One of the most highly anticipated films of the decade, Jack Woodward gives [smiths] readers a spoiler free review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Calling Episode VII a new hope for the franchise is more relevant than you’d think. Fans of the legendary series hesitantly asked ‘can they do it?’ when Disney took the reins of Lucasfilm, riding it straight into the frontier of a new trilogy, ignoring the mediocrity of the last. You can sense a disturbance in box office projections thanks to the absurd hype fuelled by brilliantly vague marketing, so here’s the good news – it completely deserves to smash those records.
The marvellously simple opening crawl makes it clear that a hugely entertaining 135 minutes await. It’s goose bump-inducing how much J.J. Abrams makes it feel like a Star Wars film. You can’t help but get swept up in its irreplaceable combination of good versus evil on an epic scale, in a universe we’ve never seen before, guided by characters we can’t help but love. The action is superb, the dogfights are deftly constructed, the new locations are vibrant and memorable, the effects are practical whenever possible. The whole package has a weight and physicality that really helps the pacing zip by. Its Abrams’ best film yet, using the same visual language that made the original trilogy so extraordinary with a cinematic blockbuster touch (lens flares included) whilst learning from the mistakes of Star Trek: Into Darkness in how to be referential without feeling reliant on it. The call-backs charm rather than distract.
Lawrence Kasdan’s script is central to the film’s success. The original writer for Empire Strikes Back worked in collaboration with Abrams, and he brings an unexpected complexity to the characters we haven’t seen before because of conflict. The new lead trio of Finn, Rey and Po are all equally fantastic, flawed heroes however, Kylo Ren has to be the most stand-out character in the film because he’s so human. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac all shine in their own ways. The focus on their characters infuses The Force Awakens with real heart.
The script has the perfect balance between old and new, too. It never feels overstuffed with ideas, and much like the original trilogy, there’s subtle suggestion of more being beyond the horizon without ever forgetting about what is taking place in the camera’s foreground. Familiar faces are integrated into the story in a way that feels natural rather than forced, and the occasional jokes spread throughout always hit their hilarious mark. It’s the funniest Star Wars movie bar none.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. The Force Awakens is an incredibly enjoyable cinematic rollercoaster, but when the credits roll, it’s held back from classic status by the extremely simple plot. It treads disappointingly familiar territory, taking several key elements directly from A New Hope. It feels distinct from that other science fiction classic, yet the parallels become distractingly close in the third act, taking one too many story beats from Episode IV. The large number of questions it sets up for the sequels may also irritate some, but they also feel as if they will inevitably be answered.
In that way, it’s a shame that The Force Awakens didn’t bring anything new to the table. Yet, at the same time it is a relief to be back at that old table. The new faces are lovely company. Welcome to the intergalactic family.
trailer courtesy of Star Wars – YouTube
Don’t forget to check out What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Know About Star Wars for a quick refresher (if needed) before heading to the cinema to watch The Force Awakens.