I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS | 135 min | PG-13
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis and Mark Hamill
The seventh installment in the franchise, THE FORCE AWAKENS, is set 30 years following the Battle of Endor and the events portrayed in RETURN OF THE JEDI, where galactic peace was restored. This next generation story follows a fighter pilot (Oscar Isaac), a struggling scavenger (Keira Knightley’s younger sister Daisy Ridley), a conflicted ex-Stormtrooper (John Boyega), and an adorable droid (BB-8) who band together to face a powerful threat on the rise in a galaxy far, far away.
Beloved characters Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) show up, too, and all work together to solve a mystery involving Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
We’ve waited thirty-two years to find out more about the continuing saga of STAR WARS. The prequels elicited mostly anger, hate and suffering from fans. However, director J.J. Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS promises audiences a new, exciting and original chapter in the franchise – only what it delivers is something much more familiar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing either.
Let’s begin with the good and then y’all will be forced to surrender to the dark side with me later. Overall, it’s super entertaining. There are loads of thrills that speak to the kid in all of us. Sequences with X-wings, TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon in battle deliver the goods.
Rey (Ridley) is aptly named as she’s a ray of sunshine for how heroines should be handled from here on out. She’s a total badass, saving herself and others on more than a few occasions. Attention was paid to her character and it shows. More female characters in cinema should be shown this amount of respect. John Williams’ score is strong with this one. This is also probably the most humorous of the films in the series – from sassy one-liners, to callbacks, to a scene involving Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and one of his underlings that’s very self-aware, to Ford’s perfect delivery of Han Solo’s dialogue. Hard to say if anything is as insanely quotable as the original trilogy. Time will tell.
While the film is not a hunk of junk, there’s a lot that needs fixing. Poe (Isaac) and Finn (Boyega) are magical together, so it’s disheartening they’re separated for such a long time. Lots of narrative choices feel convenient – most glaringly R2-D2’s functionality. Two characters spar with light sabers, one of whom only picked it up moments earlier, and the newbie kicks the experienced character’s butt. Even in a made up galaxy, that defies logic. If BB-8 is wanted, why don’t they leave him in the ship? Driver seems totally miscast – don’t get me started on the helmet. Not including all Abrams’ nostalgia stroking (The wipes! The props!), which can be equally lovely and obtrusive, there’s a lot of “sameness” that recalls the original trilogy, especially A NEW HOPE: Empire/First Order; Rebellion/Resistance; Jakku/Tatooine; and the climactic battle to name a few. I wish I could tell you more specifics, but then I’d be spoiling your (re-) discovery of these things.
Listen, this is still worlds above the prequels. It’s a worthy addition to the series, and in the best tradition of the original trilogy, it makes you want to see the next chapter right away.
Preston Barta // Editor
Few franchises capture every generation at once. Some children’s movies may include sly puns for the parents watching along, but rare is the grown man or woman eagerly awaiting the next SPY KIDS or the kid thoroughly captivated by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. STAR WARS is one of the few exceptions.
There’s no mystery as to why it remains so popular: it’s a family affair. For over 40 years, parents and children alike have flocked to theaters to share the experience and watch as faces light up with delight. Thankfully, Abrams revives that love and creates a STAR WARS film to be excited about again.
Abrams has piloted many science-fiction vessels, directing both the revival of STAR TREK and the Spielberg-like SUPER 8. He has made no secret of being a STAR WARS fan, a fact has weighed heavy on the minds of many. As a non-fan, Abrams successfully reinvented STAR TREK in a way that kept original fans salivating and newcomers on their toes. But could someone so closely linked with STAR WARS bring it back to life?
With THE FORCE AWAKENS, Abrams doesn’t let his experience or fan status get in the way.
The film opens with an impressive action sequence that sees The Resistance’s best pilot, Poe Dameron (Isaac), caught in a battle looking for the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Hamill). The pace of the film continues at lightspeed from there, hardly leaving audiences time to catch their breath. No scene in the film overstays its welcome or feels diminutive. The action set pieces, from its opening to its finale are truly breathtaking, giving audiences a thrill that hasn’t been seen since Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT.
On top of the glorious action and practical effects, the performances brought by its stellar cast are top notch. As a dauntless scavenger named Rey, Ridley portrays a strapping and tough character worthy of our admiration, much like Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in this year’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Boyega (ATTACK THE BLOCK) also gives a breakthrough performance as Finn, a Stormtrooper whose conscience causes him to switch teams. The next generation is indeed the new life of the franchise and they each carry the torch with style and certainty.
It goes without saying that the familiar likenesses of Ford, Fisher and Hamill will bring warmth to even the coldest heart. Their characters are richly developed and will leave you wondering what they’ve been up to all these years.
However, like the six STAR WARS films before it, much of our anticipation for THE FORCE AWAKENS stems from the Dark Side. As Kylo Ren, Driver (GIRLS) portrays evil through a complex and vulnerable character unlike any we’ve seen before. He’s easily one of the most fascinating villains in years and his story’s path will leave you eager in your seats.
Also of the Dark Side are Snoke and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Despite their minimal screen-time, they make a lasting impression. It’s clear both characters are destined for much more.
Abrams’s story may seem like a carbon copy of the original (A NEW HOPE) at first, but he strikes a careful balance through the movie: he tips his hat to STAR WARS-creator George Lucas while never overstepping his bounds. Abrams capably employs familiar techniques – whether it’s the signature wipe transitions or John Williams’ memorable score – and provides a level of continuity between the films, even across a 30-year gap.
Rest easy. THE FORCE AWAKENS is a nonstop thrill ride with a beating heart that makes you want to jump back on once the end credits roll. It’s what be waiting for, and now, we must play a new waiting game for EPISODE VIII in 2017.
THE FORCE AWAKENS releases tomorrow.