Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted: December 24, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

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Ok, before we start a mild warning. I’m not going out of my way to spoil anything about this film, however I can’t be held responsible for anything I might inadvertently give away that I don’t find particularly spoilery but you might, so feel free to err on the side of caution if you’re at all worried and check back after you see The Force Awakens.

Still here? Ok then…

A long time ago in a…ok let’s skip that part. The Force Awakens picks up the story approximately thirty years after the end of The Return of the Jedi. Sadly the peace promised by cheery Ewok tunes did not last long. From the ruins of the Empire has arisen The First Order, they look like the Empire, they sound like the Empire, but in actual fact they’re potentially a lot nastier than the Empire ever were, as an early massacre demonstrates. Plus they can shoot straight, be afraid, be very afraid!

Luckily though there’s a resistance movement and one of their agents, ace X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) has secured information vital to the fight against the First Order. Unfortunately before you can say “help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” Poe is captured by the First Order’s sinister agent Kylo Ren, a man with a nifty Vader-like mask who carries a lightsabre (and he is most assuredly not afraid to use it).

Luckily Poe entrusted the information to his trusty droid, the unbelievable cute BB-8. Soon BB-8 has some new friends, in the form of hardened scavenger Rey (Ridley) and Stormtrooper with a heart Finn (Boyega), but can they get the information to the resistance, and can anyone stand against Kylo Ren and the rest of the First Order?

Star Wars is something that’s played a major part in the lives of so many people over the years, but to those of us there at the beginning it holds a major place in their hearts. I was six or seven the first time I saw that Star Destroyer over Tatooine, the first time I clapped eyes on Darth Vader and fell in love with Princess Leia. I didn’t hate the prequels, in fact I rather like bits of them, but it’s fair to say I was a little disappointed.

But, you know what, that’s to be expected, right? How could I possibly feel the same way about a Star Wars film as I did when I was a child? No, it wasn’t the prequels that were at fault, it was the fact that I grew up.

Codswallop.

The first thing to say about Force Awakens is this, it made me feel like a kid again, in fact it still makes me feel like a kid a week after I saw it and I hope to catch it again very soon.

Because it’s good. Very good.

Trying to refresh a franchise like this is always a tricky task, as is trying to introduce a new cast of characters to an audience pretty much wedded to the originals. With this in mind you can see why Disney chose Abrams to helm this first entry in a new trilogy. Opinions vary but on the whole this is the man who reinvigorated Trek in 2009, sure Into Darkness might have been a touch ropey in places, but his first Trek film is in my top five of the franchise.

He has a lot to pack into Force Awakens, but he manages it admirably for the most part. He’s helped by a great script he co-wrote with Michael Arndt and Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan. He’s helped by fantastic special effects and a crew of hundreds, maybe even thousand most likely. But most of all he’s helped by a great bunch of actors.

It’s tempting to jump straight in and talk about Luke, Han and Leia, but that would be unfair to the newcomers, because without them this little ‘experiment’ in nostalgia might have been just that.

Daisy Ridley is quite a find, she’s a great actress who puts her heart and soul into the role of Rey, a woman abandoned on a desolate world, a woman who doesn’t want to trust anyone one else, a woman still waiting for…well you’ll see. At times you almost mistake her for Keira Knightly (that’s a compliment in my book by the way) although for the most part she’s her own woman, and it’s great to see such a strong female character leading the line (shame about the merchandising which seems to want to exclude her, but that’s by the by.) By her side for most of the film is Finn, and if Ridley is quite a find then so is John Boyega as our redeemed Stormtrooper. He’s great, wide eyed and heroic yet lacking direction, lacking something to believe in.

Personally as a middle aged white guy I love that the two primary characters in this are a woman and a black man, and their chemistry is fantastic. There’s a hint of romance there but it never overshadows them, and I love that neither one of them feels like the other’s sidekick, they’re pretty much equals throughout. Finn also has a great little bromance going on with Poe, and if there’s a problem with Isaac’s character it’s that we don’t see enough of him!

All protagonists need an antagonist and the force Awakens has antagonists in spades! There’s the aforementioned Kylo Ren, and Adam Driver does a good job of giving us a character who might look like Vader, but is quite different. There’s no ice cool evil here, Kylo Ren is an angry young man, a VERY angry young man. She never takes her helmet off, but Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie injects a lot of menace into Captain Phasma. There’s also Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a First Order officer with more than a hint of Tarkin about him. The only misstep villainy wise is Supreme Leader Snoke, a computer generated character that even Andy Serkis can’t seem to salvage.

Oh yeah and there are some old guys in it you may have heard of…

When I heard Luke, Leia and Han were going to be in this I suppose my biggest fear is that there’d just be a five minute, handing over the torch style cameo, but as it turns out they all get meaty roles, oh sure some are meatier than others, and one in particular is more about set up for the next film but still, as much as this film is about Rey and Finn it’s also about Han, Luke and Leia (And Chewie, and R2-D2 and C3-P0). The pick of the bunch is Harrison Ford though, who slips so easily back into the role of Han Solo that you wonder where the man has been for the last ten or twenty years because it’s been a while since I saw him this assured.

Han bounces well off Finn and Rey, and also let’s not forget Chewbacca. He might be hidden under fur, might not have any actual lines, but Peter Mayhew is great, and Chewie gets some of the funniest moments in the film, usually when he’s rolling his eyes at Han.

I could rattle on some more but really you don’t need to read what I have to say, you need to go and see the film, a film I really think most people are going to love. It’s funny and tragic, exciting and, on occasion, thoughtful. It’s action packed yet never loses sight of the characters, putting them at the heart of the story, complimenting them with the effects rather than the other way around, which is when Star Wars always excels.

The best thing I can say is that, and believe me when I say this is said from the heart as a great compliment, Star Wars The Force Awakens plays like the best session ever of the Star Wars role playing game ever, an all-new story set in a very familiar universe, featuring familiar faces alone the way.

Sure there’s not enough of certain characters (one who shall remain nameless but also R2 and CPO, though I did mention how adorable BB-8 is, right?) Snoke feels out of place, and some elements feel a bit rushed (seriously travel between planets was never this fast befofre) and the inclusion of yet another super weapon feels like one homage too many in a film of homages, but I’m being really, REALLY picky.

Am I just being a sucker for nostalgia? Maybe. Am I just being hoodwinked by the slick Disney Machine? Possibly. Really though I don’t think it’s either of those things. I think this is just a great film. If you haven’t seen it yet, see it soon! If you have seen it, see it again.

And may the Force be with you!

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Comments
  1. I’m so glad it’s better than the last (first?) three. They disappointed me every time!

    • starkers70 says:

      Hopefully off to 3rd viewing this evening. There are some things I like about the prequels, but TFA just blows them all out of the water. It probably blows Return of the Jedi out of the water too I suspect.

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