Review – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Trailer

Star Wars is back.

Star Wars is back.

No words of mine could possibly get across the tremendous impact of Star Wars, globally and personally, in as short a preamble as these reviews usually come with. I’ve spent the last week discussing the saga and my thoughts on it, but nothing could really do justice to it all, unarguably the most famous film franchise in the history of the medium, the series that has done more to change cinema and science-fiction than anything else. Nothing comes close to Star Wars. Absolutely nothing.

And so we have Episode VII, ten years after George Lucas brought his stuttering disappointment of a prequel trilogy to a close. The promotion was intense and unrelenting, the questions and theories from expectant fans overwhelming. But chief among them was easily “Can J.J. Abrams pull this off?” My opinion of his work on Star Trek have been mixed to say the least, but Abrams doesn’t really make terrible movies: but Star Wars is something else. So, was The Force Awakens all that it was made out to be? Was it all I hoped that it would be?

Armed with weapons capable of destroying entire systems, the “First Order”, a new incarnation of the Empire, threatens the galaxy, faced only by a ragtag “Resistance”. On a barren desert world, lowly scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), First Order deserter Finn (John Boyega) and hotshot Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) are all drawn after droid BB-8, who has the key to something the First Order and the Resistance both desperately want: the location of famed Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Aid will come from legendary figures like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and deadly danger from mysterious First Order leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his menacing protégé Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

I am very happy to say, beyond any other more precise critique, that The Force Awakens is a very enjoyable experience. At time of writing, I have been lucky enough to enjoy twice, in packed theatres full of wonderfully hushed audiences. It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of smiling almost the entire way through a movie, and while I will not refrain from criticism in what follows, perhaps no other words of mine can make the point: if you are a Star Wars fan, this is a film that I am near certain you will enjoy and appreciate.

The major issue that I’m seeing division on is The Force Awakens’ similarity to A New Hope, in so many respects. And this is a very valid concern. Right from the off, a Star Destroyer swoops into the frame, dominating the camera. The plot revolves around a droid carrying a secret of immense importance. A desert dwelling orphan gets drawn into a galactic conflict with an older mentor, facing a black robed and masked individual of terrifying power. People get broken out of detention cells, a superweapon is threatening the universe, people have surprising fathers and the Millennium Falcon has to outfight a few TIE fighters. In details big and small, The Force Awakens is aping A New Hope.

But I am surprised by how little this bothered me. Maybe it is because it has been so long since Hope – fully 38 years – or maybe it is because the film also features plenty of originality in plot beats and characters besides. Maybe it’s because the prequel’s experiments with a slightly new formula were such a disappointment. Whatever it is, it feels right that what could be viewed as a sort of soft reboot of the franchise should take such a path: telling the Episode IV story, but with enough tweaks, changes and new elements that it isn’t just a cynical facsimile. This is both Star Wars and J.J. Abrams’ vision: the end result is something familiar, with a new sheen to it. If The Force Awakens is too similar to A New Hope, it’s not the worst flaw, as that remains one of the best two Star Wars films, and going back to that kind of plot and those kind of characters and moments is not something that is an automatic mistake. Star Wars is about amazing adventures in space. It should be fun, and that’s what The Force Awakens is, mirroring the effect of the original trilogy.

What emerges here is a film that is surprisingly, delightfully, character driven, with five distinct arcs being juggled back and forth. The first, and easily the most important, is that of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, our Luke stand-in, the Jakku bound scavenger dreaming of something better. Abrams introduces her and her plight in a wonderfully effective sequence early on, as she gazes forebodingly at a sun scorched old woman she might one day turn into, before destiny comes calling in the form of BB-8.

