Over the past few months, there have been few films I have looked forward to seeing more than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As trailer after trailer was released, I, along with countless other nerds on the internet picked over details, analysed shots and speculated about everything in these brief snippets – from the back stories of the characters right down to the structure of the narrative. The marketing was scarce but effective; few marketing campaigns have so successfully given so little information about the film away whilst also offering just enough sabre-y goodness to have us fan boys keeled over our computer screens with giddy excitement. I went into the cinema with anticipation, nerves, and bags of expectation.
And I did not leave disappointed. We have been waiting so long, not just for the film itself to be released, but also for a film to be made that rights the sins of its predecessors. This desperate cry, alas, has been heard, and in The Force Awakens, J. J. Abrams may just have given us a Star Wars film that revives our faith in the franchise. The film faithfully touches back to the original trilogy whilst simultaneously adding enough new material for the movie to feel as fresh as ever. The giddiness I felt as the Millennium Falcon was brought back into focus, or when we were reunited with the cheeky smile of the renegade smuggler Han Solo was simply unreal. I can hardly imagine what this feeling of nostalgia would have been like for a fan who had actually witnessed the original movies on the big screen when A New Hope was released in 1977.
The film opens with those all too familiar yellow letters whizzing across the screen telling us what’s happened to Luke Skywalker since the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, something very much left a secret in pre-release trailers. Caught up in it all are the Resistance headed by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), ace pilot Poe Damoron (Oscar Isaacs) and his droid BB-8. Predictably, it’s not just Leia involved, as we also see the remains of the Empire, The First Order, headed by the Vader wannabe Kylo Ren. Without giving too much away, the film in essence mirrors the narrative of A New Hope in pacing and structure, and it works very effectively.
There are action set pieces in abundance, but there’s also enough effort put into the depth of the characters and the context of the conflict for us to also feel intensely involved with these flamboyant fight scenes. The use of practical effects are mixed seamlessly with stunning CGI to make a visual experience that fully absorbed me in the rich, colourful world of the film. I must have been stupidly smirking to myself for the entirety of the film’s 136 minute run time. With every shot from a blaster, fly past from an X-wing, and of course, meditative hum of a lightsaber I was transfixed by the action unfolding in front of me.
The film faithfully touches back to the original trilogy whilst simultaneously adding enough new material for the movie to feel as fresh as ever
It’s hard not to keep comparing The Force Awakens to the originals when it pays homage so respectfully through the careful incorporation of familiar characters. But, at the same time, new protagonists Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are well balanced, interesting and backed up brilliantly by solid performances from Ridley and Boyega. The antagonist of the film Kylo Ren, again played wonderfully by Adam Driver is a villain who is brought to life in a three dimensional way, a welcome antidote to the wooden bad guys of the prequels: Darth Maul and Count Dooku. Driver injects rage and tumultuous angst into the script to craft a villain who will undoubtedly be remembered for a long time to come.
The writing is bold and impressive; for every plot strand neatly tied up another was left dangling tantalisingly in front of my face, leaving me desperate to see how the events of the film will be weaved into the eighth instalment of the series. Though the effect of some of the plot manoeuvres will probably be detracted if (like me) you’ve watched the trailers a few too many times, I can’t really say it took anything away from the film as they are all well-judged and executed with stunning finesse.
There’s so much good about this movie that I’m struggling to put it all down in one review. But, if I had to say the one element I loved the most, it would have to be the tone that Abrams nails down in the film. In the modern age of Hollywood blockbusters, it would have been easy to aim for a brooding, Nolan-esque tone that so many franchises have recently opted for in their modern day reworkings. And though Abrams breathes an element of seriousness and drama into the film, the fun, adrenaline-packed rush that made the originals such a hit stays intact, despite the franchise being hurtled into the modern day with gusto.
There are corny jokes, narrative conveniences and, as a movie on its own, it has its flaws. But, so did the originals. It was in this campy imperfection that Star Wars found a home in the hearts of sci-fi addicts everywhere almost 40 years ago, and I hope that this new film inspires a whole new generation to love Star Wars. All that’s left to say is – bravo, J. J., and may the force be with the cast and crew in charge of Episode VIII.