We're home. Those are the words of Han Solo, early into the 136-minute run-time of The Force Awakens.
Those two words line up precisely with how we, as fans, feel about the long-awaited return of one of cinema's most-loved science fiction franchises, with a huge new story arc, new characters, and a more fleshed-out world. Now it's here, and we've seen it, and we have some feelings to share with you.
BEWARE: There are major spoilers inside! As well as our review of the movie itself, we wanted to share the thoughts of some of our friends around the office who saw the movie at its premiere and at midnight screenings around the country. Read on for our comments, and please feel free to share your own experience or discussion in the comments section.
Campbell Simpson: Editor, Gizmodo
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh Star Wars film, and it has been a long time coming. Following the events of Return of the Jedi by around 30 years, it's a starkly different universe to the one that we all remember from the original trilogy. The Empire is still around in the form of the First Order, the Rebellion is now the Republic (but also the Resistance, depending on which side of the conflict you're on), and good versus evil continues in pretty much the same fashion as every other Star Wars movie or novel or TV show in existence.
The First Order is a military junta that is basically an offshoot of the Galactic Empire, formed in the wake of Darth Vader's and the Emperor's (apparent) death, engaged in ongoing battle with the Resistance. Both are searching for Luke Skywalker, long since disappeared, and central to finding him is a star map carried by lovable droid BB-8. Therein is The Force Awakens' over-arching plot, and along the way we meet the new guard who we'll be guided through the entire three-movie series with -- stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter Finn, fighter pilot extraordinaire Poe, scavenger Rey.
The plot of Awakens closely mirrors A New Hope, and it's no surprise that it's half homage and half convenient setup for the next two movies. When events force Finn and Rae together on the desert scrap world of Jakku, and they are united by BB-8, there's a strong sense of the Han, Luke and R2-D2 of the original Star Wars. We re-meet the Millenium Falcon, and Han Solo, and Leia, and C-3PO and R2-D2 and a host of other familiar faces. I really think that the movie's main plot -- the First Order's Starkiller Base, a star-sucking planetoid which can destroy entire solar systems, must be destroyed to preserve the fledgling Republic -- pales in comparison to the character story of Rey and of Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren's character, I thought, was simultaneously the weakest and most interesting new addition to the universe. I couldn't help but compare him in my mind to Hayden Christensen's comically brooding Anakin Skywalker when he took off his mask, but his fits of dark, evil rage and his clearly played-out internal conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force, his back-story as the child of Han and Leia, trained by Luke and then seduced by the dark side and by shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke, was evocative and fascinating. I want to see him more and to learn more about what happened in the three decades since the last movie.
Han's death at the hands of his estranged son -- the most gut-wrenching point in the movie -- is going to polarise viewers. I still haven't decided whether it was the right thing to do for the movie, not for Harrison Ford nor viewers nor the plot of the series, but the fact remains that it happened. I'm going to miss Han; he was one of the most loveable and enduring characters of the original movies. I genuinely hope that Chewbacca gets more screen time in the as-yet-unnamed Episode VIII, to explore his emotions after his partner and friend's death.
Talking of new characters in the series -- Rey was so good. She was such a well rounded character. She wasn't lame or fainting or forced, she didn't have plot armour, her back-story had just the right amount of explanation, she wasn't a damsel. I actually thought one of the (extremely minor) weaknesses with the film was that the movie didn't explain the roles of women in the First Order enough, though; in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the Empire uses women in positions of power once it has to lower its (ridiculous misogynist) standards after constant warfare with the Republic. But clearly Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma was a badass -- you just didn't get to see enough of it.
The element of comedy, of modern "you did what?" comedy, feels utterly appropriate in The Force Awakens. Scenes where Kylo Ren is raging and rank-and-file stormtroopers know to avoid him; scenes where Finn edges towards breaking the fourth wall; these made our viewing audience laugh but without it being the mocking laughter that accompanied Jar-Jar. This is just one way in that this movie feels like 1978's original flick brought forward 37 years.
The Force Awakens is absolutely a movie in the original Star Wars spirit, which I'm so happy about. It felt like a Star Wars movie; it looked and sounded utterly beautiful -- the costuming was spot on, the sound effects were electrifying, the cinematic score was perfect. It's a progression in narrative from the original trilogy, but isn't bogged down in its history -- it stood head and shoulders above the plot of Return of the Jedi and used it as a leg-up.
There are plot holes, and weaknesses in story, and deus ex machina that detracted slightly from my enjoyment as a Star Wars nerd. The Millenium Falcon jumping to lightspeed from within another ship? Improbable. Dropping from lightspeed within a planet's gravity well? Not possible. But these are small complaints, and they're forgotten in seconds around the rest of the movie and the canon and lore and joy of it all. The Force Awakens brought all those memories and feelings back to the surface, for one of the first times since I finished watching Return of the Jedi a long time ago.
