As a long time fan of the Star Wars franchise, I was incredibly dubious sitting down to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens at a minute past midnight when it officially released in the UK. As rich as the lore is and as iconic the original trilogy’s adventure, it has been years since anything released in the Star Wars universe truly struck a chord with me.
George Lucas undoubtedly created a cinematic masterpiece with the original Star Wars trilogy, but I’ve never been convinced he understood what it was about his creation that resonated with audiences. The prequels served an audience, but in my eyes they failed to capture the magic that made Luke, Leia and Han’s adventure so memorable after all these years.
Having sat down and watched through The Force Awakens, I can safely say that the franchise is in good hands. Abrams, a director whose work I often find hit and miss, clearly understands the appeal of Star Wars far better than Lucas ever did.
Star wars: The Force Awakens is everything I dared hope a sequel to the original trilogy would be and more. It’s not a perfect movie, it certainly has some weak points and reasonable criticisms, but it still managed to achieve the impossible. The Force Awakens catches audiences up to speed if they are new, provides a passing of the torch for the original trilogy and sets up an incredibly strong, memorable new cast of heroes. Oh, and it does this while striking a fine balance between new and old, switching up the pace, tone and writing style that feels fresh, but consistent with what came before.
Seriously, I don’t think that it would have been possible to create a better sequel to the original trilogy than this. It’s not perfect, but it sure as hell is incredibly polished, memorable and faithful.
Right, so what actually is The Force Awakens? In the simplest terms, it’s a spiritual retelling of the original Star Wars trilogy in a single movie, but reducing it to that does the movie a huge disservice. Clear allusions to the original trilogy are retold through the lens of a very, distinct set of heroes who provide a really fresh lens on otherwise familiar plot threads. The plot serves to explain the decades following Return of the Jedi, introduce the new plot, give closure to character arcs we know and symbolically pass the torch.
While this may sound disappointingly like a retread of already touched upon ground, it’s tackled in a manner that felt incredibly fresh and up to date, thanks largely to it’s superb casting. Every character introduced feels like they’re giving each and every scene there all, with not a phoned in performance to be seen. From moments of dramatic tension to wonderfully woven in comedic moments, the script, casting and acting are always consistently on the top of their game.
While we’re talking about the script, The Force Awakens is simultaniously the most tense and dramatic Star Wars film, while also being the most consistently funny. Jokes between cast members feel consistently snappy, well delivered and natural within the rest of the dialogue. Rather than feeling forced, we actually have a cast of characters established for whom moments of genuine elation, sarcastic quips or playful humor feel tonally appropriate alongside more somber scenes.
The primary trio of Ray, Finn and Poe all firmly cement themselves as deserving icons of the Star Wars universe incredibly quickly, which is an impressive feat in the shadow of the original trilogy, and Harrison Ford gives undoubtedly the best performance he has given in the entire series. Our villain, Kylo Ren, gives a refreshingly nuanced performance, presenting a far more interesting perspective on the dark side than the prequels could ever dream of achieving, acting the role with stunning conviction.
Before moving off the script, I do just want to highlight how wonderfully The Force Awakens manages to pull off humanizing the dark side of the force and those who serve under its banners. From highlighting the horrors of war for young soldiers to showing a villain with an unusual and remarkably nuanced primary conflict, The Force Awakens really does succeed in making the Dark Side more than just evil for the sake of power.
To touch briefly on the visual presentation of the film, Abrams insistence on sticking heavily to practical effects has really paid off. By clearing the scenes of background CG armies and instead featuring impressive alien costume work and huge sets, The Force Awakens comes together to form a very visually impressive package. It’s sleek and almost overly shiny where appropriate, but it knows when to grime up environments. This feels like a movie where just because something could be done, didn’t mean it had t, and their willingness to cut moments of they would have needed to be too CG heavy was admirable.
Also, it’s great to see Abrams keep the lens flare to a minimum. It’s present, but far more restrained than I would have expected.
The soundtrack to this movie is also incredibly impressive. It’s new, it feels reminiscent of what came before, it’s simply stunning.
So, let’s get to flaws. Easily the biggest issue The Force Awakens seems to wrestle with in it’s lengthy run time is the sheer amount they try to get done. Interesting plot threads are opened that will likely only be answered in expanded universe comics, characters are introduced then given barely anything to do, seemingly being held for a sequel, and a whole host of content that, while fascinating to watch, felt like it could have been trimmed or expanded upon.
This is never a huge issue, the threads left hanging are mainly things I felt a personal curiosity to learn more about rather than important unanswered questions. Certain characters feel like wasted opportunities in hindsight, but could totally be justified in being a bigger deal with the next movie.
It’s also worth noting that some aspects of the plot, while still impact to watch unfold, could be seen coming a long way off. I don’t yet know how much of that is to do with the original trilogy homage aspects of the film and how much is to do with my own personal knowledge of the franchise, but some of the bigger moments in the movie were somewhat predictable on a grand scale, if not in terms of their specific execution.
However, with those criticisms said, I want to reiterate how impressed I was with The Force Awakens. It’s by no means the greatest movie ever made, and it’s not winning any Oscars, but it was an incredibly satisfying movie that worked both as a continuation of a beloved franchise, and a comfortable jumping in point. The casting, script, acting, music, visual effects, tone and pacing were spot on for almost the entire film and I honestly came away from my first screening impressed at how spot on this movie was.
Abrams has managed to create a direct sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy that feels like a worthy direct sequel, but that also gets to stand on its own two feet as an incredibly strong film in its own right.
Believe the hype, this is not a repeat of the prequels. The Force Awakens is everything you’ve been hoping.