Fellow spoiler-phobes can relax. This review is entirely spoiler-free with no plot or characters specifics discussed. The two images included are from the original teaser trailer and nothing is alluded to that wasn’t evident in the first two teasers. Enjoy!
Star Wars The Force Awakens is perhaps the most expensive and elaborate form of fan service ever created. This is a film built on giving people exactly what they want. It knows how beloved the original Star Wars trilogy is and how divisive the prequel trilogy is by comparison. But more than that the film displays an understanding of why the original trilogy is so fondly remembered decades after it first hit screens. With that knowledge it works to carefully re-capture that magic, without simply re-treading exactly the same ground. The end result is an exciting film that’s a joy to watch but an absolute treat for Star Wars fans.
As the film goes on, it drops countless nods towards those original three films. Whether this is in thematic mirrors via the story or even aesthetic call backs via scenery. Of course there’s also returning characters. Despite the fact that Return of the Jedi dropped in 1983 you could be fooled into thinking it was a recent addition to the franchise, with how effortlessly the original cast slip back into their roles (save for some grey hairs I suppose). The fact that these actors are reprising roles they originally played before I was even alive, boggles my mind. The acting in the film is simply exceptional.
It’s not just returning faces but new characters who also give it their all. Although the new cast are clearly intended to emulate qualities of the original trio, they’re still strong characters in their own right. It’s not as simple as pointing at the screen and saying “Oh look that’s the Leia replacement”, their roles may be replacements but these new additions stand on their own merits.
Amusingly the prequel trilogy may as well never have existed as far as The Force Awakens is concerned. None of its baggage is carried over and its heavy use of CG is abandoned in favour of practical effects. This leads to a galaxy that looks much more tangible and alive. Of course CG is still utilised where appropriate but it’s much more restrained and developments in tech mean it’s far less jarring.
The plot is best described as a fast-paced adventure that asks as many new questions as it answers. Never does the film grind to a stop just to fill us in on what’s occurred since we last spent time here, instead important information is woven into the plot or casually dropped into conversation. It’s a very easy film to follow while simultaneously teasing countless little plot hooks, which future films and tie-in media will undoubtedly explore in the years to come. Most impressively none of these hooks feel deliberately ignored or artificially created for future use, the primary storyline drives the film in a straight line naturally developing from point to point.
To say this is the seventh instalment in a film series, The Force Awakens is impressively balanced to work as; a stand-alone film, the opening of a new trilogy or as a sequel. Whichever way you want to view this film, regardless of your level of investment and knowledge, it works. Kids who’ve never seen the originals will still be able to follow the new cast without getting bored with the more nostalgia influenced scenes, which are there to excite long-time fans.
Tonally the film is surprisingly funny, peppering in more gags than any of the earlier instalments. Yet it still knows when to play things straight and keep things serious, sometimes having some incredibly sombre moments. Despite this mixture, The Force Awakens manages to feel consistent and any tonal changes are handled subtly enough to fit the scene perfectly.
If there’s one thing that detracted from my enjoyment of the film, it’s that for all it’s devotion to the original films, The Force Awakens always feels like a J.J. Abrams film. Lasers are especially glossy, while the camera struggles to catch rapidly flying ships in shot without having them shakily move out of frame or focus. Lucas’ absence has led to a sharper story but a directorial style that sometimes feels a little too much like a fan film for its own good. Still, this is likely only something to nag at Star Wars aficionados and it’s a trade that’s well worth the price. Abrams’ fingerprints may be all over the end result, but he’s also restrained himself enough to pay homage to Star Wars where it counts.
It’s telling that when the film bows out after over two hours of story, I wasn’t ready to wave goodbye. There were still characters I was itching to see more of and plot threads I was eager to see elaborated on. But more than anything else this is a testament to how enjoyable of an experience The Force Awakens is. The film is just so damn fun that I could have happily sat there all night.
If anyone was worried that this would be a wobbly start to a new Star Wars era, then now is the time to relax. The Force Awakens is a fantastic addition, one that lovingly pulls from the best of what came before it, with a confidence that routinely lets you know that it understands why Star Wars is such a special set of films to begin with. Meanwhile, it throws in enough original material to avoid leaning too heavily on recycled themes.
The fandom spent three long years wondering how this film would turn out, with it seeming like it could go in either direction. Yet the franchise is evidently in very safe hands, with The Force Awakens explosively kicking off this new set of films with a brilliant opening instalment.