(By the way: it's telling that The Force Awakens doesn't really reference any of the prequel trilogy -- it's convenient that enough time has passed in the universe for the events not to matter, but it's also clear that director J.J. Abrams didn't want viewers to remember just how boring those movies ended up being. C'est la vie.)
Rae Johnston: Journalist, Gizmodo
(Hello my thoughts are going to be about Rey because woah. And yes, there are spoilers.)
It’s difficult to understate the importance of this film to me. The representation of women throughout the film was really good. They were everywhere, in all kinds of roles. In positions of authority. It made my heart sing. As someone who grew up having lightsaber battles (with sticks, but whatever) emulating what I saw the men in Star Wars do, Rey feels like she was created just for me. Her name is even pronounced the same. Do you understand what incredible soundbites I can get from this film?
I watched it last night, but I’m still teary thinking about how every word she said was perfect. She’s capable, intelligent, strong, resilient but without simply having her be a carbon copy of what a man in her role would be. She has depth. She is baffled by anyone thinking she should be lesser because she is a woman.
I cried from the moment she picked up the lightsaber in the forest until the credits rolled. There she was, the character from my mind I created for myself, but real this time. She wields the force like no one before her (without training, at least) AND pilots the Millennium Falcon. Above and beyond. I loved her interactions with Finn. We are supposed to believe that these two have formed the kind of friendship that would normally take years, and somehow they make it work. And just when I was worried their connection may be solely for love-interest purposes, it was cemented as being platonic.
The Force Awakens is the perfect vehicle for the 'passing of the guard', so to speak. Enough nostalgia to make you cheer out loud in the cinema, but a fantastic platform for the introduction of a new generation of heroes and villains.
Hayley Williams: Journalist, Gizmodo/Lifehacker/Kotaku
I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan, though I never got into the Expanded Universe in a huge way. I've dabbled, of course, but I can't say I have exhaustive knowledge of much past the original films. I grew up with the prequel trilogy, so I maybe have a bit of a soft spot for podracing and Padme's amazing outfits, but as an adult I know that nothing beats the original series.
The Force Awakens felt like a huge love letter to the original movies. The humour, the practical effects aliens, the way the movie was filmed, even the plot structure mirrored the original trilogy. There was space dogfighting, lightsaber battles and Force-sensitive kids being thrown in the deep end. There were familial ties and themes of lineage. There were also plenty of goofy throwbacks that attempted to cash in on the nostalgia of the originals -- and some were far more successful than others.
While this movie seemed to lean pretty heavily on Han and Chewie, the new characters were pretty awesome, and they were given a good deal of the spotlight. Finn was by far my favourite, and the stormtrooper backstory is something we haven't seen at all in any of the films, or in any of the other related material that I've encountered. Humanising them in the way they did was one of the best decisions of this film. Poe was a fun, likeable character, and his dynamic with both Finn and BB8 made up some of my favourite character interactions in the film.
My unpopular opinion here was that I didn't really feel Rey's character. She seemed too serious, too competent at a number of different skills for reasons that were conveniently explained away by 'the Force'. She was a Padme in a world populated by Hans, Leias and Lukes. Her motivations throughout the entire film were really unclear, and I didn't feel like she had as much chemistry with the other characters as they did with each other.
Captain Phasma is the series' first movie canon female villain and I was incredibly excited to see her in the film -- but in the end I feel like she might as well have not been there at all. Her role could have been done entirely by a nameless stormtrooper and it would have felt the same. Orange female Yoda, on the other hand, was amazing. It's nice to see someone other than a wise old man offering force-based wisdom.
As far as returning characters, the film really shoved Harrison Ford in your face. Considering it's going to be his only film in the trilogy, this might have been why. I would have liked to have seen more Leia and less Han -- she's supposed to be a leader, but all we ever see her do is swap snark with her ex-boyfriend and talk about her son. That being said, I liked the fact that Han and Leia's relationship was a little bit broken. Their romance in the original trilogy ended like a fairytale, but you can tell that the intervening years have been hard.
I really liked Kylo Ren. He was the petulant teenaged Sith done well, and I can't say I didn't get a little bit of glee from watching his little temper tantrums. I feel like in the next movies his character could either become amazing or awful, so we'll have to wait and see. I wasn't a fan of Snoke. He looked like a Dr Who villain, or something from Prometheus. He seemed very CGI'd in a movie that intentionally went away from CGI in most places. He wasn't really set up as a threat -- we don't know who or what he is and frankly they haven't made me want to know, either. He just doesn't feel like he fits into the film.
