Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver
Please note, this review contains spoilers. Do not read unless you have seen the film! You have been warned…
We’re finally here! The most anticipated film of the year. Star Wars fans have been waiting 10 years for a new film, and 32 years since a good Star Wars film (in my opinion!). With the financial backing of Disney and director JJ Abrams at the helm, this film had massive AT-AT sized shoes to fill. After the lacklustre prequel trilogy left audiences cold, I imagine most fans were trepidatiously excited when this was first announced. Would it be different? Could the somewhat tarnished legacy of Star Wars be gloriously restored? Let’s find out…
Spoilers from here on out guys, I cannot emphasise this enough!
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Jedis have all but disappeared, and the sinister First Order has risen to power. Led by the fanatical Kylo Ren (Driver) who idolises the infamous Darth Vader, they attempt to rule the galaxy by developing a powerful new weapon. Luke Skywalker is in exile, allegedly the last Jedi, and a misfit group of new and old heroes must work together to try and piece together the pieces of the puzzle that will lead to them finding Skywalker, and once again bringing peace to the galaxy.
At the time of writing this, I have just got back from my third screening of The Force Awakens in two days. This might give you some indication where this review is going, but equally I needed to see this film more than once in order to collect my thoughts into a coherent review. Had I sat down to write this review at 3am on the 17th December, you would have just had a series of excited squeals, incoherent noises and unintelligible babbling. This film completely blew me away. Thank goodness!
Despite the fact I started sobbing uncontrollably the second the Star Wars logo appeared, I knew from the opening line of the crawl that everything was going to be fine. It begins with “Luke Skywalker is in exile”; immediately we have a familiar name, a familiar scenario. There’s no talk of taxation and trade disputes, it is classic good guys against the bad guys. It is classic Star Wars.
As soon as the crawl is over though, we’re right in the action and introduced to the new characters before we even catch a glimpse of the old favourites. I love this approach; not only does it build anticipation, but it means the new characters are developed in their own right.
All of the new characters are amazing, with Finn (Boyega) and Rey (Ridley) being the standouts on the side of the good guys. Rey is a feisty young girl with extraordinary abilities, abandoned by her parents at a young age and desperate to escape the desert wasteland she calls home. It is so refreshing to have a strong female lead, who is absolutely able to fight her own battles, and I have no doubt she will be an idol for young girls watching this. Rey and Finn have great chemistry also, without resorting to a romantic subplot and watching them in scenes together is a real delight. Boyega is wonderful as the former Stormtrooper who, after rescuing dashing X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) from the clutches of the First Order, joins the side of the good guys and never looks back. He has impeccable comic timing as well, and draws a lot of the films big laughs. He is not just comic relief though, and really proves what a great actor he is in the later emotional scenes, and big action set pieces.
Adam Driver is outstanding as the unhinged bad guy, Kylo Ren. Known previously for roles in comedies, I was quietly apprehensive about what Driver would be like in this key role, but I needn’t have worried. His huge frame gives him an incredibly intimidating screen presence. Relatively early into the film we have the big reveal that Kylo is in fact Han and Leia’s son, sent away to be trained by Luke, but who ultimately turned against his mentor and parents and instead chose the dark path trodden by his Grandfather, Darth Vader. Whilst initially it appears that Kylo Ren is a cold-hearted, ruthless killer, there is a great scene in which he talks out loud to the charred remains of Vader’s helmet as he desperately tries to fight the light which is in him. This is a great twist on the fight against the darkness we have seen previously from both Anakin and Luke, and this added a wonderfully rich dynamic to an already amazing character.
The old cast are of course wonderful, and it is so great to have them back. Despite seeing it in the trailers, hearing Han Solo (Ford) declare “Chewie, we’re home”, and seeing him back in the Millennium Falcon is incredibly moving. The scenes between him and Fisher as General (nope not Princess anymore) Leia Organa, sizzle with that same warmth that we saw in the original trilogy, despite the years and circumstances causing them to drift apart. I loved that the old cast and new cast fit seamlessly together; watching Solo trying to keep the young’uns in check was wonderful!
You must have been living in a hole if you hadn’t seen the big push on the new droid, BB-8 in all the marketing leading up to the film’s release, and as expected he is a total scene stealer. Friends warned me that BB-8 might be “the Jar Jar” of the new films, but I am happy to report that he is anything but! BB-8 is adorable, funny, and like his droid predecessor R2-D2, is the ever reliable companion to the heroes who seemingly wouldn’t be able to do what they do, without him! The thumbs up exchange between BB-8 and Finn got the biggest laugh in the film; it’s simple but so so funny!