Rey is simply wonderful. Ridley’s performance, equal parts stunning competence and endearing naiveté, is the perfect combination for such a character. In many ways, I was reminded of Matt Damon’s Mark Watney from The Martian: both characters being smart, independent people, whose intelligence and guile is shown in such a fashion that only increases their attractiveness and charm, instead of making them seem too action hero-ish. In Rey, we have a character who seems so genuinely delighted to be caught up in this story of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, like an audience surrogate, beaming with happiness as stories of the Force and Jedi are confirmed to be true. But she emerges as so much more than that as the film proceeds, in a strong central arc that marks her out as the galaxy’s new new hope, connecting to the old as she looks to the future. She can be kick-ass and she can showcase a wonderful emotional vulnerability at others moments: stick-wielding fight scenes mix with wistful longing for the family that she knows, deep down inside, is never coming back for her. Ridley is a true revelation and, on the basis of this fine outing, has more than enough chops to lead this franchise into VIII and IX.

Next to her is John Boyega as dissatisfied Stormtrooper “FN-2187”, amusing labelled “Finn” by Poe early on. If Rey is the diamond in the rough rising to greatness, Finn is the individual rebelling against fascist conformity. In the heart racing opening sequence, Abrams is at pains to put us in the place of a lowly Stormtrooper, forced to be a killer for dark powers who view their worth only in cannon fodder terms. Finn, for whatever reason, won’t kill for the First Order anymore, and following his story provides a great contrast to Rey. Both have different knowledges bases and experiences, that intermingle so well, and both have blank spaces, in scenes overflowing with great character interaction and dialogue. Finn’s hope to make something better of himself than just being a nameless Stormtrooper is a great journey to follow, as is the way his interactions with Rey and Poe change his attitudes towards the galaxy. John Boyega matches Ridley beat for beat, in the second of the films utterly engaging acting performances, truly “nailed” from start to finish.

John Boyega is going to be huge.

John Boyega is going to be huge.

A bit more of a mixed bag is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. If Rey is Luke’s Jedi side, Poe is his hotshot fighter pilot: great behind a stick, snarky and defiant in person, which we see as soon as he is confronted early on by Ren: “So who talks first?”. Unfortunately, he’s the most under-developed of the central three, dropping out of the film for a larger amount of time in the middle of the first act, and not getting all that much to do, character wise, when he does finally turn back up. That’s a shame because his early back and forth with Finn, in a fun and enjoyable escape sequence, were the first indications to me that Abrams and his writers were capable of recapturing some of the magic from the 70’s and 80’s. Poe just needed a bit more participation in the unfolding story, and his lack of impact on me is not for want of trying from the excellent Isaac.

That brings us to the central antagonist force, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The Vader similarities aren’t exactly hard to see, and one scene around the midpoint where Ren talks to his predecessor’s burned helmet felt very unnecessary and shoe-horned to me. Ren’s unfortunately underdeveloped in my eyes, with much of his motivations and backstory bluntly delivered in the dialogue of others. The central mystery surrounding him is concluded quickly enough, and what’s left, while interesting, isn’t all that it could have been. Driver is called upon to do primarily VA for the majority of the film, and gives Ren this childish quality in every insult, frustrated tantrum and violent act, while also demonstrating his truly awesome power: an early example with a laser bolt suffices to make the point in stunning fashion. See below for some spoiler discussion.

Those four are the new guard, and do a wonderful job in what is, in many respects, a handover movie. Harrison Ford is back of course, and my fears that his later level of work, so poor in things like Ender’s Game, would lead to a poorly played Han were unfounded. Ford steps back into the role easily, and gives one of his finest performances in years, in a part that goes far beyond an extended cameo. Solo is intricately involved here from the moment he turns back up – a powerful instance, that had people in the cinema cheering – all the way through to his involvement in the finale. The swagger, the biting retorts and that infectious confidence in everything he says and does is right back on screen, and he interacts brilliantly with both Boyega and Ridley, a mentor character in the same line as Alec Guinness, but more inclined to shoot first. That, and there is something altogether appropriate in our all too brief glimpse of Han back in smuggler mode, no longer carrying spice, but horrible tentacle monsters.

