Published on January 4th, 2016 | by Brad1
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler-Heavy Review
A little later than advertised – sorry, was Christmassing – we’re going to take a more spoiler-heavy look at Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. If you’re one of those who hasn’t seen it yet (are there any of you left? The film’s been out nearly three weeks and has already taken over $1.5 billion at the global box office!) then this is your only SPOILER WARNING, and everything below this photo will be unsafe for you to read.
So I said in the spoiler-free version that the big success of The Force Awakens is its tone. Everything about this film feels like a Star Wars film. There’s been a bit of backlash that it feels too close to the original Star Wars. And to an extent, you could level that this film which features a high-ranking rebel hiding vital stolen data in a droid who then falls into the hands of a young dreamer on a desert planet, which they then leave alongside a young renegade fugitive, a grey-haired mentor and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, as they head to return the droid and data to its owner leading them into conflict with the forces of fascism and their giant planet-killing machine, plus a Sith Lord enforcer for the fascists who has a father-son relationship with one of our heroes, who kills the grey-haired mentor before the young dreamer uses the force to save the day and the rebels destroy the planet-killing machine after an X-Wing pilot flies down a trench and blows up a thing is a bit similar to Star Wars. But that’s rather missing the point.
Prior to the release of The Force Awakens, it had been 32 years without a good Star Wars movie. In that time we had three terrible ones, including two of the worst films ever made. In the interim, George Lucas has spent a lot of time trying to “improve” the original trilogy to make it more like his beloved prequels. It’s resulted in a lot of recrimination and disillusionment as he steadfastly refused to allow the original, unaltered films to be released in the high standard of home media we now all expect, whilst churning out ever more “special editions” with actors from the prequels inserted and every bit of blank space filled with a poor CGI alien doing Jar-Jar Binks-esque shtick. Creatively speaking, Star Wars was on its knees. With The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm had to prove that they could walk the walk and make a Star Wars film, before they can do anything else. So for the first film in the new trilogy to take us back to the start, and the feeling we had the first time we saw Star Wars, was absolutely necessary. Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t got new material in there – The Force Awakens is our first step in a new, exciting direction, and one that I can’t wait to see more of.
And for all that it’s a retro feeling film, it quite rightly spends a long time with the new characters before wheeling out the old favourites. The opening thirty minutes introduces us to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), new droid BB-8, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Finn (John Boyega), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and star of the show Rey (Daisy Ridley), and gives us a fairly solid grounding in who these characters are and what they’re about. These are the characters we’re going to be following throughout, so it was vital that we got their introductions first, before bringing the classic characters into their world, rather than vice versa. Then on thirty minutes, we get Han Solo and Chewbacca back.
The reintroduction of Han and Chewie is absolutely flawless. With Rey, Finn and BB-8 hiding under the floor of the Millennium Falcon from what they expect to be Storm Troopers, the door opens. The music is tense. And then Han and Chewie walk in. No fanfare, no wink to the audience, they just walk back in and let the moment be what it is. I absolutely raved about Harrison Ford’s performance in the other review, and I stand by that; he really ought to be at least nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars, it’s great work. Having Han serve in the Obi-Wan Kenobi role to Rey and Finn is a great choice, bringing his character full circle from the man dismissing the Jedi as a “hokey religion” and mumbo jumbo in Star Wars to standing in more or less the same spot 35 years later and telling Rey and Finn “it’s true; all of it.” The revelation – to the audience, if not the character – that Kylo Ren is Han’s son gives him the most emotional connection to the ongoing narrative out of the main characters, and their final confrontation is one of the film’s best scenes.
Devastating though it was, I am totally on board with the decision to kill off Han Solo. Off-screen, Harrison Ford’s general grumpiness and wishes to disassociate himself from making any further Star Wars films is well-known, and on-screen, we needed a big kick to get away from the idea that the classic trilogy characters were going to drive the story. Transitioning Luke Skywalker to the Yoda-like hermit Jedi master who trains Rey makes sense, and Princess Leia fits the Admiral Ackbar/Mon Mothma role like a glove. Having Han Solo sit still while the action’s going on doesn’t fit. Killing off the series’ most beloved character is a big statement and a big chance to move in their own direction. And his death scene, where he confronts his obviously-conflicted son and attempts to bring him back over to the light, and seemingly nearly succeeds, before Ren stabs him with his lightsabre and casts him into a pit, is just magnificently done. Adam Driver is fantastic, and letting the scene between the father and son play out with no music just adds to the atmosphere. It’s a great send-off for one of cinema’s most popular heroes.
Of our new heroes, the obvious stand-out is Daisy Ridley as Rey. As unknown a year ago as Mark Hammill was in 1977, Ridley delivers a sure star-making turn. She’s magnetic, she’s funny, she looks at home in the action scenes, and watching her grow from the naïve young scavenger to her assuredness as she brings down Kylo Ren is just a delight. Supporting her efforts are John Boyega as Finn, who gives probably the funniest performance in a Star Wars movie whilst also effectively showing the emotional rollercoaster going on inside the Storm Trooper who takes off his helmet, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, playing the Resistance’s best pilot as a cocksure rock star. Boyega and Isaac have great chemistry together, and with Rey off doing her own thing, I hope Episode VIII gives us more of Poe and Finn’s budding bromance.
The benefit of the technical advances we’ve had since 1983 is that The Force Awakens is able to put some truly spectacular imagery on the screen, beyond anything that was possible with the original trilogy. This should have been a strength of the prequels, too, but the mind-set there seemed to be “make every shot as busy as possible”, whilst they gave no sense of who we were watching in which ship and what the stakes were. The dog-fighting in The Force Awakens is spectacular, with Rey and Finn fighting two TIE fighters in the Millennium Falcon in the Star Destroyer graveyard on Jakku and the battle between The Resistance and The First Order at Maz Kanata’s bar standing out as probably the best two vehicular action scenes in the saga. The tracking shot during the battle at Maz’s, with Finn running through the battlefield whilst Poe flies above taking out TIE fighter after TIE fighter, is just awesome.
I have a few nit-picks – the Rathtar sequence feels like padding, Leia and Chewie should really have hugged when they got back after Han died, Phasma didn’t do much of anything – but they’re so minor in the grand scheme of how good The Force Awakens is that it would honestly feel churlish to go into them in any depth. It’s a great action movie, a great blockbuster and a great Star Wars movie. You already know this, you’ve seen it a few times now. I’m planning on at least a fifth before it ends its run. Moving forward, we’re getting Rogue One in December, and it’s only 17 months until Episode VIII. The force is strong with Star Wars again, and for that we have to thank J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy for The Force Awakens.