By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Before we get started here, let's address the obvious: there are spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want it spoiled for you, stop reading immediately and check back after you've seen it. I don't think I've ever avoided spoilers like the plague for a movie quite like I did for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." That's how incredible the hype was for this movie. I can still remember where I was when I heard the franchise was being bought out by Disney and they were going to make another three movies. My immediate reaction, as I'm sure was the same for many, was, "Really? Why?" That feeling subsided a short time later, and then the excitement started to set in. "So, how many days until 'Star Wars 7' is released?" I had a countdown in my dorm room for the last four months. True story.
I don't know everything there is to know about the Star Wars universe. Not by a long shot. I don't claim to be the biggest Star Wars fan there ever was. I haven't read any of the "Extended Universe" material other than what I've been told by friends and have read online. Hell, I didn't watch the full Star Wars saga until I was in sixth grade! I had only watched the first three movies (Episodes 1-3) and saw the third one in theaters and was chastised by a peer during a school trip that summer. I never understood why he made such a big deal about it. After watching the prequels back all these years later and realizing how deplorable they were, I understand his anger.
But I'm not here to discuss the prequels or even the original trilogy (though I might allude to them throughout). We're here to talk about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," right? Hopefully anyone who didn't want to be spoiled has already stopped reading and we can get in to what made this movie so good. On that same subject, I'm hesitant to say that spoilers would ruin the movie for you. As someone who absolutely despises spoilers, I was nearly fuming when someone spoiled the big reveal in Star Wars Episode 7 - that Kylo Ren is Han Solo's son - for me the day I went to go see it.
Some jackass posted it on my Facebook page on Friday, and before I realized it was a spoiler, it was too late. I tried to wipe it away from my mind and convince myself I read it wrong, but it was all I was thinking about going into the premiere. Surprisingly enough, it didn't ruin the movie for me at all. And that's what I loved about it: the fact Kylo Ren is Solo's son is given away so early on in the movie that anyone that already knows doesn't feel cheated at the end.
A perfect example would be The Empire Strikes Back. The plot twist that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father (which will go down as one of the most iconic moments in movie history) concluded the film. If someone spoiled that for you going into it, the moment would have lost its luster, but Solo saying Kylo Ren is his son in such a nonchalant yet not anticlimactic way halfway through the film was an absolutely brilliant way to deter the spoilers.
I didn't see any of the trailers with the exception of the second teaser trailer that was released in the spring, and hearing Han Solo say, "Chewie, we're home" gave me chills. It was obvious that based off the appearances of Solo, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon and the destroyed Darth Vader mask that the trailer was playing to the original Star Wars audience with nostalgia, but this movie was a great mix of old elements of the Star Wars saga and new, specifically the fresh faces of Finn and Rey.
We don't know much about them at the start, which is why there's plenty of places they can go with them in future films and spin-offs. I absolutely loved how it was only mere minutes into the movie that for the first time in the Star Wars saga (and I'm not talking about the Expanded Universe here) we witnessed a Stormtrooper humanized when Finn had blood wiped on his helmet. It immediately made him stand out from the rest of the pack and it sent the message to viewers that he was someone special.
There's also potential with who Rey's parents are and where they've gone off to. Yes, there's always the possibility that Luke Skywalker is her father (and they can recreate the same scene from Empire Strikes Back) and that seems to be the popular opinion, but she was told halfway through the movie that she'd never see them again. That said, Luke and Princess Leia sharing a kiss in A New Hope didn't mean anything once they were revealed as siblings in Return of the Jedi, so it's anyone's guess.
Rey, too, was a fabulous character and it's so refreshing to see a woman presumably be the new face of the franchise going forward. It has nothing to do with "feminism" or anything like that (let's not go that far down the rabbit hole). Rather, her dialogue (along with everyone else's) felt so genuine, realistic and more importantly, modern. It was easy to connect with her character. When Finn asked if she had a boyfriend, it felt like something you'd see in any other modern day movie. Sometimes that isn't a good thing because Star Wars is its own entity, but it beat the hell out of him comparing her to sand!
As for the pacing of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," it was slightly slow to start, but understandably so. They had to establish the plot somehow, but everything we saw early on left me confused until the second half. It all made sense in the end, and better yet, the action picked up by the midway point. Beyond that, the film was phenomenal. I wouldn't call the first act or so "boring" by any means, but don't expect the film to fire on all cylinders from the get-go.
I'm sure this won't come as much of a surprise, but Han Solo's death was the highlight of the movie for me (no, not because he died but because of how the scene itself was executed). As I mentioned earlier, if someone spoiled Solo's death for you before you saw it, you may not have been shocked. That's because it's been rumored since the announcement of another three Star Wars movies that he would die in Episode 7. It's well-known among the die-hard fans that Solo wanted to die in A New Hope, so it's logical to assume he agreed to do Episode 7 only if he was killed off. I can only imagine the discussions he had with the filmmakers. "Yeah, I'll do it, but only if I die!"
In all seriousness, everything about the scene was total perfection. From the way his and Kylo Ren's faces were lit in blue and red to Finn and Rey watching on from afar (reminiscent of how Luke watched Obi Wan Kenobi die in A New Hope) to the brief verbal exchange between the two, it was beautiful. So beautiful that I wouldn't judge you if you shed a tear. If anyone from the original saga was going to be killed off, it had to be Solo, and the fact he was killed by his son a la Luke and Vader (in a completely different way, mind you) was brilliant.
I've heard and read varying opinions on the ending, but personally, I thought it was great. There might have been those that were disappointed by the lack of Luke in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," but the whole film built around finding him, so ending it with him coming face-to-face with Rey was fitting. I'm willing to bet he'll play a much bigger role in the coming installments, but how so? That's the big question on everyone's mind: where do the Star Wars characters go from here? I won't begin to speculate, but all I will say is that I'm extremely excited to find out what happens next. Episode 8 couldn't come soon enough!
In what was probably my lengthiest Director's Cut post ever, it's safe to say that this movie was my favorite of the year and maybe Top 10 of all-time. It not only met but exceeded my expectations, and even if you're not a Star Wars fan, you'd enjoy this movie, regardless. It's a phenomenal movie period. Watching the six preceding movies might help get you familiar with the characters, though there's hardly any mention of the prequels, so you'd be fine if you didn't watch Episodes 1-3. There really isn't a better way to end 2015 than by going to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Should you see this movie? Yes.