I’m so happy I could cry!
My opening line will probably sound like I’m over exaggerating, but I it’s not often where you get to see a franchise redeem itself. Believe the hype people – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very good movie.
Set three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises in the shape of The First Order. Led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and their Stormtrooper army, they attempt to rule the galaxy. But all is not lost with the fate of the galaxy resting in the hands of the Resistance and two unlikely heroes in Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley).
Rey: “There are stories about what happened.”
Han Solo: “It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.”
Before I get this under way, I just wanted to mention that this will be a SPOILER FREE review. The beauty about Star Wars is that self-discovery and experiencing that journey first hand and honestly, I don’t want to do what Homer did in The Simpsons! *Hint – don’t even click that link if you’ve not seen The Empire Strikes Back!*
But honestly, if you were like me and frozen yourself in carbonite just to avoid spoilers, Easter eggs, cameos, fan theories and early reviews, then Star Wars: The Force Awakens becomes a better cinematic experience. For the first time in a long, LONG time, I genuinely feel excited about the direction the new trilogy will take.
Whilst the prequel trilogy was the lowpoint in the franchise, The Force Awakens could easily have been two hours of watching paint dry and still be significantly better than what the prequels offered up. But to my astonishment I was surprised by how good it was. It was everything I wanted and expected. I wanted it to feel like I was watching a real Star Wars movie, bringing back nostalgic memories of why I became a fan. I’m happy to say that The Force Awakens delivers on that front.
I can see why Disney/Lucasfilm pushed hard for J.J. Abrams. Forget about the commercial success behind his films, the greatest attribute he possesses is being a storyteller. It’s not always perfect but he knows how to establish characters and give them the emotional arc to make a film work. It’s effectively consistent and one of the strongest aspects of this film. You certainly can’t fault his vision. Viewing this film on an IMAX screen, Star Wars has never looked this good! Every scene fills up the canvas, showcasing scale and magnitude and most importantly, not overdone by cartoonish CGI effects. He unshackles the camera allowing flying sequences to have new perspectives, new thrills and excitement by allowing the audience to get closer to the action. The whole film was the perfect representation of practical effects and visual effects used well and was 100% believable. Simplicity was key and it was done right.
There’s a sense of familiarity in The Force Awakens which avid fans will immediately notice. While some people will feel a bit cheated, the film echoes A New Hope. But I don’t look at that as being detrimental. I see it as the necessary building blocks and guidance in order to shape the new trilogy and if you’re going to refresh Star Wars to usher in a new generation, why not start at the beginning?
“Forgive me. I feel it again… the call from light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I’ll let nothing stand in our way.” – Kylo Ren
Out of the three new additions in The Force Awakens, the character of Kylo Ren was the most impressive. That’s not to say that Daisy Ridley’s Rey or John Boyega’s Finn weren’t good – they were fantastic and certainly held their own. You grow to love Rey and Finn because their performances felt genuine and honest. Their contrasting backgrounds bring the humour, the fun and where it was needed most, the heart of the film. But with Kylo Ren, we have something far more dynamic and complex.
The Star Wars saga has always preached about the dangers of the dark side like some PSA advert. But what if you’re already on the dark side and you struggle to stay away from the light? It’s a very interesting concept especially as you start to discover Kylo’s origins.
He may not have the same presence as the iconic Darth Vader but you certainly don’t want to be in the same room as him! He worships and idolises Vader. He’s not a ready made villain like his inspiration but as a necessity, he believes that he’s doing the right thing. The film serves as a test of his beliefs and highlighting the blurred ambiguity between the two opposing forces of the light and dark side.
When Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn eventually cross paths with each other, there’s an obvious tragic parallel between them and The Force Awakens is about them understanding their past in order to determine their true purpose and fate in the galaxy.
The Empire and the Sith are no more but The First Order are more than capable of filling that void. Just like the Empire, we are again re-introduced to the familiar traits of tyranny, fear and a clear demonstration of power. Personally it’s great to see the dark side being menacing again and they’ve already made some improvements…they’ve certainly know how to shoot better!
And of course, no Star Wars movie is complete without a light saber battle. It’s not as graceful as previous battles such as Luke and Darth Vader or Obi-Wan and Darth Maul but once you put it into context, there’s an emotional and uncontrollable intensity in a similar vein to Return of the Jedi.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the perfect homage to the original trilogy. It brought a smile to my face. It bridges the gap with the characters you’ve grown to love in Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) whilst serving to pass the torch unto a new generation of characters in Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. J.J. Abrams returns the franchise back to its roots and it’s a positive reminder of why you love Star Wars so much, with its sense of epic adventure and hope in a galaxy far far away.
With a beautiful John Williams score, the new trilogy is off to a brilliant start and easily one of the best films of the year. There’s a lot of questions deliberately left open at the end of this film and I can’t wait to see how Episode VIII continues the story.
Over to you Rian Johnson – may the force be with you.