Warning: this review contains some spoilers.
Star Wars fandom is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister…well not so much but hey, nobody’s perfect.
As a massive Star Wars fan since childhood, I’ve been looking forward to The Force Awakens for what seems an eternity. As the big day approached, excitement has culminated in genuine child-like gasping following any newly revealed information about the plot, and a number of cringy social media posts I may one day regret.
As I stepped into the cinema last Sunday, trepidation was fast replaced by mild anxiety, triggered by the puzzling question I hadn’t even considered yet: what if the film’s shit? This feeling vanished once the iconic opening scroll and score kicked in, and off it all went again: Star Wars was actually BACK!!
In the end, I had a great afternoon and came out happy and relieved to see my favourite film saga in safe hands, for the force is indeed strong with JJ Abrams and his new cast. Here’s why.
First of all, it should be pointed out that this isn’t a try-hard tribute to the original movie as often tends to be the case with prestigious sequels (Jurassic World, I’m looking at you). While there are plenty of references to the original trilogy, they all flow naturally with the narrative in a way which is just enough to remind us this really is the same beloved universe.
Although some of the old faces return, the real stardom lies with the new cast which is refreshing. John Boyega’s on-the-run stormtrooper Finn is as entertaining and likable on-screen as the Peckham-born appears to be in press interviews.
Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the outstanding character of the movie. She’s strong yet emotional, charming yet raw. She’s an unusually feisty woman for sci-fi, but this never comes across as an irritating, premeditated political move. She’s the heart and soul of the film, and my newly discovered crush – congrats Daisy. It is hard to believe this is her ever first film.
Then there is Kylo Ren, the new masked baddie with the cross light saber everyone’s been talking about. He’s certainly the character of whom I had the highest expectations, and one with the toughest act to follow.
While he’s no Darth Vader – who is? – Ren is a great character with plenty of dark side swagger. Standing on the wrong side of the force, he offers an intriguing contradiction as the charismatic masked assassin he appears to be in front of his troops, and an insecure teenager who violently throws his toys out of the pram the rest of the time.
There is a villain with real depth and a personal journey of his own which was great to see, and I certainly look forward to finding out more about him. The same can be said about Oscar Isaac’s Po Dameron who’s a really cool pilot, whilst droid BB8 is also a great new addition to the team. Occasionally funny and not always in your face, he’s everything
Jar Jar Bings wasn’t. All in all, the new cast are simply brilliant.
The ‘legacy players’, the amusing phrase used to describe the oldies, also look the part. Seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back on-screen together is an emotional moment and the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, sparked with a hint of nostalgic sadness, was spot on given the context of their return. Though recycling those guys could’ve gone very wrong, they were used tactfully and effectively.
The film ticks all the boxes one looks for in Star Wars. Visually, it stands proud along the other films in the franchise as yet another breathtaking spectacle. The light sabers look more sparkly and real than ever before, and seeing the 1980s space relics fight again through the lens of modern special effects was amazing. The landscapes of Jakku (filmed in Abu Dhabi) and Starkiller base (Iceland) look stunning also.
Unexpectedly, the film has a funny edge at times. From Rey reluctance to use a ‘garbage’ spacecraft which later turns out to be the legendary Millennium Falcon to Finn’s naive advice to Han Solo that they can just ‘use the force’ to get out of trouble, the film is scattered with snappy humour this review can’t do justice to, but which actually works nicely.
As I touched upon when discussing the cast, there is real character depth about this film which was missing in some of the previous films, and not just the prequels. The Force Awakens is full of ordinary reactions to extraordinary situations, which is what enables us to empathise with people from a galaxy which is so far, far away.
After almost 4 decades of quiet robotic conformity, we finally get to witness humanity in a stormtrooper while it is striking to see that even bad guys with superpowers get pissed off when their plans go tits up. Though the film is fast paced, enough time is dedicated to character development for the viewers to care once the action kicks off.
But enough with the praises, this wouldn’t be a proper fan review if I didn’t criticise every single bit I didn’t find perfect with nerdy scrutiny.
It has to be said that the plot was predictable. It was already obvious before the film that Kylo Ren would be related to the original cast, and it’s equally blatant that Rey is too. A lot of the concepts from Episode IV are there to be seen again: a nobody rising from the emptiness of a sandy planet to hero status, a rather tricky parent-child relationship, a gigantically deadly weapon and the story of the fallen Jedi who turned on his own kind. They’re great ideas, but perhaps a little more innovation and risk-taking would’ve been welcome.
We are told how much bigger and scarier Starkiller base is, but I failed to care about it as much as I did the Death Star (even the second time round!) While the Resistance’s struggle to destroy it was always bound to end with the same outcome, it turns out to be through the same tactics also. Overall the whole battle seemed a distraction from the more interesting struggle between Kylo Ren and Rey.
While most of the characters were convincing, some of the CGIs were not. Maz Kanata’s character is a lesser Yoda who keeps banging on about the force though she’s no proper Jedi. Worse even, she looks like an out of place cartoon with weird glasses. She actually looks like a Disney character, which isn’t ideal.
Supreme Leader Snoke is so generically evil no one really cares. Whereas Ren seems a tortured soul and tragic villain, Snoke just looks like that guy who merely wants to cause death and misery because that’s in his job spec. Lastly, with a wicked look, apetising trailer appearances but zero impact during the actual film, silver stormtrooper Captain Phasma scores pretty high on the Darth Maul scale. That’s not a compliment.
Of course, no Star Wars fan will ever be entirely pleased with the film. That’s just how this game works.
While The Force Awakens does pay homage to the first trilogy and Episode IV in particular, it is a great film in its own right. Led by a fantastic young cast and the incredible visuals of modern special effects, it stays true to the original saga and adds a level of character depth perhaps unprecedented.
Because it is free from the burdening mission of connecting sagas the prequels were so concerned with, it allows for plenty of mystery and unanswered question to remain: what happened with the knights of Ren? How did Luke lose his light saber? What happened for the past 30 years generally? And what the bloody hell is Rey’s surname already?!
To leave it to the fans’ imagination to fill the gaps (at least for now) and make the story their own. That’s where Star Wars’ success always belonged, and Episode VII is a great reminder of this. I, for one, look forward to more.