Star Wars: The Force Awakens review
The following is a second opinion review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The first review was written hours after a midnight screening of the movie. Be warned the following contains spoilers – you have been warned.
Still here? Then let’s go back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
“This will begin to make things right.”
Never has there been such a loaded first line said in a movie. Uttered by the mysterious Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), it’s a piece of dialogue that draws a line under the muted Star Wars prequels and proudly boasts that the following film will bring balance to the biggest movie saga of all time.
It’s a bold move by director JJ Abrams but by the end of The Force Awakens, few will disagree that this is the Star Wars movie we have all been looking for.
30-plus years have passed since the end of the Return of the Jedi, both in the Star Wars universe and in real life.
For the film franchise, a lot has changed. George Lucas lovingly created three prequel movies that brought a younger audience to Star Wars, but managed to disenfranchise the majority of those who grew up with the Original Trilogy.
He then sold the rights to Disney for billions and walked away, passing the lightsaber on so that a new batch of storytellers could add their own imprint to a trilogy of films that forward the story of Luke Skywalker.
Disney buying Star Wars meant that there was some hefty revising of what was canon. The many comics, spin-off games and book tie-ins that continued the Star Wars legacy were revealed to play no part in the new story arc and because of this have been rebranded as Star Wars Legends.
There will also now be a new Star Wars film every year, with standalone anthology stories filling in the gaps while we all wait for Episode VIII and Episode IX.
For all of this to work, The Force Awakens had to by many things. It needed to be the high watermark for Star Wars going forward. It had to satiate the need of the elder Star Wars fan, while keeping the franchise’s fire alight for those who grew up with the prequels. It also had to be the perfect introductory space opera for younglings who have yet to delve into Star Wars.
No pressure, then.
Thankfully, Star Wars: The Force Awakens manages to be all these things and more. It’s a worthy sequel to the Original Trilogy. It’s a rare beast of a movie that feels like something you have seen before but continues to offer up something new.
In the 30 years since Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has disappeared, the Jedi have moved into myth and the rebels and Galactic Empire have rebranded as the Resistance and First Order respectively.
With this change, a new set of characters are born. Rey, brilliantly played by Daisy Ridley, is a scavenger living under the shadow of the past.
Her opening shots are perfect. We watch as she toboggans down David Lean-like landscapes on the planet Jakku, in the backdrop is a downed Star Destroyer. She scavenges through rusting debris to find spare parts to buy food and lives in the remnants of a derelict AT-AT.
She has a homemade X-Wing pilot doll and an old Imperial pilot’s helmet that she wears, pretending she is in battle.
Rey is reliving the world of Star Wars much like we all do with our Lego kits and fake lightsabers, and it’s beautiful.
Then there’s Finn (the ever-excellent John Boyega) and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. Both characters’ stories are intertwined as Finn turns his back on the Dark Side, abandoning his post as a Storm Trooper due to the atrocities he witnesses, only to help Resistance X-Wing fighter pilot Dameron escape from the clutches of the First Order.
And let’s not forget BB-8, a droid that’s loveable not annoying. While BB-8 could have been a misstep that could have seen Abrams renamed Jar Jar Abrams, it’s an inspired bit of practical effects that has a heart.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be a solid movie, if its focus was just these characters. Abrams and Star Wars script veteran Lawrence Kasdan have instantly created a new cast of cast-offs that belong in the Star Wars universe – each multi-faceted, potential heroes that can hold their own.
But, this Star Wars movie was never just about introducing the new, but also celebrating the old. Each introduction of Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia (now General Leia), R2-D2, C3P0 and eventually Luke works so well.
There’s no stumbling here, but actors fitting back into roles that made them and obviously relishing the chance to play such iconic characters again.
Han and Chewie’s chemistry remains perfect. Here we get a wisened as well as wise-cracking Han Solo. This is no half-hearted Harrison Ford you have seen in movies of late but the real deal and he’s hilarious too. The humour that was sorely missing from the prequels is back with aplomb.
The way Han interacts with the new cast is great, how he feels protective over Rey – although he really doesn’t need to be – even offering her a job, and how he sees himself in Finn, a conflicted good guy with more than a little baggage.
When Han meets Leia after all these years, the meeting really feels like the rekindling of a deep friendship. This isn’t acting, it’s real.
There is such a weight of emotion when you see the old characters on the screen, that you don’t know whether to smile or cry. I did both.
Star Wars wouldn’t be complete without a big bad, and Adam Driver is superb as Kylo Ren. As with all Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens feels like we first meet Ren at a mid-point in his character arc.
He’s a bad guy filled with anger who has a greater grasp of The Force than many we have seen – stopping a laser mid-air is one standout moment – but he is conflicted. Still young, he has temper tantrums and his unhealthy obsession with Darth Vader means he wears a mask without the need to, other than as homage.
While it took three movies to see what was under Vader’s mask, we see Rylo Ken’s true face in under an hour in Force Awakens. Under the mask is a young man seething with anger but someone not yet proved himself to be worthy.
When we do ultimately see what he is capable of, this is not only another step toward darkness but a devastating disturbance in the Star Wars ‘lore.
This is the character Anakin in the prequels should have been and it just shows that what can happen when you get the casting right.
It’s the Dark Side, however, where the movie slightly falters. Above Ren we have Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke. While he is menacing (and MASSIVE), this CGI character feels really out of place in a world that for the most part seamlessly blends practical effects with CG.
He would be right at home in the prequels but in The Force Awakens it just doesn’t feel right. Lucky, then, there’s not much else the movie gets wrong.
The dog fights are beautiful, as is every new world we encounter. It really is worth spending more and watching The Force Awakens on the biggest screen possible. I saw it on IMAX and the effect was both immersive and jaw-dropping.
Even though the plot is in part a remix of A New Hope, it’s this familiar territory that anchors The Force Awakens. It tugs at the nostalgia strings but there’s enough here to make sure that this isn’t just a movie to pander to the fanboys.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the movie the prequels should have been. Visually things are simpler, while the action is superb it’s not the meat to the film – the characters are the main focal point. Star Wars was always about those little moments where all the cast were quipping and sniping at each other – small exchanges in a big world.
The Force Awakens has plenty of these and because of this it’s Star Wars through and through.