Carrie Fisher’s Leia has a more reduced role, in just the second half of the film, and I take no pleasure in noting that, of all the original cast, her acting talent has degraded the most. This seems to be reflected in her screen time, but it’s not a train wreck: she just doesn’t seem capable of being the same character as much as Ford, or even Mark Hamill, whose Luke remains an enigma on the edge of The Force Awakens for most of its running time, but who does get to pop in. This isn’t the original trinity’s movie: even with the odd nostalgia callback or fan service, like the sights of holographic chess or ball droid, this is a film about the changing of the guard from old to new. And that’s just as it should be.

The tale that these multi-arcs inhabit emerges with brilliant pacing despite its 135+ minute running time. There’s a lot to get through here, but Abrams and his production team have successfully created a film that moves from set-piece to character to set-piece, and jumps from plot to plot with only some problems. As noted, some seemingly important characters – like Ren – suffer from the pressures of trying to keep all of the plates spinning, but the overall experience is simply wonderful: a film that keeps you engaged and intrigued from start to finish, with varied action sequences that lead into character driven scenes, and you are never unhappy to switch from one to the other. Despite the multiple arcs, the film is able to hang successfully on the BB-8 thread and the information that he carries, and The Force Awakens has none of the aimlessness problems that so infected the prequel trilogy. The action scenes are handled great, a real sense of urgency in ship chases, monster fights or the lightsaber clashes, where Abrams thankfully went back to the original trilogy looking for inspiration. Not that I found the prequel variations off-putting, but The Force Awakens worked better with a slower climax.

The decision to focus so much on character does mean that a certain shallowness is evident in the background details, and some people and plot hooks are introduced without much preamble or explanation, as if Abrams is simply setting things up for subsequent filmmakers to knock-down. Without spoiling too much (see below), I speak of the general geo-political state of the galaxy 30 years on from Endor, where a vaguely mentioned Republic exists but seems to be a mostly absent player, or the Lupita Nyong’o character Maz, who seems so pivotal in the second act, a cross between Yoda and Han who runs the films version of the Mos Eisley’ cantina while speaking in reverent tones on the Jedi and the Force.

And then there is Snoke, Andy Serkis in yet another performance capture role, the mysterious big bad of the First Order. If Ren is Vader, then Snoke is clearly fulfilling the Palaptine role, but The Force Awakens errs in showing as much of him as they do on-screen – in the form of a giant hologram with strange scars and physical appearance – without including much elaboration. Considering the amusing nature of his name – I mean, “Palpatine” is a name you take seriously, not “Snoke” – Abrams is already giving himself a mountain to climb, and the frustratingly shadowy nature of his appearances in The Force Awakens was actually kind of irritating. It’s another thing being set-up for someone else to do something with it. Actually more interesting to me was Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, played with fascistic abandon and a sneering British accent, who had an interesting little back and forth with Ren, rivals for the attentions and approval of the “Supreme Leader”.

One thing that I was concerned about once I heard that J.J. Abrams was helming this was the films treatment of both romance plots and female characters. We all remember the utterly appaling stuff that Abrams included in Star Trek Into Darkness. But, happily, The Force Awakens is a film that has a bit more intelligence when it comes to such things. A love plot – and not between the characters you might expect in a big budget Hollywood production – does sort of exist, but is portrayed in ambiguous enough terms that it neither dominates the narrative nor proves a detriment to the people involved. Indeed, it was more than a little like the romantic angle of A New Hope, only something to be implied or playfully suggested than to be outright portrayed. Both of the characters involved are inexperienced and naïve when it comes to the opposite sex, and where George Lucas so memorably failed with such a scenario in Episode II, Abrams succeeds in VII. And beside it all is the more Autumn romance of Han and Leia, with the two sharing some of The Force Awakens’ more emotionally powerful scenes.

