Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Jason Boyega & Daisy Ridley
Film review by Jack Bottomley
Have you ever watched a film that left you drained, left you weak, left you a little bit speechless? Way back in 1977 many people will have arguably applied such descriptions to a space opera action/sci-fi called Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). What was at many points during production considered a certain box office bomb, George Lucas’ film went on to inspire and captivate generations. An even greater film followed in Irvin Kershner’s 1980 classic sequel The Empire Strikes Back and Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi closed a trilogy many consider one of the greatest in all of cinema. George Lucas’ prequel trilogy followed from 1999-2005, with a far more mixed reception, but whatever the case Star Wars has become a fun and invincible cultural juggernaut. So when Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and the house of mouse announced that more was to come, fans everywhere gasped with nervous trepidation.
Not only would the next film be following up an era of Star Wars that is heralded by many as “the greatest” but the man charged with the task would be director J. J. Abrams who has had his fair share of fan backlash over his work on the Star Trek series (mostly regarding the 2013 film Star Trek: Into Darkness). So, in spoiler deflecting fashion, we ask, does the force awaken? Indeed it does. To avoid ruining anything for you, we have had to make this review vaguer than a Yoda tongue twister but prepare yourself because here are some minor plot details. The film sees Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) missing and lead resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides information regarding Luke’s whereabouts on his loyal droid companion BB-8. But the evil First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is on the prowl, which leads Poe to meet reluctant stormtrooper Finn (Jason Boyega). Meanwhile BB-8 flees into the company of scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Soon fate brings BB-8, Rey and Finn together on an adventure of unexpected discovery.
Now if you are seeing parallels to A New Hope (plans on a droid, young person discovering themselves, masked baddie, etc.) you are not mistaken but this is no mistake or lazy rehash. The Force Awakens is a remarkable, often overpowering, piece of big screen cinema that marries the old with the new. The plot may have referential elements and the hype may have been down to the nostalgic power of seeing the original trilogy leads back but that does in no way mean that The Force Awakens brings nothing to the table. For stretches of this film, it takes time to adjust to seeing Star Wars back, especially a Star Wars like this. Abrams’ film is both the Star Wars you know and the one you don’t but overall it is a Star Wars we can all embrace.
The franchise’s ever-present ideals of good and bad fighting to balance the force is here, as is the atypical plot structure of a Star Wars adventure. This is a film that feels almost like it was inspired by the now un-canon expanded universe and in the process the script (by Abrams, Michael Arndt and returning scribe Lawrence Kasdan) embraces the triumphs of the franchise as well as the rougher flaws of the series! Like the direction, the pace is swift and effective and uses the old to help prepare us for the new. There is no doubt this is a whole new Star Wars; updated dialogue, a stronger racial and female presence - but it is still in many respects that same galaxy far, far away. Some may call it fan service but The Force Awakens proves that the series has more in store for a promising future.
The original cast members - Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Pater Mayhew and Anthony Daniels - all make their presence felt, though perhaps Harrison Ford makes the biggest impression. As the gun slinging Han Solo he remains the cool character we all fell for when he first shot Greedo in the head (or did he?) but at the same time has developed and Ford is brilliant back in action. Although the new cast are equally, if not more, impressive, with the cute and superbly developed BB-8 stealing many scenes with his mechanical mannerisms. Though the human element is equally strong in this one, as Daisy Ridley makes a damn fine hero in Rey. She is a strong role model and very likable and boasts a superb chemistry with the great (and very funny) Jason Boyega’s Finn. Stars like Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac make for brilliant support but there is no doubting the strength of the villain of the piece. Adam Driver’s unhinged antagonist Kylo Ren is a well thought out and an obsessive villain and one of the film’s greatest strengths.
From grand action set pieces, practical sets and effects and their seamless blending with CGI and some of the greatest cinematography in Star Wars history thanks to Dan Mindel, this is quite the adventure. This film leaves you reeling and urgently contemplating a re-visit. The Force Awakens is exhausting, powerful, funny, entertaining, emotional and just a huge experience. From John Williams’ ever excellent scoring (and soundtrack) throwing us straight back into the franchise with the opening crawl, to the well shot and exciting climax, there is no denying that this may be different at times, similar at others, but like Han says to Chewie, “we’re home”.