Reviewed by: Samuel A. Torcasio
|Featuring:||Harrison Ford … Han Solo
Daisy Ridley … Rey, a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku
John Boyega … Finn, a redeemed First Order stormtrooper
Carrie Fisher … General Leia Organa
Mark Hamill … Luke Skywalker
Adam Driver … Kylo Ren
Andy Serkis … Supreme Leader Snoke
Max von Sydow … Lor San Tekka
Domhnall Gleeson … General Hux
Oscar Isaac … Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong'o … Maz Kanata
Gwendoline Christie … Captain Phasma
Peter Mayhew … Chewbacca
Kenny Baker … R2-D2
Anthony Daniels … C-3PO
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|Director:||J.J. Abrams—“Lost” TV series (2004–2010), “Super 8” (2011), “Star Trek” (2009), “Mission: Impossible III” (2006)|
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|Distributor:||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Buena Vista|
“There has been an awakening, have you felt it?”
The Galaxy far far away is back! At the theater I went to, the audience clapped and cheered as the familiar opening scroll started. Star Wars has indeed continued, and with a worthy installment to the saga. It seemed certain back in 2005 that “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” was going to be the last Star Wars movie. Things changed though when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and acquired the Star Wars franchise. Star Wars creator George Lucas stated that transferring Lucasfilm to Disney was a way to “pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.” Lucasfilm Producer Kathleen Kennedy recruited J.J. Abrams to be the director, making him the first person to direct both a “Star Wars” film and a “Star Trek” film. This is the first live-action Star Wars film to released in 10 years, and it is being released 38 years after the very first film “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” in 1977.
Unlike the prequel “Star Wars” trilogy, cinematographer Daniel Mindel and J.J. Abrams shot the new feature primarily on 35mm film, as Abrams has on all prior projects. The production also had a preference for using real locations and miniature models over green-screens and computer-generated imagery, whenever possible, in order to make the film aesthetically similar to the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
In this review, my aim is to be as spoiler free as possible, but please be aware that there are some small tidbits and clues as to the film’s plot ahead.
“The Force Awakens” has the feel of the classic trilogy films. In addition to having an intriguing flowing story and great action, it is also simple. One of the problems with the “Star Wars” prequels was that they were too complex (and, by the way, there are a number, including myself, that actually liked the prequels, they were very imperfect yes, but not horrible). Too much visual, too many plot elements, too many locations, too many characters, and not enough focus. Compare that to “The Empire Strikes Back,” one of the greatest films of all time, a film that did not have one dull moment, but was yet incredibly simple and easy to follow.
To Lucasfilm and Abrams’ credit, “The Force Awakens” has a similar feel. And, while in this writer’s opinion “Empire” is still and will always be the best, “Force” may be the runner up. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, because in addition to J.J. Abrams, it is co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”. So, we have to give them props for producing a smooth, simple, action packed, and heartfelt story. The film does leave us with some unanswered questions, but then again so did “Empire”. This film has an impressive cinematography to boot, and the practical effects used really worked well. Good balance of CGI. It goes without saying, of course, that John Williams has served us nicely once again with a riveting musical score.
The acting is phenomenal. It was a terrific idea to cast relatively unknown actors in the lead roles, so that we come into the theater not having any preconceived notions about what these characters may be like. That’s how it was for those who saw “A New Hope” in 1977. But, of course, we loved seeing Harrison Ford back as Han Solo, Peter Mayhew back as Chewbacca, Carrie Fisher as Leia, Anthony Daniels as C-3P0 and the list goes on. How could we not love seeing our old friends? So relatable, and so human (yes, even Chewie and 3P0). “Force” also gives us a world of interesting and fun new minor characters, such as the lovable droid BB-8.
Speaking of Han and Chewie, I don’t want to give any quotes away, but be rest assured that their dynamic friendship is back and in full swing. That includes their humor! Get ready to laugh at points. In fact, humor is dispersed throughout the movie among different characters—another thing that makes a “Star Wars” movie great.
All that to say, though, the movie definitely has a dark tone. In fact, it may be one of the darker “Star Wars” films, and possibly the saddest. And all that is due to the films main villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is the apprentice of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Snoke is not directly said to be a Sith, but he is an extremely powerful master of the dark side of the force. Ren is said to be in training, and he has not yet attained the status of a dark side master. His struggle between the light and the dark is portrayed throughout the movie. It was a clever choice to have Ren at a different level of development than Darth Vader. Vader in his prime would have easily defeated Ren in battle.
If they had just tried to make him a Vader replacement, it probably would have fallen flat. Instead the story is written in such a way that Ren is totally aware he is not on that level yet. Even so, his goal is to become like Darth Vader and to fulfill his legacy. Ren has a great deal of rage, as did Vader, but whereas Vader was able to learn how to harness that anger and stay calm and composed, Ren has not yet. He often has uncontrolled outbursts of anger, which does make him dangerous, but in a different way. However, not all Ren’s anger is uncalculated, he, along with Snoke, does have an agenda.
While the film is enjoyable entertainment, it, at the same time, contains ideas of a philosophical and religious nature. Christians need to be ever aware that these ideas can, and do, have impact on people, and they ought to be ready to engage this film from the standpoint of a biblical worldview. The “Star Wars” films are a syncretism of many different worldviews, philosophies, and religions. Nonetheless, though they are not Christian films, we should not be surprised to find things in them that are in line with Christian virtues. The fact is that all human beings live in God’s world and are created in God’s image, and this includes all filmmakers. It’s not possible to live in God’s world, whether you believe that you do or not, and not borrow from that when you tell a story.