Female characters in general are doing better in The Force Awakens than they have in any other Star Wars film. Whatever the precedence of the billing, Daisy Ridley is the main character, and a female one that is as strong as you can get without crossing into ridiculousness. One of the films best moments is an early action sequence where she bristles under Finn’s patronising protection, angrily insisting that he stop dragging her around by the hand. When Finn gets knocked to the ground by an explosion, it’s suddenly she who is dragging him around, a visual metaphor so subtle and enjoyable I’m amazed that J.J. Abrams came up with it. Rey goes on to become the films beating heart of both emotion and agency: one memorable sequence has her defying a male character who gloats openly about being able to “take whatever” he wants from her, a scene that has more than a few contemporary events in mind I’m sure. With the end of Katniss Everdeen’s adventures, a vacancy was open for a headlining female lead in Hollywood: Rey has already filled it.

But there’s also Carrie Fisher, whose Leia, now a General, is leading the Resistance ahead of a slew of male subordinates, the more shadowy Maz, a character ripe for inclusion in future instalments and even Gwendoline Christie’s “Captain Phasma”, one of Ren’s chief subordinates and our first glimpse at a female Stormtrooper, even if her part, seemingly designed as an attempt to recreate the same magic that birthed the Boba Fett phenomena, is far less important than it might have appeared in promotional material. Hell, The Force Awakens actually passes the Bechdel test. Alongside The Force Awakens’ impressive diversity in general cast, it’s mix of gender roles is also to be appreciated. J.J. learned his lesson, and if The Force Awakens, soon to be the most successful film in history I have no doubt, does this, it will be all the evidence that Hollywood needs to continue the trend.

The Force Awakens winds itself down into a third act that is fairly familiar in many of its plot beats, but no less entertaining for that. A truly heart-wrenching scene in this section is sure to be the film’s most iconic moment, but the whole narrative is brought to a very satisfying conclusion, that closes the films main arcs while also leaving tantalising glimpses of what is to come. If J.J. Abrams was brought in to banish the stain of the prequels, then he has undoubtedly succeeded. The trick is if those following him for VIII and IX can now change things up and take the franchise in new directions.

It is a very, very pretty movie. Abrams, reining in his propensity for lens flare in his other sci-fi works, has directed a film that closely matches the visual style of the original trilogy, while ignoring the largely bland and uninspiring technique Lucas exhibited for the prequels. 35mm was a perfect choice for what The Force Awakens is: a big wide experience full of big wide moments, with the camera taking in large vistas wherever it goes. They include the wrecked Star Destroyer on Jakku, advancing X-Wing fighters skimming a lake and the immensity of Starkiller base. Abrams is happy to move his camera around with verve, wanting us to take in the vastness of this universe and the story that it wants to tell.

Daisy Ridley is going to be bigger.

Daisy Ridley is going to be bigger.

But then Abrams, and cinematographer Dan Mindel, also take us in close. The opening sequence, with its night-time assault, is more Starship Troopers than Star Wars, but in a good way: the flashing lights and rumbling dropship that carries Finn and his fellow Stormtroopers puts us right in his head, very important for that character and understanding the choice he is about to make, and as soon as you see those white-clad soldiers shooting with accuracy into the chests of innocents, you know that things have changed in Star Wars. Later, we swoop and twist in the wake of the Falcon as it dogfights, in a truly brilliant chase sequence. Later still, we have the saga’s first experiments with flashbacks in creepy montage scenes, lightsaber fights in snow-laden woods as emotive as any samurai film and fighter battles that beat any that have come before in visual panache if not quite in narrative impact.

