Director: JJ Abrams
Writer: Some Guy
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac
The film follows the narrative arc of A New Hope closely – perhaps a little too closely for some – but through the eyes of a new generation of characters – wide eyed, fresh faced and a little more diverse.
There’s Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku played by newcomer Daisy Ridley. She is fiercely independent and the Force flows through her as though she is the heir apparent to Luke Skywalker. One of my favourite scenes in A Force Awakens is during a rare moment of peace and quiet in which Rey sits next to a dilapidated AT-AT wearing an oversized helmet, pretending she’s shooting tie fighters in space. It’s a small, low key moment in a film that is about bombast and spectacle but it’s the scene that won me over with both Rey’s character and Abram’s vision.
Then there’s Finn (John Boyega), a young Stormtrooper with a conscience who abandons his post after seeing how the newly minted Dark Side army known as the First Order wipe out the farmers of a small village. Finn is enthusiastic, clumsy and as yet doesn’t have any of the skill or bravado that a Han Solo might have. He is probably one of the most relatable characters to every grace the Star Wars universe and the idea of seeing the world through a Storm Troopers eyes is such a good one it’s a wonder they haven’t tried this earlier.
Finn, Rey and their robot companion BB8 (presumably a distant cousin of R2D2) are easily the highlight of the film for me and as a result, it’s the opening act of The Force Awakens that is my favourite.
Gradually, the scope of the film expands and some familiar old faces return. We also learn more about the new threat known as the First Order lead by the mysterious General Snoke and young Kylo Ren – the estranged son of Han and Leia – who worships a shrine dedicated to Darth Vader and is immersed in the Dark Side of the Force.
Abrams has skilfully pulled off a delicate balancing act with The Force Awakens, both paying homage to the themes and mythology of the Star Wars universe that makes it so popular but also injecting it with fresh, contemporary characters that give reason for fans to want to look forward rather than simply reliving a Star Wars Greatest Hits collection. It’s a credit to Boyega and Ridley that after the initial buzz wore off from seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca on screen, I was ready to get back to focusing on Rey and Finn.
Where JJ Abrams succeeds with The Force Awakens and George Lucas bombed so spectacularly with the Prequel Trilogy is recapturing the breezy, swashbuckling sense of fun that embodied the Original Trilogy. The Force Awakens is a very funny film and it moves like gangbusters. The space battles and the light sabre fights are enthralling fun that should spark the imagination of the audience’s inner ten year old. Mercifully, it is free of the clunky and wooden dialogue that plagued the Prequel films; instead it serves up zingers and one liners that should warm anyone and everyone on the new characters.
Where the film stumbles a little is with some of the peripheral characters, particularly the non-human ones, who came off a little bland to me. I don’t believe for a second that the likes of the Unkar Plutt (the junkboss of Jakku) or Maz Kanata will be remembered as vividly as the likes of Yoda, the Ewoks or even Admiral Akbar.
JJ Abram is a director whose body of work polarizes audiences. He is rightfully lauded for his accomplishments with the hit tv show Lost but even the most ardent supporters would acknowledge that he couldn’t quite stick the landing. With the new Star Wars trilogy, that burden of responsibility doesn’t rest with him. Instead, directors Rian Johnson and Colin Treverrow will take the reigns. Abrams was tasked with reinvigorating the Star Wars series and infusing it with a fresh cast and he has handled his assignment with aplomb.
One thing I’ve noticed in the weeks after the film’s release is the wild speculation that has built up over the many unexplained narrative gaps that The Force Awakens leaves in its wake. By moving the story along at such a brisk pace, there are plenty of unanswered questions. Who is the man at the start of the film who knows of Luke’s whereabouts? How did Maz come to possess his lightsaber? What is Rey’s lineage? Personally, I hope that when Rian Johnson picks up the mantle, he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I think overthinking a light hearted romp through a galaxy far, far away is what gave us ‘midichlorians’.
Listening to the multitude of opinions on Star Wars, its interesting to hear what the series means to different viewers and subsequently whether they thought The Force Awakens delivered. Some people loved it. Others bemoaned the lack of detail or how overly familiar it felt. I even know someone who wished it could’ve been more like The Phantom Menace (they’re young).
For me, Star Wars is the story of the Hero’s Journey – what once was Luke’s and now is Rey’s. It’s about larger than life characters and memorable moments. The trench run in A New Hope. Vader’s revelation to Luke in Empire. That lightsabre showdown in Return of the Jedi. I revel in the series’ tropes and motifs – the John Williams score, the distinctive hum of the lightsabre and the indecipherable speech of Chewie and R2.
The Force Awakens has its big moment (the worst spoiler of 2015). It has a fine new hero in Rey. There are plenty of new good guys to root for and villains to jeer. It looks, feels, walks and talks like Star Wars should. Judged on those merits, I think The Force Awakens is an unqualified success. It was everything I wanted it to be.
Summary : A very welcome return to form for a beloved film franchise. A modern take on Star Wars that is note perfect.