Film reviews

Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Force Awakens pic 1.

The Force Awakens is quite possibly the most anticipated movie release since The Phantom Menace (1999), and unlike the first episode of the prequel trilogy, this is a Star Wars film that fully justifies its hype. This feels like the film people would have wanted when they first entered movie theatres 16 years ago expecting the series to pick up where it had left off.

There’s little doubt for me that most Star Wars fans will lap up what this movie offers. Yet that’s not to say it’s just two-plus hours of fan service. There is a genuinely gripping, fresh story here; the older characters we once loved are now mythic in a similar way to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original, with the narrative instead driven by newcomers Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Those new additions to the cast are all, frankly, amazing. They give astounding performances and encapsulate characters that fit perfectly into the Star Wars universe while moving it forward to the next generation. Daisy Ridley especially, who is an absolute revelation and the centrepiece around which the entire film revolves. She played my favourite character in this movie, closely followed by Ren who feels like a refreshing, original villain.

Within the first ten minutes of The Force Awakens I already felt it was better than anything the prequels had done. Characters feel like real people; even the Stormtroopers, previously no more than cannon fodder, are portrayed from a human perspective, and in fact a main character’s back story involves working for the ‘First Order’ (this film’s equivalent of the Empire) in this capacity before leaving the profession behind.

Dialogue is refreshingly engaging too, free from George Lucas’ insistence on explaining everything to the audience while his characters stand around talking. Here there are still explanations offered for what’s been happening in the intervening 30 years between Return of the Jedi and this film, but exposition is delivered with a sense of urgency; something the prequel trilogy severely lacked.

There’s also not too much CGI used in this movie; certainly less than you’d expect from the biggest science fiction franchise of all time. Another issue I had with the prequels was the over-reliance on blue screens; not a problem here. Real environments were used for shooting, and it helps give the film a true sense of authenticity. Everything, for the most part, feels so much more real.

So let’s cut to the chase. Will you enjoy this film if you are not a Star Wars fan, and do you need to have seen the previous films in order to appreciate this one? This being the start of a brand new trilogy, you really get the sense that it is its own self-contained narrative. I believe you could get invested in this particular chapter of the universe and mythology even if you come to it with no prior knowledge.

At the same time the nostalgic throwbacks are likely to please fans, but they never feel forced. There is an all-round organic feel to the film – one of the most important aspects of any cinematic experience for me. Having said that, if one was going to search for any criticisms it may be for certain aspects of the movie that reflect the original Star Wars; some may accuse it of a slight lack of originality in places.

But even should that criticism be justified – and I found it had no lasting impact on my overall enjoyment of the film – it is vastly outweighed by the strength of the characters portrayed and the sheer pace of the action. There wasn’t a single moment in this movie where I felt it was starting to drag; though it lasts close to two and a half hours, you likely won’t notice the time going in.

Obviously at this point I won’t touch on the plot to any great extent. Suffice to say, I felt it delivered in all the right areas – there is an issue that I had with one particular part, but I’ll touch on that another time. Beginning, middle and end are all handled brilliantly. At no point do you feel the film is rushing through a checklist of what it feels it needs to include (hello again prequels), instead confident enough to hold off on certain things until the right time. Oh, and it ends on a brilliant cliffhanger that is likely to leave some feeling they’ve been sold a little short… but let’s remember how a certain other Star Wars film ended as well, and many people consider that the best one.

I honestly believe this one, The Force Awakens, is the finest instalment in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, in my opinion it’s superior to Return of the Jedi and (as if it needs to be said) all three of the prequels. Perhaps after another viewing or two I’ll update you on where I stand on this, but for now I’m willing to say there’s a chance this could end up being my favourite Star Wars movie overall.

That’s the kind of potential I knew this production had with J.J. Abrams at the helm, and for now, going on first impressions, it seems he’s delivered. I already can’t wait to see what he does with the next one. The force has indeed awoken, and you’ll be relieved to know it’s as strong as ever.

9 / 10

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