And that’s before you get into the films effects work. The set construction is wonderful, as good as it has even been in Star Wars, from the updated Imperial style of the First Order to the scraggly scavenger hamlet that Rey is a part of in the beginning. The CGI is of an immensely high standard here, with a really seamless blend of the computer created and the physical. No computer game sensation in the dogfights and ship battles this time. In the best tradition of those films that work hard at their CGI, things “feel” real in our minds, be they odd alien pack animals or those newly updated TIE fighters. Abrams, in The Force Awakens’, showcases an understanding of all that CGI can do, and all that it can’t: the end result is a production that feels a million miles away from the garish nonsense of the “special editions” or the cynical cash grabbing that occurred so much in the prequels computer creations. There’s toys a plenty to be made out of The Force Awakens, but every CGI creation is made with care and an eye for how it actually fits into the narrative.

The script, from Abrams, Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, is so good, and such an improvement on our last visit to a galaxy far, far away. There are hokey lines and stuff that could sound terrible, but it just doesn’t: combined with the skill of the delivery, things just seem to fit. The arrogant child that is Kylo Ren contrasts deadly threats with temper flares, but never stops sounding scary: “You’re so right” he answers to a character that noted his mysterious ancestry, before turning words into murderous action. The back and forth I’ve already noted, but it deserves some examples, like some of Finn and Poe’s early interactions: “Why are you helping me? “Because it’s the fight thing to do” “…you need a pilot.” “I need a pilot.” Han struggles to accept his place in the narrative – “You’re Han Solo?” “I used to be” –  but still loves that ship: how mesmerising in the actual film is that heartfelt “Chewie, we’re home”?

Han gushes over the Falcon even while going to and fro with Rey over its modifications and improvements: it’s like Harrison Ford never stopped playing Solo in over 30 years as you listen, and when he pauses to confirm the existence of the Force, Jedi and the dark side, it’s like a dream come true. Rey is sweet, naïve but compelling, Finn is lost, idealistic and scared, Hux is angry, scornful but insecure, every character just sounds right, like real people with real assets and complications to their personality. Specific duos have clearly had a great deal of work done in making sure that everything that they say to each other has just the right ingredients: Rey and Finn, Finn and Poe, Han and Leia are all clear examples. Even the droids, most importantly the debuting BB-8, a slightly more outwardly funny R2-D2, have personality to spare.

The humour is implemented very effectively here. No quips every ten seconds, just satisfying little moments or nice commentaries on the universe: when one character blindly hopes that “the Force will help us” in the face of impossible odds, the response is a panicked “the Force doesn’t work that way!”. It keeps us smiling even as things turn more serious, without being a detriment to the overall ambiance.

It isn’t all good. The Maz character is written like a dime store Yoda, and it doesn’t help that she is so mysterious. Some of Kylo Ren’s lines, or the lines about him, are too blunt and to the point about his motivations and past life, especially that scene with Vader’s helmet. But overall, things are of a really good quality with The Force Awakens’ wordplay, and a good script can paper over many flaws, something regretfully lacking from the last three Star Wars movies. It evokes memories of the original trilogy at every turn, and that is enough.

John Williams, thankfully, made the return to the composer role. His score might be the most under-stated he has ever done in the saga, but still has the same level of expertise and musical competence that you would expect from the grand old man of film soundtracks. No signature theme really exists here in the vein of “Duel of the Fates”, “Battle of the Heroes” or Empire’s love theme, aside from the simple motif granted to Rey, low intensity but effective, a curiously playful and soft theme that matches her exactly.

It’s easily modified into something more affecting and bombastic as things progress, and is matched by those themes given to the First Order, a mixture of the loud and boisterous as they attack – a spin on the Imperial March – but also full of little xylophone beats and short violins to give that air of suspense and mystery. The Resistance get a new march to advance into battle with, and the Falcon too gets an audio upgrade in terms of effective theme. The film builds to motifs based around “The Jedi Steps”, a four beat entity that gets bigger and bigger in your ears as time goes on, perfect for scenes of great consequence and revelation.

