Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Spectacular

The force is strong with this one. So strong in fact, that the prequels seem to have been erased out of our memories.

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As much hype as there has been surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many seem to have fallen victim to the trap of being slightly unnerved and lowering expectations. Which isn’t surprising, since this is the first look back into the beloved franchise since the travesties that were the early 2000s prequels.

But fear not, the force does certainly awaken here, and all thanks to director J.J. Abrams, a splash of unknown faces in the form of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and the familiar, beloved stars of the original trilogy through Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Abrams has managed to pull a genuine Star Wars movie out of the wreckage of the prequels.

The film picks up where 1983’s Return of the Jedi left off, albeit 30 years later. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – now known as the last Jedi – has vanished. Even though the Empire has since been defeated, a successive force has arisen named The First Order, who are searching the galaxy for Luke, but so too are the Resistance, now led by General (previously Princess) Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). To say much more may well constitute as spoilers, but rest assured, a host of new faces pop up along the way, as well as plenty of old ones too.

There’s an undeniable sense of wonder when Han and Chewie are first revealed on the big screen. And it’s not just us, newbies Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are as astounded as we are that they’re even here too. They’re not only legends in the fictional Star Wars universe, but also outside of it in the slightly sadder non-fiction reality. Thirty-eight years have passed since we last saw our heroes on the big screen, when they were in a happier place than they seem to be now. There’s a real sense of battles being been won and lost, arguments that have set fissures in relationships and points in the characters’ lives that they simply can’t turn back on.

The new characters – Rey, Finn and Poe – may seem underdeveloped, but in Star Wars’ case (and especially since the prequels), less is more. There is more ambiguity surrounding these characters without knowing the ins and outs of their origins. We never even get Rey’s last name, yet we see her mature and grow to such a great extent throughout the film. The same goes for Finn and his struggles in the beginning of the film in terms of whether he actually wants the life of a Stormtrooper, or if he wants to rebel and leave that life for good. Oscar Isaac’s Poe isn’t half as much developed as the latter, only appearing in the film in a handful of sequences, but when he does, he steals the show. He’s the amalgamation of Luke and Han, and then some, and more of his presence would have been welcomed.

Pitted against Rey and Finn is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), for all intents and purposes a Darth Vader fanboy that believes he needs to set out to do what Vader never got to finish. He’s a complicated, somewhat petulant adolescent villain, nowhere near the cold-bloodedness of Vader. But you can tell that he has had it rough, and he wants people to sense that same pain. Especially since he seems to be somewhat seduced still by the light side, whilst still being an undisputed bad guy.

None of the performances were stilted in the slightest in The Force Awakens. Ford and Fisher reprised their roles as though they were slipping right back into them, especially Ford. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to play Solo, and compared to his last tango as Indiana Jones in the abomination that was The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, here he truly shines as Han.

But it was newcomer Daisy Ridley who stole the show. For this to be her first ever major role in film is astounding. I have never been so pleased and relieved that a female character has been able to take the helm of a franchise as big as Star Wars so swiftly before in my life. The hope that another female character would continue this trend after Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year has paid off. The journey we take with Rey is monumental for the time frame of this film, and she has surely set the foundations as being one of cinema’s all time best heroines.

Like any film, The Force Awakens has its flaws. It strays too close to the original Star Wars formula at points, some of the characters are a little too ominous (namely the questionably CGI Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), and a handful of plot points are extremely convenient for the characters, but that’s not the beauty of this film. It feels like a Star Wars movie. It’s as though Abrams scrubbed the slate clean and started off on a fresh slab. He adds fresh characters and ingredients to the already plentiful franchise, and makes The Force Awakens feel like A New Hope all over again.

In short, we can all partake in a collective sigh of relief. The force as awoken, and I for one can’t wait to see what they do with it next.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J.J. Abrams, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate 12A.

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A film student stuck in a 90s timewarp of FBI agents, UFOs, conspiracy theories, alternative rock and grunge.

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