Well this has been a long time coming. Yes, the time is finally upon us to all bask in the resplendent majesty of a new review on The Film Dump. Yes, I realise it has been a few weeks. Yes, I realise some of you may have taken to getting film recommendations from… shall we say… lesser critics. But know that I am here for you. In your most desperate hour… I am your only hope, for I have seen The Force Awakens and I am here to tell you that it is… pretty decent. Click below for the words about the film. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers and anything too specific.
It’s been over 32 years since the last Star Wars film and in that time we have all dreamed “Just what would a new Star Wars film made with modern effects be like?”. But wait. What if I told you we could have a new Star Wars film with modern effects but also a healthy dose of the kind of effects work that the original trilogy broke so much ground with? Yes, we can have that and that is what The Force Awakens is. But effects is just one part of a bigger buffet of space based fantasy. Any film can have decent effects and still suck an incredible amount of arse. Plenty of people try to imitate Star Wars and very rarely do they really “get it”. For a new Star Wars film to live up to the 32 year long dreams of fans it would have to nail the look, the tone, the characters and the plot. Well, JJ Abrams has (mostly) pulled that off to a pretty damn impressive degree.
The film follows a number of characters as their paths interweave with each other’s. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) is the hero we’re presented with at first. Hit fits the role we expect from modern hero characters of today. He’s cocky, very good at what he does and the guy everyone trusts to get the job done. He’s attempting to get a portion of a map that could lead to the long missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back to the Resistance, formerly The Rebellion, before the First Order, a more cultish take on The Empire can get their hands on it. In most modern action films we would have followed Poe the whole way through this film. But that’s not what Star Wars does. Star Wars is about the hero’s journey and the hero’s journey isn’t about some perfect warrior with no past. It’s about a person from humble beginnings becoming something greater than they are.
Poe is captured early on by the First Order and soon freed by a Stormtrooper with morals who is soon named Finn (John Boyega). They get separated on the planet of Jakku, which could have easily just been Tatooine, and it’s here that Finn’s path crosses with the film’s actual hero on a journey, Rey (Daisy Ridley). The film takes quite a while to reach this point, where Finn and Rey are working together, but the Star Wars films have always been fairly loose with story pacing. The film does rocket along though. It’s higher on action than any previous film in the series but that action is all meaningful and shot with enough style to keep things enjoyable. The map Poe put inside BB-8, a spherical little ball of joy, is the most Macguffiny MacGuffin you could imagine and it really does just exist to drag the characters into the path of the battle between The First Order and The Resistance.
The actual plot itself is really simple, which is a huge relief as Star Wars does not need to be bogged down with exposition on too grand a scale these days. A New Hope had a lot of scenes of stories being told, but there was a film that was establishing a universe. It was needed. The Force Awakens assumes you understand the rules and what The First Order are likely to do. It’s the characters that put the twists in. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is not a Sith Master. He’s a force user obsessed with Vader and under the tutelage of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in Mo-cap again). Kylo doesn’t have anywhere near the same restraint as Vader had. In one scene a First Order commander delivers bad news fully expecting to be choked to death instantly, as is a typical workplace hazard for evil doers in world of Star Wars. Instead Kylo lashes out with his saber taking his anger out on a computer console. This instantly sets us up with a different type of villain. He’s unrefined, emotionally a mess and very powerful.
Even Finn is a pretty interesting character. Like most Stormtroopers post clone wars he was conditioned from a young age by The First Order to obey orders and kill anything he was roughly pointed in the direction of. Finn ain’t down with that though. Death all around him isn’t something he deals well with. Once Finn has escaped he sees himself as a hero, even spinning a few lies so others see him as that. He’s insanely desperate to be a hero, but never in a way that gets annoying. It’s pretty endearing really. Yes, he makes incredibly bad decisions. Ones that could endanger everyone. But he manages to make it all work. He fears The First Order more than anything but quickly forms strong bonds with Rey, BB-8 and, when they join the story, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) that drive him to rise up and actually be the hero he wishes he was. He’s not THE hero though. As mentioned, that’s Rey’s role.
Rey is pretty much an analogue of Luke Skywalker from A New Hope. She has dreams of a better life, although she feels tethered to Jakku under the belief that, one day, her parent would return for her. She has a strong moral compass and is incredibly well versed in all things technical. That last factor helps her hit it off with Han right away. Daisy Ridley plays her as an excitable but cautious woman that doesn’t need anyone’s help. She has the strength to do great things but is allowing herself to be held back often. Naturally, she gets a chance to fully unleash her potential by the film’s end. She’s certainly the character this new trilogy will focus on heavily.
There’s a few elements of The Force Awakens that are a little awkward. The rocket speed pace I mentioned earlier does feel like it forgets to let up at times. There’s going to be many people that feel that the film hits a few too many of the same beats as A New Hope, and to a lesser extent the sequels. For example, the main threat to the galaxy is very familiar. A scene I can’t mention due to spoilers during the final battle feels a little cliché and you’ll know exactly where it’s headed the moment it starts. There’s also a number of moments that rely almost too much on convenience, but, The Force works in mysterious ways or something. Generally though, I have very few issues. I know I don’t get to see every release in a year but this is solidly my second favourite film of the year. Ya’ll can probably guess which shiny and chrome masterpiece is my top pick.
What’s most important about The Force Awakens is that is not only feels authentically Star Wars, and not in a they showed the things you know kind of way. JJ Abrams has pretty much nailed every element of what made Star Wars fun and it’s real good to finally have that back after 32 years. He’s added a few of his own visual flairs but not at the expense of the feel of Star Wars. I’d argue that this is the best looking Star Wars film yet, which says a lot because Empire Strikes Back genuinely looks amazing still today. The score from John Williams really hits all the usual marks, although I’d imagine that the new themes aren’t going to become as iconic as the themes from the original films. There’s a few crafty cameos in there and the cast is littered with some superb actors in some very small roles. Kind of like peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Domhnall Gleeson is pretty excellent here as General Hux too. Shame he didn’t get to dance with Poe Dameron though.
Overall The Force Awakens easily sits within the original trilogy as a worthy sequel. It’s one of those instances where you feel like everyone, even Harrison Ford, is putting every bit of effort they can into it. This feels like an expertly crafted world that pays respect too what has gone before and manages to avoid pretty much all of the things that fans have disliked about Star Wars over the years. Abrams has always been a director that gets why and how particular styles of film work. I don’t consider him and incredible director, he’s more of a technician, but he has genuinely nailed it this time. I’d comfortably say it’s his best work. I’m looking forward to the upcoming films directed by Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow but I no idea if they’ll be able to nail the feel of Star Wars like this. I’m hoping that, maybe, they’ll be wise enough to try to push their own style of Star Wars film now that we’ve got the nostalgic one out the way. Whatever they do I hope they can follow this in some way. They’ve been given one hell of a starting line to run off from.