(Note: this review only contains very mild spoilers, including the initial setup for the story)
It’s come around at last: probably the most anticipated film of the year. Personally, I like Star Wars a lot, but I don’t have the same love and passion for it that many people do – and I don’t have the same hatred for the prequels either, though they certainly have a lot of problems. However, I was still very excited for this movie. It was marketed very cleverly, with the trailers giving tantalising indications of just what we were in for while revealing very little about the actual plot. They seemed to present a movie which was more reserved and utilised more practical effects than the prequels, which was very likely to be a good thing.
So how was the movie? Well, I may have let my expectations rise a little too high in response to the extremely positive critical response since it premiered. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s certainly an excellent one.
Decades after the end of Return of the Jedi, the galaxy is now threatened by the successors to the Empire, known as the First Order. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi and the best hope for the Resistance, has disappeared. On the desert planet Jakku, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) acquires a clue to his whereabouts, but finds himself forced to hide it inside his droid BB-8. The droid is eventually picked up by a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who teams up with defected stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) to return BB-8 to the Resistance, all while pursued by the First Order warrior Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The film starts off looking a bit too similar to A New Hope – desert planet, essential information hidden in a droid, said droid is picked up by a young person who hopes for better things in life – but fortunately doesn’t take too long to become more creative. When characters from the previous films turn up, such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), they’re not just making glorified cameos: they have lots of screentime and important roles in the plot. As the trailers suggested, there seems to be a lot of focus on fixing the things that fans complained about in the prequels. For example, many people felt the prequels had too much CGI: well, The Force Awakens uses plenty of real settings and practical effects, which are considerably more engaging.
And while the prequels had underdeveloped characters with unconvincing relationships and motivations, the characters in this film are the best thing about it. The two leads, Rey and Finn, are great to watch on their journey together. They have excellent chemistry, and their different backgrounds and motivations play off each other very well. They’re often unsure, they often struggle, but they both have their own special qualities which will presumably be built upon in future films. BB-8 the droid is definitely a highlight: he’s similar to R2-D2 in many ways, not least in his means of vocalisation, but manages to be rather more expressive by virtue of having a moveable head. BB-8 provided plenty of laughs among the audience in my theater. Kylo Ren, while certainly dangerous and intimidating, also has a more vulnerable side: we see him lose control sometimes, and struggle with himself, which serves to make him more interesting.
I liked how the overall story was constructed: as you might expect from J.J. Abrams, there’s a lot of mystery, with the incomplete pictures of various subplots being put together piece by piece. Many questions, however, are left for the future. The film is very compelling in this regard, but while there’s plenty of adventure, I was hoping for more of a sense of fun. That’s one of the things I really liked in the original trilogy. And yes, The Force Awakens has many fun moments, but at other times, it feels a little bland. The action, for example, is good but nothing special in this day and age: the highlight comes during the climax where we are treated to a proper lightsaber duel.
The Force Awakens is definitely built on much of the same foundations as the original Star Wars trilogy: interesting, diverse, likeable characters; an equally diverse galaxy for them to play around in; and an epic quest for them to face together. It doesn’t just try to replicate those films, however: it has its own unique style, as a new Star Wars chapter for this era. It may or may not blow you away, probably depending on how passionate a Star Wars fan you are, but it’s definitely worth your time whatever the case. Rating: 4/5.