The next report card is for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens—directed by J.J. Abrams; written by J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt; starring Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Carrie Fisher (General Leia), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker).
The new heroes added to the canon are much better than I was even expecting. Rey, Finn, and Poe are all different but find a way to be engaging. Easily my favorite of the bunch was Finn, whose story was also the most interesting in my opinion, along with him being the funniest. Rey's story is very similar to what we've seen before, but although this movie retreads familiar ground on many occasions, that's not something that particularly bugs me. Poe is just a stand-up good guy, and I'm loving the bromance between him and Finn. Oh, and BB-8 is absolutely adorable.
The villains, on the other hand, I felt underwhelmed about. Supreme Leader Snoke is going to need a massive upgrade in the sequel to be intimidating to me, and Hux needs to differentiate himself from Tarkin more. Captain Phasma needs to do SOMETHING, as she was utterly pointless in this movie. That was a huge disappointment. Kylo Ren is interesting, but in a weird way. I'm hesitant to buy into his character 100% until I see the direction they go in the future.
As far as the older characters that returned, they were handled very well. Give me some Lando in the next film!
You're never going to get Oscar-worthy performances in a Star Wars film, but everyone pulls their weight rather well here. Hat tip goes to John Boyega for being the best of them and really holding this film down, as well as to Harrison Ford for getting properly back into character instead of just playing himself. I think there's maybe a little bit of overacting on Domhnall Gleeson's behalf, and I didn't get a strong performance from Gwendoline Christie, who admittedly wasn't given anything to do. Still, hers is an odd case, as she was clearly cast for her height but doesn't seem imposing at all. We don't see her face, so her entire acting performance was her voice, and that wasn't distinctive enough or performed with any real moxie. It seems like they could have just redubbed her with someone else and used her as a stunt double—or, you know, given her at least one action scene to make her a decent character.
VISUALS (FX, MAKEUP, COSTUMES, SETS): A+
This movie is stunning. If it doesn't win the Academy Award, I don't know what could possibly trump it. Everything looks realistic and just so awesome.
MUSIC & SOUND: B–
I'm a tad disappointed when it comes to this music. Every film previously has given us at least one really distinctive theme that stands out and is memorable. Obviously, A New Hope has the bulk of it, while The Empire Strikes Back has the Imperial March and Yoda's theme and Return of the Jedi has the Emperor's theme and I'm particularly fond of "Into the Trap" as well. The prequels have "Duel of the Fates" in The Phantom Menace, "Across the Stars" in Attack of the Clones, and "Battle of the Heroes" in Revenge of the Sith, among others. Sadly, this movie doesn't have a standout piece. Having seen the film twice, I still can't remember any new themes—just the old ones. Did John Williams phone it in?
As far as sound goes, that was amazing, especially in IMAX 3D.
TONE (ACTION, ROMANCE, COMEDY): A+
Star Wars is back. This legitimately feels like a true sequel rather than some offshoot or a different direction for the sake of changing things up.
ACTION: Every action scene is exhilarating and quite literally my only gripe would be that I think the lightsaber duels could have used a little bit more of the prequel flair. I don't want them to be endless flipping for no reason, but I also don't want to see everyone so stiff. Still, it was awesome to see the Stormtrooper fight, and I enjoyed every set piece as far as action goes.
COMEDY: Surprisingly, I don't think there's a single joke in this that I didn't chuckle at. I do think there's a bit too much fan service for the sake of it and at times, it's a little overboard to throw a reference in just to pop the audience, but if you ignore the forced lines about the trash compactor and whatnot, the comedy is on point. In particular, Finn is such a great comedic character in the right way. My favorite joke of the whole thing is probably the quick exchange between Finn and BB-8 giving each other the thumbs up. It sounds so bland, but it ended up being a fantastic moment.
ROMANCE: These movies aren't ones that should focus too heavily on the romance, but it should still linger at least a little bit. With Han and Leia, that was good enough. With Finn and Rey, I was digging their budding romance. None of it felt forced and the dialogue wasn't hokey like it was with Anakin and Padme. Nicely done.
FINAL GRADE: A
I can nitpick different things about the movie, and I'm a little disappointed in how some things didn't measure up to what they could have been (namely the music and the villains), but all in all, this is an awesome entry in the series and a step in the right direction. By no means is this problematic on the scale of the prequels, so I'm super excited to see what comes next.