Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie
…Yeah I’m not going to give my usual plot overview. I’m going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
Obviously The Force Awakens has a lot of hype and a lot of weight surrounding it. So many things could have gone wrong. It has to introduce new characters while including the old, and try to recapture the magic of the original trilogy without seeming clichéd. I was concerned that it would be derivative and that it would basically be a highlights reel of ‘things we loved in Star Wars,’ and while it’s not a flawless film it is a fun film, and the energy of the original trilogy is back.
The main strength of the film lies with the characters. Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega) are a good team, and Rey especially is a badass. I liked both their arcs, and both were sympathetic characters. The opening scene that introduces us to Finn and gets the plot moving is engaging and instantly creates a bond to the character. Rey’s introduction is more sedate, but through the film she shows herself to be a strong-willed character, and there are hints to her backstory that are intriguing. Po (Isaac) made an impact on me even though I was surprised at how little he was in the film. I look forward to seeing more of him.
With how good these new characters are, it meant that I wasn’t simply waiting for the cast of the original trilogy to show up. I of course wanted to see them and was excited when they finally appeared, but I was never getting bored of Finn and Rey (or BB-8, who was a completely endearing character). Kylo Ren is a menacing bad guy, and the film manages to give him a compelling and tragic backstory in about 10 seconds, and the prequels couldn’t do that with Anakin in three movies!
However, not all the character work is good, and here I must mention Christie as Captain Phasma. There was literally no point to her character. She could have been any generic stormtrooper and it wouldn’t have changed the film at all.
Shall we get to some more negative things? Sure!
While The Force Awakens isn’t just a highlight reel, it does follow the same template as A New Hope so the plot beats are predictable, and while there were a couple of moments that surprised me it’s the kind of film where you can see how things are going to play out fairly early on. There’s some wonky science, which doesn’t bother me so much because I’ve always seen Star Wars as space fantasy, and I’m willing to give a lot of poetic license, but some people may be bothered by that. I was a little disappointed with Jakku because it was basically Tatooine by any other name, and I’d rather there be new environments (say what you will about the prequels but there were some cool planets in there).
Another little thing was a moment with R2 but that’s all I’ll say there…
And the big thing is that the film went bigger instead of going deeper, and yeah Star Wars is bombastic and over the top etc but it just feels like it has to top the other films instead of taking a different angle, and it verges on the ridiculous.
The other big disappointment were the lightsaber duels. They lacked the gravitas of the ones from the original trilogy, and the frenetic choreography of the prequels, so there’s definitely room for improvement there.
I was also hoping that the situation would be reversed and that the Republic would be the expansive galactic force, while the remains of the Empire were a small band trying to reclaim their glory, but there wasn’t much time given to developing the new state of the galaxy (which I can forgive to some extent because the prequels were bogged down by the political state of the Republic, but I’d still like to know how the First Order were allowed to become as powerful as they were).
I did like the exploration of the force and how the light side and dark side oppose each other, and there’s always a tug of war between the two, and the Awakens aspect of the film was done well. There are also seeds planted for the next film in this new trilogy and the other thing I really really REALLY hate about the film is the ending because I just want to see the next one right now!
While I have my complaints (some of which I didn’t go into here because of spoilers) The Force Awakens is a really fun movie. It retains the visual appeal and includes frenetic space battles, but it also has great character work, on a par with that seen in The Empire Strikes Back. It would have been easy for the film to be underwhelming, or to not strike the right balance between the old and the new, but it manages to pull it off and for the most part I was sitting there with a big grin on my face. It was always going to be one of the biggest films of the year, but it’s also one of the best.