The expected stirring marches and horns are evident throughout, and you can trust someone like Williams to know just when the traditional themes, be they the main one (brilliantly included in a climatic lightsaber duel), the love theme for Han and Leia or even a very brief resuscitation of the old Imperial March, should be included. Overall, while I would say it’s likely that The Force Awakens’ OST will not rank as high as the others in the saga, it’s only a matter of inches: I don’t think that John Williams is even capable of scoring a Star Wars film badly, and woe betide the franchise when his auditory genius is no longer available.

OK, OK, there is some lens flare.

OK, OK, there is some lens flare.

Some Spoiler Discussion Follows

-So, a New Republic exists, senate and all. But what exactly is its relationship to the First Order? Is the First Order an entity on the same level, or is it some kind of large-scale non-state actor? The Republic has a fleet, but is bankrolling the Resistance to take on the First Order instead? Details like this, or the lack of them, did bother me a bit. I’m not asking for senate scenes like in the prequels, but it would have been nice to know what kind of political creation was borne from the victory in Jedi.

-I’d love to know a bit more about the character Max von Sydow was playing. He seems to be someone who knew Leia back when she was a Princess, and has some connection to the Jedi, or at least Luke. And he knew Kylo Ren as a child. Some kind of Alliance General? Favourite fan theory: Wedge Antilles.

-I liked how Adam Driver, when the helmet comes off, looks more than a little like an Episode III era Hayden Christiansen, that fit really nicely. Also, both characters are portrayed as being bratty spoiled individuals at around the same point, but it works so much better for Ren, whose personality is not wrapped around a terribly executed love plot and is just acted better generally. There was also a nice contrast between masked Ren and unmasked Ren, demonstrating that the mask was a method of intimidation, with the actual man being a fairly weak and downright cowardly individual at heart.

-Ren stopping the laser in mid-flight was a seriously impressive way of showcasing his power, not dissimilar to Vader’s force-choking on the Death Star.

-Phasma’s lack of a role, beyond a few lines here and there, was regrettable. I wasn’t joking about the Boba Fett thing, she seems very much like an attempt to create a similar feeling in people’s minds with the requisite onscreen time. I’m sure she’ll turn up again though, trash compactor or no.

-It was probably for the best that the film didn’t drag out the identity of Ren’s parents, lest The Force Awakens got way too close to the original trilogy in terms of inspirations. It did feel a little bit odd when Snoke just casually dropped it into conversation though.

-Snoke is such an odd one. He’s obviously non-human, that scar indicates an individual who has been through the wars. What’s his connection to the Dark Side? To the Empire? What’s his goal in training Ren and leading the First Order? A lot of questions left dangling, and I feel like Abrams should have been satisfied with just one scene of him.

-Still a big kick to be gotten out of Han and Leia’s reunion, and the unfortunate details of their estrangement. “There was too much of Vader in him” is a nice line, but is one of those “tell, not showing” problems with Ren. But it was cool seeing Han, the non-Jedi, sent into try and turn Ren back to the Light.

-Rey’s vision/flashback was interesting. I think we could have done with seeing a bit more there, maybe Luke actually teaching students like Ren, and Ren being seduced by Snoke, before the bloodbath. Also, the ghostly voices whispering to Rey were actually a mixture of Frank Oz as Yoda, re-spliced Alec Guinness dialogue from A New Hope and…Ewan McGregor in a very brief cameo, one of the only clear connections to the prequels that The Force Awakens has.

-Very strange, but in a good way, seeing the cast of The Raid movies suddenly turn up as one of the gangs out to get Han. Abrams must have been a fan, clearly.

-I don’t think Finn will turn out to be Force-sensitive, and his lightsaber scenes worked better that way. There was something cool about seeing a total amateur wield a Jedi weapon, even if the fight scene against the Stormtrooper with the shock baton ended very quickly.

Not really trying to hide the fascist elements...