I guess I saw the major event of the movie coming. The rumour's been going round for ages that Harrison Ford has been asking to be killed off for a while, so it seemed like a good moment for it. Where they go from there will definitely be interesting, I think. The other characters' reactions made that moment work for me, with a throwback to Leia's Force sensitivity, and Chewie's angry rampage.
Some things in the plot didn't quite make sense. The First Order wasn't really established as to who they were, how much power they held and what they wanted. If the Republic was in power, why did there still need to be a resistance of good guys? Was the resistance the Republic? A lot of these points were quite unclear. There were also a lot of characters swinging lightsabers around with zero training and being really good at it. That being said, I really enjoyed the saber fighting in the film -- it sat somewhere between the prequels' flashy choreography and the originals' slower, more character focussed fights.
I don't think anyone liked the stormtrooper with the electric saber thing, though -- that entire scene seemed entirely unnecessary and almost spoiled the point of actually having lightsabers to begin with. The end scene also seemed weak. I feel like it could have ended a little earlier, and instead started the next film with finding Luke. I guess they want something to make sure everyone comes back, however.
I'll definitely be coming back, though. Hell, I'm even looking forward to seeing The Force Awakens again. I think the trilogy still has space to become either amazing or awful, but I feel like it's in good hands. While I've mentioned a lot of the things that didn't quite gel with me, my overall impression of the film was amazing. It managed to capture the originals' sense of humor while still modernising it, and introduced a number of characters that really worked in the world. I can't wait to see what they do with Episode 8.
Harry Tucker: Journalist, Business Insider
So, because I am still basically a child, my first Star Wars experience was actually my first cinema experience when The Phantom Menace came out. So I have an unusual love for the prequels, with Episode 3 possibly my favourite of all 6........ until now.
I genuinely loved The Force Awakens, and while it certainly had a slightly different feel to it than all the older movies, the way the story was told, the characters and the romance of adventure that the originals featured was right through it.
The new characters were perfect too. Rey was strong and had a great sense of adventure in her, while still having insecurities about loneliness. Finn was surprisingly really funny, but just I wanted to see a tiny bit more about his background as a Storm Trooper.
Kylo Ren, or Ben Solo (UH OH, SPOILER), was also one of -- if not the most -- complex villain of the franchise ever. He was clearly battling something internally and the new evil big boss dude was taking advantage of his confusion and using that to control him. Poe was super fun too. But still, nothing made me grin like seeing Chewy and Han come on screen when they boarded the Millennium Falcon.
It was a complete play on nostalgia and one of the things that made the movie great. The whole movie is full of nostalgia inducing aspects, whether it be lines that reference previous movies or the glorious soundtrack - but it never goes over the top. It’s all done just right. When Han was killed by his son, Kylo Ren though, shit my heart broke. Even more when you saw Chewy react to it and you could tell he was absolutely destroyed.
The plot as a whole was solid, follow similar plot ideas to A New Hope. I think the Dark Side and The First Order as a group could do with some work, and perhaps their motivations could be explained more in the next one. Also why do the bad guys keep hiring engineers that leave vulnerabilities in their huge space stations?!
But bring on Episode VIII. I want to know what made Ben turn to the dark side, I want to know who Rey's parents are and what the hell is going on with Luke?
Tiffany Roma: Office Manager, Allure Media
I've never been interested in Star Wars, never understood the hype. When I was younger, I attempted to watch all 6 films but fell asleep halfway through all of them! I've always been exposed to it, my brother would watch it all the time so the films and the animated series were always kind of just on in the background. However my boyfriend is a major Star Wars fan and made me watch episode 4, 5 and 6 in the week leading up to the episode 7 release. I actually stayed awake for these three films though and loved them!
As a Star Wars newbie I enjoyed having new characters to get to know with everyone else. I love love love Fin's story and the fact that they explored the humanity in the storm troopers. I think his character was well developed throughout the film and his strength was shown in his courage and desperation to do the right thing- especially when he saves Paul and goes back for Rey. However, I liked how his weakness was shown in the way that he was totally incompetent at most things he tried and in the way he walked away from Rey when he had the opportunity. That internal struggle- so relatable!
I love BB-8 he was so cute! I hated when R2 just conveniently came to life though. It was so cathartic to see the original characters, although I feel like they are just being used as a bridge to make way for the new generation of characters. It was a respectful way to transition into the new generation- at least in the next films, the plot and characters won't seem so drastic.
I have a love/hate relationship with the cheesiness of the film though and all the puns on light. Overall, I liked it, I thought it was much funnier than the previous films! I loved that they had a female lead who was actually competent. I love that a storm trooper was humanised, and shown to be imperfect. I think you'd be able to break open so many thematic concerns within the film too.