There is no point in reviewing The Force Awakens. There are probably already thousands of reviews online. It is also impossible to talk about the film without giving away plot spoilers. I also suspect that many of you who are reading this watched the movie on opening night like me. With this In mind, I am going to talk about the film rather than review it, my comments will CONTAIN SPOILERS so don’t read on if you intend to see the movie.
Let’s go back 33 years. Sunday October 24th 1982 I was five years old. We did not have a VCR and never visit the cinema so the only time I saw movies was on TV. For reasons they have never explained beyond thinking I would like it, my parents let me stay up way beyond my bedtime to watch a movie, The Movie! Star Wars. By this time Empire Strikes Back was two years old and Return of the Jedi was in post production, but this was my first experience. It is the first film I remember watching, it can’t be the first film I watched, but the fact that it is the first I remember speaks volumes.
After watching and loving the original trilogy and collecting the toys I forgot about Star Wars, until I was a student when a group of us watched the trilogy on video. A couple of years later the prequels were announced and the original films received a facelift and a cinematic release.
Fast forward to Thursday 16th July 1999: The Phantom Menace. I attended a midnight screening. Not one to jump on the prequels are terrible bandwagon, I have to admit I enjoyed it. It clearly wasn’t as good as the original trilogy, but it was a fun action adventure. Looking back after multiple viewings, the problems where clear. It is no secret, George Lucas has his limitations as a filmmaker! He got away with it in the original movie for three simple reasons: He had built a fantastic fantasy world. He populated it with interesting and compelling characters. He told an age old action adventure story. The same issues he got away with in the original film became a problems in The Phantom Menace. The world building was replaced poorly conceived fantasy worlds. The good characters were thinly written and had to share screen time with Gungans (don’t blame Jar Jar, all the Gungans were fucking annoying!). There story was terrible; there were two good set pieces, the pod race and the Lightsaber battle with Darth Maul linked by a week story.
So four hundred words later, what did I think about The Force Awakens? I loved it. The first requirement, the film needed to introduce a new character to live up to the original film, it doesn’t introduce a worth character, it gives us three! The resistance’s best pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rey (Daisy Ridley), a younger girl abandoned on a desert planet living as a scavenger. FN-2187 aka Fin (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a crisis of conscience. We also have villain, Kylo Ren, a perfect blend of Darth Vader and petulant child making an interesting character. Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) are surprisingly significant in plot and screen time. It appears Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) will play a larger part in future films but Leia (Carrie Fisher) has been relagated to a supporting part. The character development isn’t perfect. Rey should be the movies Luke Skywalker but is a little thinly written. Some of this can be put down to clever writing trickery to keep viewers off balance, as well as leaving a little mystery for the next instalment, however you justify it, the character could have been the best in the film and deserves more.
Mirroring the story of the original film, the plot is basically an action adventure story combined with a rescue mission. The age old idea of dark versus light, good versus bad. There are elements that feel like a remake of the original movie, this isn’t actually a bad thing, not even the carbon copy final act.
The effects are seamless unlike the overly glossy prequels and misguided “enhancements” to the original trilogy. It would be easy to make the X-wing/TIE Fighter battles the most spectacular dogfights in movie history. what is harder, is to bring them up to date without taking them too far from the practical effects of the original films. To top al this off Abrams reintroduction of a Corellian YT model freighter aka Millennium Falcon is nothing short of brilliant. The result like the rest of the film isn’t gritty realism but isn’t shiny and new either. It is Star Wars! Possibly the greatest success of the storytelling is the idea of mythology. Set more than thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, rather than accepting or ignoring the events of the original trilogy he plays with them. The events of the past are referred to by the new characters based on the stories and rumours they have heard. The idea of a mythology within the narrative is clever, a mythology based on events we have seen is brilliant.
There are weaknesses in the narrative, a little like the use of the character of Rey these could be holding back for future films. Has the Republic been restored? What have the Resistance been up to since return of the Jedi? Who are the First Order, where did they come from, what are their intentions?
More importantly in some ways than how good this film is, is the platform it creates. It may not be as audacious as J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek but it leaves an equally solid platform to launch a new franchise. The only missing thing, 20th Century Fox fanfare at the beginning.