

At the very least, Star Wars #1 is pretty. But it’s also frustrating. Look, we all love that classic Star Wars stuff. Darth Vader, lightsabers, the big title crawl, etc. But imagery from the classic trilogy can’t be the only thing your issue has going for it, or it’ll fall flat. Especially considering this is the first Star Wars issue Marvel has published in decades!

C’mon, guys. You can do better than this.

Image 1 from popmatters.com. Image 2 from littlestuffedbull.com. Image 3 from blacknerdproblems.com. Image 4 from starwars.com.