Speaking of which, I was blown away by how genuinely funny this film was. There’s no Jar Jar or stupid fart gags to try and generate cheap laughs. Instead it is honestly funny, the quips are clever and referential of the old films without being “nudge nudge wink wink” like the prequels were. This keeps the film moving at a nice breezy pace, and makes it a genuinely entertaining watch.
One area where the prequels went so wrong was the overuse of CGI; something which is even evident in the controversial reissues of the original trilogy. JJ Abrams uses CGI sparingly, and where possible used practical effects and puppets. This is such a wonderful touch and just really makes it feel like a Star Wars film. The effects though were spectacular. The dogfights between the X-Wings and the TIE Fighters were incredible, every scene with the Falcon in flight was amazing, and the lightsaber battles? WOW. Always a highlight of the Star Wars films, the final showdown between Rey and Kylo Ren is a masterclass. I’ve never seen lightsabers look better than they do in this film. It shows them injuring, burning, slashing and scarring whereas previously it was pretty much game over if you got your finger even a little bit too close to that burning neon blade. Kylo’s lightsaber in particular is amazing. It spits and hisses as if it were alive, and reflects the unhinged nature of it’s wielder.
This was something which I didn’t appreciate fully until my second viewing, but there are some truly beautiful shots in this film! The X-Wings flying across the water to rescue the heroes, the TIE fighters silhouetted against a burning sun, the reflections of lightsabers in the eyes of Kylo Ren and Rey, and a wonderful long shot of Han approaching Kylo Ren on the bridge of the Starkiller base.
Ok so we had to get to this bit eventually! Inevitably one major character had to die in this film, but that scene between Han Solo and his son Kylo (or Ben as is his real name), is breathtaking. As already mentioned, the shot of Han approaching his inevitable doom is beautiful, and the dialogue between them is full of quiet emotion and tension. We see Kylo on the brink of coming into the light as Solo talks to him, tears fill his eyes and he drops his helmet, before appearing to hand over the lightsaber to his father. The shot then changes to the sun which has just turned black, and just as the light of the sun fades, symbolically so does the last remaining glimmer of light in Kylo Ren and he strikes Han Solo with the lightsaber. This obviously ripped my heart into pieces, but on repeated viewings I really appreciated the incredible acting in this scene and just how symbolic it all was as well. It is deliberately reminiscent of Luke meeting Vader in Empire Strikes Back, and easily one of my favourite bits in the film.
This film definitely takes a lot of its cues from A New Hope but I’m perfectly fine with this. The main thing for me is it just feels like a Star Wars film should. It has everything the prequels were lacking, in absolute abundance. It does a great service to the fans without being patronisingly knowing, and yet also has that universal appeal which means complete newcomers can enjoy it also. It doesn’t rip off the previous films, but rather pays homage to them in the way it looks, and most crucially, in the way it makes the audience feel. It is exactly the film I wanted.
I could very easily write nothing here, but there’s just a couple of bits which didn’t do as much for me.
Prior to the film I was really excited about seeing Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) in action. What could be more badass than a chrome female stormtrooper with a massive gun? Well, lots as it turns out. Phasma was massively underused and didn’t really have anything to do. Whether Phasma will play a bigger part in future films remains to be seen as her fate in the trash compactor was left unanswered. I didn’t really care much for General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and might have preferred to see Phasma in this role instead.
The first reveal of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) was slightly jarring. Towering over Kylo Ren and General Hux, I was just thinking to myself “Huh? What?”. However they then revealed it wasn’t actually a giant creature, but a hologram and this made it slightly better! Kind of wish they had made it more obvious he was a hologram from the start, and then I would have concentrated more on the scene rather than being distracted by his monstrous size! I feel Snoke will have a much bigger part to play as the film’s progress, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.
I saw this movie and you should too. Absolutely you need to see this film! If you’re a big fan like me then you’ve probably seen it already, but even if you have never seen a Star Wars film before, go and see this one, as I guarantee you will find something to enjoy. There’s adventure, fun, plenty of action and wonderful new characters to fall in love with, as well as old characters to fall back in love with. I’ve never felt so relieved after watching a film before, it could’ve been the prequels but it absolutely isn’t, it’s right up there with the original trilogy for me, and is a really good indication of where this new trilogy can go from here. It is an absolute joy from start to finish and has unquestionably restored the reputation of Star Wars to it’s original glory. What prequels?!
Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.