Not really trying to hide the fascist elements…

-Rey’s “awakening” leads to her getting a lot of Force powers very fast, which did sort of weaken the Force as a narrative tool. She goes from denying it to using a Jedi mind trick in just a few moments. I know that she might – might – be Luke’s daughter, but it’s still a bit much.

-That was a funny scene though, even if I was a bit perturbed about the voice of the Stormtrooper she tricks. It sounded just like Daniel Craig to me, and I had not read a single one of the stories about his purported cameo appearance. It has to be him though, that Stormtrooper was James Bond through and through.

-On the question of Rey’s parentage: it is definitely inferred that she has a family connection to Luke, when Maz remarks that “that lightsaber was Luke’s and his fathers before him…now it’s calling to you”. But maybe nothing will come of it in that regard, and that might be for the best. The film also teased she might be another Solo child, but turned away from that, thankfully.

-On the same scene: Maz casually deflecting how she got a hold of that ightsaber, last seen falling into the abyss on Cloud City in Empire, is one of the frustrating shallow elements that the film has. I hope they come back to it.

-I wonder if she had Luke’s hand in some other box…

-The Resistance, and the film in general, moved past the First Order’s destruction of an entire system way, way too fast (and was that Coruscant?). I mean, Hope at least had Alec Guinness’ famous “I heard millions of voices…” line to make the point.

-Gleeson was loving it in that scene though. A bit of Tarkin in him to be sure, but I enjoyed his over the top fascistic rally speech.

-The fighter battle over Starkiller base lacked punch for me. It was clearly trying to be the Death Star attack from Hope, but the way the narrative kept cutting back to other, more important and entertaining, plots certainly killed a bit of its momentum, which was another problem for the Poe character.

-“Ben!” Perhaps the best acted line in the film? Even though, the second time around, I was left wondering why Han and Leia would name their son that. She never knew Obi-Wan at all, and Han knew him for a few hours. Surely “Bail”, or even “Anakin”, would be more appropriate. Case in point, in the now non-canon EU, it’s Luke who names his son “Ben”.

"It's true. All of it". Harrison Ford is a true delight again as Han Solo.

“It’s true. All of it”. Harrison Ford is a true delight again as Han Solo.

-Some have called the Ren/Han confrontation scene predictable, but I was still unsure what Abrams was going to pull up until the moment the sun went out. I think they did a good enough job setting up Ren’s inner conflict – how cool is it to see a character fearful of being seduced by the Light Side? – to keep you guessing to a certain point. That, and the scene had obvious allusions to the “I am your father” moment in Empire, when Luke rejected the Dark Side, though, if we’re keeping to the Hope comparisons, it’s more like Obi-Wan’s death.

-Han’s death is really well handled. He’s the mentor in this film, so he does have to go, but it occurs in a way that makes you really hate Ren whole underlining Han’s own heroism. Harrison Ford wanted Solo to buy it in Jedi, and he finally got his wish 30 years later.

-I think we were all screaming with Chewie. It’s been a while since a fictional character’s death has affected me this much. How utterly proper that Han couldn’t stop himself from going on to the bridge and trying to save his son.

-Ren, this bratty tantrum-throwing young man, so unsure of himself, so desperate to be the same powerful man as his grandfather, so easily dominated, so scared deep down inside, so incapable of dealing with a powerful woman like Rey, is a construction that I think is clearly based on a certain type of individual that has gotten increasingly more prominent in recent years, especially online. He oozes failure in so many ways, he can’t even make a lightsaber that works properly. And you better believe he’s going to have a serious inferiority complex after getting his ass handed to him. By a girl.

-The trench run scene was a bit lame, a moment when the lifting with Hope crossed the line for me.

-Neat that Starkiller’s destruction resulted in a new sun though, a nice image of rebirth and hope for the galaxy.

-Another iconic moment: Rey taking up Luke’s lightsaber with the main theme hitting, a counterpoint to Luke’s decision to rely on the Force in the trench. Something really satisfying in seeing her take on Ren and win too, and I’m already eagerly awaiting their next clash.

