The Force Awakens starring Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Mark Hamill.
Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING!
Easily the most anticipated movie of the decade so far, this was always going to be momentous, whether it succeeded or failed. Thankfully, it wasn’t another Phantom Menace. It was true to the spirit of the original trilogy, even if it felt very different under J.J. Abrams. It wasn’t perfect, but it was immensely enjoyable.
It introduces a new cast: loner scavenger Rey (a brilliant Daisy Ridley), remorseful former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, who demonstrates a talent for being comic relief without being C3PO or Jar-Jar levels of annoying), skilled pilot Poe Dameron (a fun but underused Oscar Isaac – maybe X:Men Apocalypse cut into his filming schedule) and Adam Driver as villain Kylo Ren (who while being similar to both Anakin in the prequels and Vader in the Originals avoids straying too close to either). Out of the newbies, it is Ridley and Driver who impress the most (Rey is easily one of the best characters in the series, while Kylo Ren has a lot of potential and is easily a cut above villains like Dooku, Grievous and isn’t underused like Maul or Boba Fett). The new robot, BB8, is fortunately more of a cute R2 than another irritating droid like 3PO.
The original cast are back as well, though due to how much the script tries to cram into 2h 15m some favourites like Luke and R2 have only fleeting appearances (leading to a more substantial role in XIII and IX?). Its Han Solo and Chewbacca that get the lion’s share of the material here, arguably its the best of Chewy’s 5 appearances so far, so credit to Peter Mayhew and the scriptwriter for making a character with untranslated dialogue so likeable (amusing how he and R2 are more treasured than most of the characters we can actually understand!). It was fun seeing cameos from some of the minor characters like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nub (Lando’s co-pilot from Return of the Jedi) as well as a C3PO that isn’t on screen for too long (and hence isn’t as annoying as usual).
Abrams seems to have a talent for making good sci-fi movies. But he’s yet to make a great one (and while Force Awakens is no different, thankfully he tones down the use of lense flares this time!). The feel of the film is understandably different without Lucas at the helm and instead feels like a Star Wars film in the Abrams Star Trek style (and John Williams’ score, while having familiar elements is markedly different from previous films). The tone is different as well, with far more humour than previous instalments – mostly resulting from the banter between Poe, Finn, Rey and Han. None of this is a bad thing. Like ‘Into Darkness’ though, the film seems heavily reliant on a previous film in the series, in this case a New Hope rather than ‘The Wrath of Khan’. The similarities are obvious enough that I don’t need to list them, but the film stops just short of going into remake territory. The film’s different enough that this isn’t as overly irritating as it must have been to trekkies in Into Darkness.
It avoids the prequels’ error of underusing its main villain (though some of the supporting villains like Gwen Chrisitie’s Captain Phasma are woefully underused) and the revelation that Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son adds a welcome dimension to the interactions between the heroes and villains (similar to the way the ‘I am your father’ twist turned Luke and Vader’s confrontation on its head). Adam Driver is a definite improvement on Hayden Christensen (though he looks far less threatening without the mask). The lightsaber fights between Finn and Ren and then Rey and Ren are both believable and fun to watch as well.
The film does leave a lot of questions and loose ends that need answering though. Who is Rey? Who is Snoke and how did the First Order become so powerful again? What has Luke been doing the whole time? Why did Ben Solo turn to the Dark Side and who exactly are the Knights of Ren? I know people don’t like long films, but I feel a extra 15 mins to explain the origins of some of the characters or what happened in the 30 years between this and Return of the Jedi might have been helpful.
Now for the one major spoiler I’ve deliberately left till the end of the review. I had a feeling we’d lose a major character from the originals during this film (it kind of had to happen so there was a genuine feeling of danger – plus every first film in a trilogy has killed off a major character i.e. Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan) and it became increasingly clear that it was either going to be Han or Chewbecca here. Thank god it wasn’t Chewy, I’m not sure the fans would have coped with that (would have been Jon Snow all over again – we don’t need any more internet mourning this year!) and while it wasn’t an overly dramatic exit, it felt a fitting one (Han trying to do the right thing and facing the fight rather than running from it was always part of his character). Harrison Ford originally asked Lucas to kill Han off in Return of the Jedi, so I’m guessing he might have had some involvement with the decision to kill his character off here. I’ll miss him, but the stakes for Episode VIII feel a lot greater with him gone.
Overall, it was exciting, enjoyable and an excellent start to a fresh trilogy. Better than episodes 1 and 2 and on par/slightly better than 6, it’s not the best Star Wars film, but its definitely a good one.
Rating: 4 out of 5.