Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review
J.J. Abrams is the man Hollywood turns to when blockbuster franchises need a refresh. His solid Mission: Impossible III brought Tom Cruise’s spy series back from the brink of extinction after John Woo’s calamitous second instalment while Star Trek was becoming a Trekkies-only zone until he rebooted the sci-fi behemoth with two entries that won over even the casual cinema-goer.
Given his track record, the writer-director was the natural choice to take on the challenge of revitalising Star Wars for Disney who had a lot riding on their $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm and its film rights. Reuniting old cast members to continue their story thirty years on from the events of Return of the Jedi, Abrams has plenty of new characters for us to meet and has a lot of fun with his sizeable budget, however he perhaps goes too far in paying homage to the films that started it all rather than forging ahead with fresh ideas.
The famous opening crawl of yellow block capitals travelling through space reveals Luke Skywalker has vanished and a new dark force known as the First Order is growing in strength, setting a backdrop of uncertainty as to what lies ahead in this first episode of the new trilogy. We’re immediately thrust to the desert planet of Jakku in an opening gambit that sees us meet the Resistance’s best pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), First Order bad ass Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and droid BB-8 while scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and rogue storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) quickly follow. In what is a dynamic first 45-minutes set across Jakku and Kylo Ren’s star destroyer, Abrams teases how Luke Skywalker might be found, reminded of the familiar Empire and Rebellion war machines, met a host of funny-looking aliens babbling odd languages and given a taste of the action-packed nature episode seven will take. It’s the start fans needed to placate any fears Abrams might suffer a creative fail under the weight of their expectation – in fact, he’s captured the wide-eyed scene-setting of A New Hope perfectly.
As a Force Awakens hits its stride mid-film, so the familiar faces start to appear. Abrams handles re-introductions with care, recognising the significance of old favourites to provide information on the last 30 years as well as delivering their classic traits. For example, Ford’s Han Solo remains a wise-cracking intergalactic scallywag and his co-pilot Chewbacca (played by the returning Peter Mayhew in a new, gloriously-hairy Wookiee suit) is still putting up with his old friend’s bad habits with howls of back-chat that Solo provides the punchlines for in his replies. Like the heritage of the series, humour is a big part of Abrams repertoire here: Finn and Rey’s relationship is built on comic moments while BB-8 adopts the R2-D2 role of somehow making what looks like a Frisbee sitting on a football another cute droid creation. If some of this seems to be getting overly familiar, you’ll probably find A Force Awakens goes one of two ways as the story develops.
There’s no escaping the fact Kylo Ren’s has nods to Darth Vader – he wears a similarly shaped helmet that distorts his voice and takes great joy in torturing his enemies using Force-like powers – and we’re given an indication into his origins soon enough to understand his goals in pursuing Finn and Rey. He’s a more complex villain of the piece than we think following his first appearance and he’s surrounded by allies who all lap up the opportunity to be evil, in particular Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux who barks out orders on his star destroyer like the best of the former Empire’s servants and Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke starts providing hints of how this new trilogy will develop from a Dark Side perspective with an imposing creation. Yet, as we learn more about the First Order and the Resistance’s plans to fight back, so A Force Awakens loses the good will of homage and veers too far in the direction of repeating previous successes by recreating set pieces from episodes four and six while also making the twists too obvious along the way to produce their intended impact when delivered.
Arguably what casual and die hard fans alike wanted was reassurance that there was still life in the franchise, and the depth to sustain three further movies. J.J. Abrams has provided a new hope for Star Wars with an action-packed seventh chapter that brings into play new characters to take that challenge on, but Looper director Rian Johnson must step this new trilogy out of the shadow of its forebears. Homage will only get Star Wars so far and Abrams has mined its history to produce this crowd-pleaser which looks gorgeous and is a fun origins story with the nods to the past required. The closing scene is like the handing over of the baton to take Star Wars into exciting new territory. The stage is very much set.
Last modified on