-I loved the Rey/Finn relationship. I think we can see his infatuation with her as a natural result of his sheltered life, it not being quite true love. Who knows where they might go with it though? He won’t be staying in that coma, that’s for damn sure.

-Somewhat connected, did anyone else get a slightly gay vibe off the Poe character? I’m not sure what it is exactly. It would be great though, wouldn’t it?

While not quite as enjoyable as previous dogfights, there is still a lot to enjoy with The Force Awakens' X-Wings.

While not quite as enjoyable as previous dogfights, there is still a lot to enjoy with The Force Awakens‘ X-Wings.

-The “map” MacGuffin was perfectly fine, but shoehorning in R2-D2 as a way of solving it was weak. How did he know to suddenly become active again?

-Man, even when Han Solo dies Chewbacca doesn’t get to be in charge of the Falcon.

-Skellig Michael is looking well. It’s so amazing that a piece of our country can be part of this universe, and what a piece: the first Jedi temple, looking gorgeously green and distinctive in the film’s conclusion. You cannot buy that kind of publicity for a heritage site, and Kerry will be reaping the benefits for years. At times, the line of people criticising the shooting that took place there has seemed endless, and it’s been irritating to read. Rest assured that decades of tourism will have done more damage to the site than a brief movie filming, yet no op-eds have been written on that. I have no doubt it is a minority viewpoint, but it stinks of a certain, dare I use a word I actually hate, “begrudgery” sentiment.

-Luke’s appearance was really powerful. Very smart to go with a wordless reintroduction for him, with Hamill doing everything that was required with that look on his face: surprise, sadness, even fear, and a realisation that it was always going to be this way.

-What’s to come? Luke training Rey, Poe and Finn continuing the fight against the First Order are probable things, with reunions aplenty still to be enjoyed: Leia/Luke anyone? A darker Kylo Ren and more info on Snoke are also to be looked forward to. And hey, I’m sure Billy Dee Williams will be around at some point. I’m thinking settled down family man.

Spoilers end

There is very little else to say about The Force Awakens. Its story is great. The performances of the ensemble are some of the best of the year. It’s visually stunning, and the script is a great return to better years of this franchise. The music is a powerful continuation of the composer’s record. It is a film that largely lives up to the hype that has surrounded it since its first announcement, and that leaves you hungry for more once the credits roll. It has its issues with a lack of depth in certain aspects, some characters that deserved bigger parts and a few other things here and there. But, relative to the larger saga, I think that it is the best Star Wars films since Return Of The Jedi. Maybe even The Empire Strikes Back.

To put it another way, it has been quite some time since I left a cinema screen and thought “Ugh, back to crappy reality”. Outside, on the Dublin streets, there was nary a lightsaber or an X-Wing to be found, and deep inside, in that very childish portion of myself that wore out his VHS copy of A New Hope, that came as an incredible disappointment, having spent over two hours deeply immersed in a galaxy far, far away, with all of its incredible story-telling, enthralling characters and exciting adventures. Now we must wait a year before the anthology begins, and we get to see another slice of the Star Wars universe, but I’m already looking beyond Rogue One: I want to see VIII. I want to see it very badly. I want to see how this story unfolds, and what Star Wars can bring to the table again in its central saga.

I do not need to recommend The Force Awakens. The tone of this review will already have made my feelings obvious, and the film is on course to break every box office record going. I will simply close by saying that J.J. Abrams has done us all a great service by bringing Star Wars back from the brink of big-screen oblivion, and injecting the franchise with the requisite boost it needed to replace the prequels in our minds. A new generation has their New Hope now. 38 years on from that first glorious adventure, Star Wars awakens.

A brilliant continuation.

A brilliant continuation.

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motions Pictures).

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6 Responses to Review – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

  1. steoller says:

    Heh, Kylo Ren, or Darth Rickman.

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