Therefore we find amongst our protagonists noble virtues such as courage, sacrifice, shunning evil, and honor. Our three new heroes Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) all show their care and respect for each other, and their willingness to fight for what’s right. At a point in the film where Finn makes a life changing decision, he states that he does so because “it’s the right thing to do.” The idea of right and wrong is there. Our old heroes also show virtue. Han is as courageous as ever (we see a softer side of him, too). Leia continues to devote her life to fighting for justice and peace. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, Kylo Ren’s fury is a stark contrast to the nobility of our heroes. I’m obviously glad that the movie portrays this anger in a negative light. The Bible has plenty to say about the fool who gets himself into all kinds of trouble because he does not know how to control his anger (Proverbs 12:16; 29:11; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Galatians 5:20). There is also Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a demonic like being, who is leading Ren down this dark path.
It seems at times that in this “Star Wars” film, like many of the others, that the “dark side” is fully to be blamed for a person’s committing atrocities. In prior movies, for example, it’s almost as though some fans have the impression that Anakin was really a good guy, but he was just seduced. Even some behind-the-scene talk of this film has said Ren is not really a bad guy. Such may not be everyone’s interpretation, but it’s a subject worth pondering and interacting with from a Christian standpoint.
The Bible says of the real world that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23). Our natures have been corrupted by sin, and all have turned aside to evil deeds (Romans 3:9-18). Some express that more evidently and outrageously than others. But, when anyone sins, they sin due to their own evil desires. James 1:13-15 reads,
Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Thankfully, the Bible does not just present the problem, but it gives tremendous hope in overcoming evil. James also instructs believers to resist the devil by submitting to God (James 4:7). The one who draws near to God will be cleansed and purified (James 4:8). Paul tells us that there is no temptation for which God has not provided a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). This has all been made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ who died for sinners, who rose from the dead, and who now reigns at the right hand of God ready to help all who call upon Him, because “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
So, biblically speaking, no one is basically good but just fallen into an evil path. All are sinners by nature and will give an account to God. Each person is responsible for his or her choice to sin, and sinning makes one a sinner who needs salvation. The Bible calls all people sinners, but it also teaches that the sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ will be both forgiven and given victory over sin (Romans 7:24-25; 1 John 1:9; 5:5). This is something that we Christians have to proclaim to those who are impacted by the ideas of unbiblical worldviews. I understand that not all may interpret the dark side characters this way, but at least some have, and that is why it is worth having the conversation.
We must too consider the idea of The Force, and how it differs drastically from the God of the Bible. The Force of “Star Wars” can essentially be summed up as an impersonal energy that permeates and exists in all matter, and that consists of both good and evil. The impersonal nature of The Force is reminiscent of the god Brahman in Hinduism. Furthermore, Hindu teaching holds that Brahman exists in all material things, a teaching known as pantheism. The enigmatic Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) at one point in this movie spells out the pantheistic nature of The Force saying that it “moves through and surrounds every living thing.” The concept of The Force consisting of both light and dark sides comes in part from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism in which the ying and yang contain both opposing and balancing forces.
The God of the Bible stands in stark contrast to The Force of “Star Wars” in all of these areas; He is a personal being who created all things, yet He remains distinct and holy above His creation. He cares for His creation, but He is not to be confused with it. A person cannot simply tap into God as he may tap into The Force in the “Star Wars” universe. Rather, the biblical God is a transcendent personal being that a human being, created in His image, relates to by repenting and embracing Him as Lord, or by rebelling against Him.
Regarding the dual nature of The Force, that it contains both good and evil as equal forces, this too is diametrically opposed to Christian teaching. Though God and Satan are in conflict, God is the All Powerful Creator and Ruler of the universe, while Satan is a created finite being. Satan too will be accountable to God at the judgment.
God most certainly acts in the world, and is very much involved in it, but He is not simply a “force” energy flowing through it. On this note, some have likened The Force to the Holy Spirit, but this is not an accurate comparison. God the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, not an impersonal force. Some cult groups see the Holy Spirit as a force and not as a person, but the Bible is clear on His personhood. The Lord Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as a person with whom He had a personal relationship with when He said, “When the Spirit of truth comes He will guide you into all the truth.… He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14). Furthermore, the Trinity itself, One God who consists of three persons, further emphasizes the personal nature of God. Another caution to keep in mind is that use of The Force in “Star Wars” is also akin to occult practices such as levitation, telepathy, telekinesis, mind reading, and contacting the dead. The True Spirit of God is not to be manipulated, so one can perform mind tricks, rather such works are signs of witchcraft and demonic activity (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
Like previous “Star Wars” films, this one is low on profanities. Caution is still advised, though, as some of the following elements may be disturbing to children and impressionable adults. At the films beginning, a whole village is slaughtered. You do not see most of it, but you know it is happening. There is also blood in several parts of the film. Kylo Ren, as mentioned, is very dark and disturbing. He is seen trying to manipulate mind control over several characters, he has fits of rage, he chokes people with the force, and he is overall a disturbed character. Supreme leader Snoke, though only in a few scenes, is a scary figure that could easily give a kid nightmares. His appearance is imposing, and his face is distorted and menacing and his voice deep. There is a disturbing and emotional scene in the movie when one of the heroes is fatally wounded by a villain.
The 7th episode of “Star Wars” is a noteworthy addition to the franchise. It has a great story, exciting action, an excellent cast, a superb soundtrack, and it is a visual delight. Though dark in tone, it does have light moments and humor to balance things out. While great entertainment, believers should be aware of the content mentioned above, as well as be prepared to engage the worldview presented.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor—“Oh my G*d” (1), “h*ll” (2), “d*mn” (1) / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.