This review is spoiler-free!
It was never going to be easy. Following up the original Star Wars trilogy was a difficult task for its creator George Lucas and his prequel trilogy was met with a lot of criticism and backlash. Star Wars fans have long been strong in their opinions and beliefs on how these stories should be told and having to meet these expectations is almost impossible. For J.J. Abrams it was an even more daunting task with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because he was following on the story of The Return Of The Jedi, continuing a beloved story with a lot of the same elements and cast. However, Abrams (along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt) have achieved the impossible – they’ve delivered a fantastic Star Wars movie, one that’s up there with George Lucas’ original trilogy. It may not be as good as A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, but it might just tie (fighter) with The Return Of The Jedi.
The Force Awakens uses 1977’s a A New Hope in terms of story template, a young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) yearns for something more on a desert planet (Jakku) when a droid (BB8) with a hidden message rolls into her life. BB8 is no ordinary droid, as he contains a map to the location of missing Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. A.W.O.L Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) smashes into her life, chased by members of the evil First Order. Finn has been tasked by BB8’s owner, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to find the little droid and take it to the Resistance leaders. The pair escape Jakku in everybody’s favourite piece of hunk-a-junk, The Millennium Falcon, but it’s not just the First Order who are looking for The Falcon, the ship’s true owner Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his trusty co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) have also been searching for the ship. Knowing the importance of Rey and Finn’s quest, Solo takes the pair under his wing and helps them on their quest.
On the surface you could argue that The Force Awakens is a cynical piece of Hollywood franchise moviemaking, but the film has so much heart and honesty at its core, that you can’t help but love it. It’s steeped in the same sense of fun and adventure that made fans fall in love with George Lucas’ original films. Abrams has made the perfect continuation of Lucas’ Skywalker saga and he hits the right beats and refrains, echoing many of Lucas’ themes, while also moving the story forward. The centre of the movie is Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and he delivers everything you want from the crusty space pirate. Ford might be over 70, but his movie star quality shines as bright as it did back in 1977. It’s great to see Solo at a different stage in his life, the character had little to do in The Return Of The Jedi but he’s an integral part of the story here and Ford has great fun playing an older Solo who is as roguish and reckless as his younger counterpart. Whoever they get to play the character in the Han Solo prequel movie has a lot to live up to.
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are a great addition to the Star Wars galaxy. They share great chemistry with Harrison Ford and they deliver in the emotional and the action stakes. This new trilogy is their story and they make another two films a very appealing prospect. Also impressing is Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron – but it’s a shame that he isn’t given more to do. I hoping that this is rectified in the next episode. Speaking of under-utilised characters, Carrie Fisher’s Leia has little to do, and again I hope that she’s given more to do in the next film. Her character is certainly set-up to play a larger part in the continuing story.
The Star Wars franchise has alway been about the villains and The Force Awakens is no different. Darth Vader is the benchmark for how all movie villains are compared and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a worthy successor. Ren is obsessed with the legacy of Darth Vader and he’s driven in his quest to discover Luke Skywalker. He’s a complex character and Driver brings a lot of shades to him. I’m not too sure about Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and his motion capture leanings but that’s a small niggle about (at this stage) a minor character. As for Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker – you’ll just have to see the movie.
On a visual and technical level, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a marvel. Abrams has pulled together the best in the business to deliver a stunning looking and sounding movie. Lucas’s original film effectively created the special effects driven blockbuster and The Force Awakens has the same feel and texture as the dusty world that Lucas delivered back in 1977. Forget the digital sheen of the prequels, this is the same lived-in galaxy that fans adored. That’s not to say that the prequels are ignored, as there are a few slight visual call-backs to those movies.
The score of the Star Wars movies have been an integral part of the saga’s success and John Williams once again composes. It’s yet another stunning score and I would hate to be the composer who takes over the series if and when Williams decides to put down the baton (although sure Michael Giacchino is the next logical step).
J.J. Abrams has crafted a movie that continues a beloved story and that introduces a lot of impressive new elements. At its worst, The Force Awakens could have been awkward fan-service but Abrams and company have managed to avoid that to deliver a stunning modern day blockbuster that will appeal to a mass audience. Fans will cheer, laugh and even cry at Star Wars: The Force Awakens and they’ll end the movie on an emotional high, eager to see the next instalment. Abrams has pulled off a miracle and given Star Wars fans the movie they’ve waited for since 1983.