Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, The Millennium Falcon
Running time: 135 mins
NOTE: There is nothing plot-related in this review that wasn’t mentioned in official pre-publicity for the movie.
Let’s deal with the Bantha in the room straight off. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is almost more of a remake than a sequel. Or at the very least an original trilogy best moment megamix (125 story beats per movie) with some newcomers on lead vocals. George Lucas must be wondering where he went wrong. If he’d released The Force Awakens within a few years of Return Of The Jedi critics and fans would probably have moaned that he was foisting us off with the same-old, same old: a desert planet; working class character who becomes a hero of the resistance; a droid with a secret; the evil guys have a really big weapon in the shape of a planet… yadda yadda yadda. There’s loads more we could mention but won’t for fear of spoilers/ruining a good gag.
But as Jurassic World proved, wait long enough, cast cleverly and make things bigger and you really can get away with palming off a remake as a something new and different.
However, to dismiss The Force Awakens as a mere Xeroxing exercise misses the point. The plot may be familiar but the emotional story is very different beast indeed. What makes this film work, and buzz with life and energy in a way the stately but stiff prequels never did, are the characters and the relationships between them. Especially the truth of the relationships between them. While Padme and Anakin only fell in love because the script told them too and you never believed for a minute the ice queen would fall for the whining teen, you’re completely sold on new characters like Rey, Finn, Ren and Po within moments of meeting them. Star Wars: The Next Generation is in safe hand, with both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega bringing bags and charm and energy to the film.
Meanwhile the old guard are involved an epic generational and political soap that was always actually the heart of the original trilogy but which becomes a driving force here. And they handle it beautifully, ramping up the saga mythological feel. Han, Leia and Luke may be legends within their own universe, but they feel like the gods of Star Wars. Olympian gods, that is, complete with all the internal bickering and conflict. Harrison Ford looks like he’s never been away from the role but Carrie Fisher brings a whole new dimension of maturity to Leia: considering ho notorious Fisher is for sending up the franchise in interviews it’s a shock to see how damned seriously she plays the role. And Chewie steal scenes with the ease of a veteran thesp. Not bad for a character we can’t even understand.
It’s also the personal stories that contain the film’s biggest shocks, twists and dramatic gut punches, but try not to let anyone spoil you on that front. We’re certainly not going to.
Abrams nails the tone perfectly. This feels like classic Star Wars while looking like a modern action movie. It allows the characters to be archetypes while remaining charismatic and human(oid). There are moments of nostalgia, fan-pleasing references and in-jokes (yes, Han does have a bad feeling about this) but they rarely feel indulgent. The action is cut fast andm Abrams uses his “combat correspondent” shakycam shtick but the big set pieces retain a visual poetry that belies a fan-boy’s love of all this hardware. The Millennium Falcon has never look more graceful in flight… even when it’s crashing.
Loving The Aiens
New aliens add a requisite touch of the exotic and odd. Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata is on sreen far more than lack of presence in the trailers indicated and she could be the film’s unexpected break-out character. BB-8 is even more appealing and funny than prepublicity suggested and C-3P0 is as irritating as ever but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
There’s casual banter and camaraderie throughout – and Han gets all the best lines – but it’s rarely goofy, tongue-in-cheek or slapstick, and on the rare occasions when it is, it works. The cringe factor is very, very low. Mostly it feels like The Empire Strikes Back which is, let’s face it, what everybody wants to hear.
While there are no major missteps there are a couple of slight disappointments. There are no new iconic ships (there are new ships, they just don’t have much of a wow factor) and while there’s a great dramatic motivation behind the big lightsaber battle it’s not one of the franchise’s most memorable visually. Plus… not enough R2. And on a really picky note. C-3PO looks suspiciously plasticky for some reason, but it may be unsympathetic lighting.
Mostly, though, this is the comfortingly familiar Star Wars movie we’ve wanted since 1983; a hugely enjoyable balance of nostalgia and reinvention. Like a good Pixar movie, adults will willingly embrace even the parts aimed at kids, while kids will love… all of it. But now we’ve been eased back in with such skill and love, how about a plot next time that doesn’t involve a unfeasibly large weapon of mass destruction please?