“The Force, it’s calling to you. Just let it in.”
For every Luke Skywalker, we’ve had a Jar Jar Binks. For every Darth Vader, there’s been midi-chlorians. And for every Han Solo, a Han shot first fiasco. Being a Star Wars fan can often be a turbulent affair. And if one thing’s true in the life of a Star Wars fan, it’s that you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. Which perhaps explains why the wait for The Force Awakens has been such a long and arduous one. Never before have so many sweaty palmed and anxious fans converged in unison worldwide for a film’s release, willing it to be a success. The good news is, The Force Awakens is everything that we could possibly have hoped for, and a resounding return to form for Star Wars. Yes, J. J. Abrams has only gone and done it.
Really, the less you know heading into The Force Awakens the better. In the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, I’ll leave plot details at a bare minimum. It’s a Star Wars film. Good vs Evil. Light vs Dark. The dramatic turns are wonderfully executed, the balance between new and old is struck beautifully, and there’s enough surprises to give The Empire Strikes Back a run for its money. There are returning faces aplenty, but predominantly the film acts as an entry point to the Star Wars universe for Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the whole damn Resistance. But with all of the new custodians of the light, we must have a little balance in The Force. Enter Kylo Ren, the masked miscreant with a bad temper, played by Adam Driver (Girls).
Whilst in A New Hope we met Darth Vader as a fully formed villain, and a true student of the dark side, we meet Kylo Ren at a point where he’s battling to prove his power not only to those around him, but also to the mysterious Supreme Commander Snoke (Andy Serkis). He’s a flawed, but nonetheless formidable foe taking the first steps along his path to darkness, acting to both raise the stakes of the film whilst providing yet another iconic and exemplary entry into the long line of Star Wars heels. He’s much more than a cut and paste bad guy, and The Force Awakens is far stronger for it.
Since the beginning of the franchise the strength of Star Wars has always been in its characters – memorable, sympathetic and recognisable by even the most uninterested of observers. With the dark side bringing us the imposing Kylo Ren, the heroic quota is fulfilled by Finn, Rey and Poe, all of whom are welcome new additions to the fold. But of the trio, it’s Daisy Ridley’s Rey who deserves the largest slice of the plaudits. Whilst Finn clumsily bumbles around, she leads the way with strength and intelligence. In a year which brought Mad Max’s Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Mission: Impossible’s Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) to our cinema screens, it’s fantastic to see yet another massive series hitting the right notes with its gender balance. And this is from a franchise that turned Natalie Portman’s Padmé from badass ruler of the people into a doting wife over the course of three films.
Meanwhile, BB-8 is just as adorable as we’ve been led to believe from the film’s glut of merchandising and trailers, but not only adorable, but also really quite funny. As are Finn, Rey, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew). Gone are the long-winded political ramblings of the prequel films, and mercifully back in is the light-hearted tone of the original trilogy. That’s not to say that it’s without emotional depth, because make no bones about it, The Force Awakens cuts pretty deep when it wants to. The key is balance, and that’s exactly what Lawrence Kasdan’s script brings; it might not be entirely watertight, but it’s action-packed, fun, full of humour and captures the spirit we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars film excellently.
But naturally, a top script is for naught if not capitalised upon, and fortunately director J. J. Abrams has created a film which is grand in scale and scope, and delivers a truly cinematic experience which puts the majority of modern blockbusters to shame. It might not bring anything massively new to the table, but instead the film focuses on getting the basics of what fans adore so much about the Star Wars universe right. It’s chock full of beautiful imagery, shot with a sweeping grandeur by Daniel Mindel, it heavily features a use of terrific practical effects, and John William’s classic score remains as perfect as ever.
It’s Star Wars done the old fashioned way. Where good is good, bad is bad, and Stormtroopers can’t shoot for love nor money. It’s a universe filled with magic for so many, and one which you’ll be glad to return to.
The Force Awakens brings the soul back to the Star Wars franchise. The wait is finally over, and honestly, it’s been worth every second.
Rating (out of 5):