Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega (Attack the Block), Adam Driver (Frances Ha), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Carrie Fisher (Return of the Jedi), Mark Hamill (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Domnhall Gleeson (Ex Machina), Max von Sydow (Flash Gordon)
Director: JJ Abrams (Star Trek)
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) & JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes
Release Date: 17 December (UK), 18 December (US)
The moment Star Wars: The Force Awakens started, I felt 11 years old again. Seeing the opening crawl of a new adventure set in a galaxy far, far away almost brought me to tears, and the feeling was so overwhelming and unreal that if after the movie I suddenly woke up in bed, I would have genuinely believed what I had just witnessed was a dream. The Force Awakens gives you that amazed feeling throughout its running time, injecting you will both nostalgic nods to the series’ roots but also introducing new concepts that are certainly worthy additions to the lore. Is it a perfect movie? No, but really none of the Star Wars movies are, and any problems I have with it are buried beneath mounds of wonder and joy.
In many ways, The Force Awakens is structurally similar to A New Hope: there’s a MacGuffin both sides want, it ends up in the hands of someone outside the conflict, and then our hero is plucked from obscurity and begins their adventure. The movie returns to the more traditional Joseph Campbell hero’s journey rather than the prequels’ tendency to focus on the politics and intricacies of the world, but it still tells its own unique story is tonally similar to pieces of the other movies and combines them into its own unique beast. The Force Awakens runs at a breakneck pace, easily the most energetic and exhilarating of the series thus far and, whilst this is a welcome change from the plodding dullness of the prequels, it does sometimes feel a little too fast. In its hastiness to get from plot beat to plot beat, it does sometimes feel like details get brushed over or ignored; I’m glad the film doesn’t feel the need to stop the film to strenuously explain unimportant lore, but there are just a few moments here or there that just whooshed by with a “wait, what happened?” The Force Awakens also feels thematically like a continuation of the saga, with many pieces of iconography and character parallels made throughout, managing to just about balance that fine line between loving tribute and fan fiction indulgence. There are definitely elements that have been lifted from defunct elements of the Expanded Universe, as well as several fan theories being correct, but they are all executed in excellent and fitting ways; there are moments where I knew what was going to happen, but it never happened exactly how I thought. It doesn’t feel self-contained in the way A New Hope did, as there are a lot of unanswered questions left dangling for the next few films, but not in the way films like Prometheus or The Maze Runner did. It never feels like they are teasing or needlessly withholding information, and it’s all done in a natural way that intrigues and makes us want to know more rather than confuse or annoy.
The cast assembled for The Force Awakens is all around excellent amongst both returning players and the fresh-faced newcomers. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are simultaneously just as you remember them and noticeably different, time definitely having had an effect on them both, but you would never guess that these actors haven’t played these roles in thirty years. The real focus of the film does however lie on its new characters, and Daisy Ridley and John Boyega make excellent leads as Rey and Finn, evoking that Star Wars character archetype without feeling like carbon copies of previous characters. They are both people conflicted about their place in the world and want to make a change, a mutual feeling that brings them together, and though they can be averse to facing up to danger they ultimately know what the right thing to do is. I feel they’ve only scratched the surface with these characters but in a good way, and I can’t wait to see how they continue moving forward. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren manages to simultaneously be both an incredibly intimidating presence but also surprisingly relatable; moments of humanity shine through his menacing figure, but never in a way that detracts from his villainous persona. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron evokes Han Solo whilst making the character his own with a unique sense of humour and a more amiable swagger, and his on-screen chemistry with Boyega makes them a pair I hope will go on more adventures together. Characters like Domnhall Gleeson’s Hux, Andy Serkis’ Snoke and Gwendoline Christie’s Phasma get a little less focus that I would have hoped and Max von Sydow is basically an extended cameo, but I’m sure several of them will get more time to shine in future films.
JJ Abrams is a Star Wars fan through and through, and in his technical vision for The Force Awakens that love shines through immensely. The cinematography is vibrant and flowing, taking every opportunity to soak in every environment and display the action in the most enthralling way it can; the days of static shots in front of green screens are over. The film’s overall design from the sets to costumes to props to creatures to visual effects is all absolutely top-notch, taking advantage of technological advancements in cinema without feeling indulgent and evoking the classic Star Wars look in a way not seen since 1983. The sound design is beautiful with loads of classic sounds bringing nostalgia to the ears and new ones that slot nicely into the universe, and do I even have to say that John Williams’ score is brilliant? I will admit there isn’t a piece of music that immediately jumps out like ‘The Imperial March’ or ‘Duel of the Fates’ just yet, but iconic status takes time and every single note of this score is undeniably the work of Williams.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens could be essentially described as the most expensive fan film ever made, but doing so would be a disservice to not only how good of a Star Wars movie it is but also how good of a film it is in general. It captures the magic of the original trilogy far better than George Lucas could ascertain and completely washes out the bad taste of the prequels without feeling the need to poke a dead horse. I can see even as a fan that this isn’t a perfect film and I’m sure there are even more problematic details I haven’t quite picked up on yet, but what this film gets right far eclipses its stumbles and I’m hoping they can iron out these little quibbles come the next instalment. The Force Awakens isn’t the best film of the year but it certainly is one of the best based purely on entertainment value and, though I don’t think it’s going to change cinema in any way close to the way Star Wars did back in 1977, it continues it its tradition of being a simple but powerful story that resonates far beyond a simple surface observation. The hype was justified this time, folks. Just enjoy it.
FINAL VERDICT: 9.5/10