Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
Star Wars is a franchise that has a deep history, heaps of acclaim and let’s be honest, baggage. The Force Awakens is the seventh canonical film in the series but there has also been countless books, comics and more recently TV shows. The slate was wiped clean somewhat in 2012 when George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, sold Lucasfilm and the rights to make Star Wars to the juggernaut that is Disney. The company quickly announced its intentions to release a new Star Wars film every year, distanced itself from most of the extended universe of fiction and eventually told us J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) would direct Episode VII. It hasn’t been an easy job, something Abrams has freely admitted. There’s pressure from the older generation of fans who want to see a return to the more traditional storytelling of the original trilogy and at the same time, a generation of Star Wars fans such as myself grew up watching the prequels. The solution, of course is to find a middle ground, to modernize Star Wars once more but also return it to its roots. With The Force Awakens J.J. Abrams has achieved that goal.
The Force Awakens in many ways is a very nostalgic film but its a testament to the writers that the best parts of the film involve the new cast. The main trio includes Daisey Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. Each character is well written and already feel pretty iconic. They are all reminiscent of the past, Poe is a fantastic pilot like Luke and Anakin were, Finn is more like Luke in A New Hope, he feels like a fish out of water in this film however he also evokes the charm and wit of Han Solo, while Rey is good at piecing things together and is strong with the Force. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac both have great moments in the film and their dynamic early on in the film is really fun to watch. Nevertheless, its Daisey Ridley’s Rey who steals the show and she is the key character and Jedi and moving forward. Rey is strong in the Force, can handle herself, is a very good pilot and strongly evokes Luke Skywalker from the original trilogy. There are so many moments, both large and small in the film that demonstrate the ability of these new actors and their new journey into the Star Wars universe and I can’t wait to see more of them.
Overall, the film manages to hit a good balance of nostalgia, call backs and new material. Little touches such as the reveal of the Millennium Falcon, Finn discovering the pilot’s helmet and Rey living out of a downed AT-AT all work well. It’s when The Force Awakens makes grander and larger call backs that it can fall flat. Starkiller Base is essentially Death Star 3.0 and its a shame Abrams and his team couldn’t come up with something a little more inventive. I cringed a little when the Resistance showed its scale and basically said something like: it’s the Death Star but worse. I loved The Force Awakens when it went in new directions and not when it tried to remind you constantly that you’re watching Star Wars. In addition, the film follows the plot of A New Hope almost beat for beat and perhaps does this a little too much. There’s plenty of time for new stories though and it appears Abrams knew this was a chance to remind long-time fans of the glory days.
There are touches of J.J. Abrams’ flair in this movie from the swooping tracking shot of the X-Wing as Finn cheers it on to some of the more light-hearted moments of humour. The attention to detail has always been at a high level with Star Wars but the return to a lot of practical effects and atmospheric sets paid off in The Force Awakens. I was also pleasantly surprised by how funny the film was and I often found myself laughing out loud. BB-8 is particularly amusing and he was fantastic to watch whenever he was on-screen, a feat that’s even more impressive when you know he wasn’t created using CGI. Some of my favourite moments of the film came in the opening 45 minutes and the overall first third of the movie is amazing. From Poe and Finn’s escape to Rey on Jakku and their subsequent escape. It all flowed really well and the film didn’t try to take itself too seriously. These scenes more than any others gave me nostalgic feelings for the Star Wars I know and love.
The villains of this film were also pretty good. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) was intriguing and took up the ‘Emperor’ role in this plot. It’s clear he is manipulating events from afar and although his 30 ft appearance was a little surprising at first, I am interested to know more about him and his motivations. General Hux played by Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina) was set up well as a competitor rather than an ally to Kylo Ren even if some of his acting at times was over the top. The real villain though was Kylo Ren and he was a fascinating one at that. He evoked Darth Vader with his mask and his attention-grabbing powers but he is a significantly flawed person too. Going into the film I expected him to be a strong and powerful villain but I wasn’t expecting him to be so conflicted. His call to the Light side, his relationship with his father Han Solo and his worship of all things Dark side was really interesting and could be a strong new road for Star Wars after the more two-dimensional, good and evil story we’re used to. Adam Driver was great casting for this role as he adds new layers to a character that could easily have come across the wrong way. The death of Han Solo and the subsequent lightsaber battle were highlights of the film and it was awesome to see Rey pick up that lightsaber.
There’s a lot to love about The Force Awakens but once the dust settles a bit, it’s not too difficult to point out some of its less successful aspects. Some side characters don’t get enough screen time such as Captain Phasma who was marketed as a real bad-ass but who in reality had a tiny amount of screen time. Some new characters such as Maz Kanata weren’t super strong either but there’s certainly room in the future to flesh these characters out. My biggest problem with the film was the lack of explanation of events between Return of the Jedi and this film. Thirty years have passed since Jedi in the plot and there was very little discussion of the new republic, what the Resistance actually was and what happened to those characters over the years such as Luke Skywalker. This would be a lot to put in one film but more was needed to add context and emotional weight particularly to the five planets blown up by Starkiller base. I’m also conflicted on the ending, Luke either recognizes Rey as someone strong in the Force or he’s met her and the lingering shot of the two on the cliffside was an interesting choice for the final scene.
All that said, The Force Awakens is the most fun I’ve had watching a film for a long time. Not only did it bring back lots of nostalgia from my childhood but it also got me excited about the future of the franchise again and its also exciting to know another film is not far away. The Force Awakens is an homage to Star Wars made by a fan of the franchise but is most successful when it treads a new path. The film is elevated to greatness by the fantastic Daisey Ridley and John Boyega and sets Star Wars off in a good direction for the future.