Review – Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Following the tantrum-inducing menace of George Lucas’ Darth Vader: The Younger Years trilogy of car wrecks, the most beloved film saga of them all strikes back in glorious fashion.

With The Force Awakens, we're indeed home. Thank you J.J. Abrams; thank you

With The Force Awakens, we’re indeed home. Thank you J.J. Abrams; thank you

Anyone nervous that Episode VII might fail to live up to the enormous weight of expectation unfairly heaped upon its shoulders can rest easy; The Force Awakens is about as far removed from The Phantom Menace in terms of sheer, unadulterated grin-inducing entertainment as Jar Jar Binks is from, well, pretty much any other character committed to film.

Watching The Force Awakens, it becomes clear very quickly exactly why J.J. Abrams was brought on board to direct (and co-write). His Star Trek (2009) skilfully managed to walk the tightrope of reminding us of why we cared about the franchise in the first place, while at the same time flipping the switch to offer us something completely new.

Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and BB-8 in Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and BB-8 in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

In the case of Star Wars, Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan consign midichlorians and trade blockades into the sarlacc pitt and instead return to what made film fans fall in love with the saga in the first place; namely a simple story about disparate characters coming together to stop a seemingly insurmountable enemy.

Criticisms that The Force Awakens too readily retreads old ground, particularly A New Hope, are missing the point. Abrams, just like in Star Trek, gives us something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue (does the lightsaber count?).

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhem) back on the Falcon in Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhem) back on the Falcon in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

The story picks up 30 years after the events of Return Of The Jedi, with both the Resistance and the evil First Order in search of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last known Jedi Knight. Droid BB-8 seemingly holds the key to Skywalker’s whereabouts and into the fray steps scavenger Ren (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), aΒ  stormtrooper who has deserted the First Order.

Having emerged from the ashes of the Empire, the First Order employ similarly fascistic tendencies (not least of which a penchant for Nuremberg-esque rallies) and are led by the Kool Aid-guzzling General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), unpredictable Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and a mysterious dark lord (I won’t spoil it).

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has anger issues in Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has anger issues in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

It’s often said that bad guys are the most interesting characters in cinema and that’s certainly the case with Ren, a figure beset by bouts of petulant rage who is both terrifying and childishly vulnerable at the same time. Performing behind a mask for much of the running time, the fantastic Driver gives Ren a unnervingly measured tone that threatens to crack at any moment.

Boyega too is excellent; at first tortured by the horrors he is expected to participate in before growing into the hero we rejoice in cheering on. Ridley also impresses in what is perhaps the most underdeveloped character, but the journey she goes on will no doubt pay off in spades beyond The Force Awakens.

The Resistance reists in Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The Resistance resists in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

It says an awful lot about the strength of the new cast that we don’t rely too heavily on the very welcome reintroduction of Harrison Ford as everyone’s favourite scruffy-looking nerf herder Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as the sadder, more world-weary General Organa, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 among other old guard.

That said, it’s a joy to see them back on the big screen and Abrams and Kasdan give each character plenty of choice dialogue as well as well-woven story arcs.

Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

While it’s hard to say whether the original band got back together, it’s nevertheless wonderful to see and hear John Williams is back. Williams’ score promised much in the trailers and truly delivers with a soundtrack that splices well-loved refrains with new material that perfectly complements the action on screen.

Speaking of action, Abrams’ resistance to the CGI-heavy set pieces so beloved on Lucas circa Episodes I-III really delivers, with dogfights that you can follow and care about the outcome of, while a shoot out on a forest planet (the look Han gives Rey when she says “I never knew there could be so much green” is wonderful) is effortlessly staged.

With The Force Awakens, we’re indeed home. Thank you J.J. Abrams; thank you.

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19 comments

  1. Stu · December 18, 2015

    Yeah I’m completely with you. Really enjoyed this. It has its faults, but considering the weight of expectation and the need to please the young and the old in almost every nation on the planet I think it’s a pretty damn good job. Loved the prominence given to Daisy Ridley’s character, and I’m sold on the main new characters. Glad it was as funny as the original trilogy too!

    • Three Rows Back · December 21, 2015

      Under the circumstance, I honestly can’t see how Abrams could have done a better job. I didn’t flag up the humour of the film in my review which was an oversight, but I can’t recall laughing as much in any other Star Wars movie, least of which the prequels!

      • Stu · December 21, 2015

        Nor me. I rewatched them all this year and found myself chuckling here and there…I’d forgotten how funny they are. This one definitely measured up in that respect.

  2. table9mutant · December 19, 2015

    Nice review. πŸ™‚ I liked this a hell of a lot too, although I’m still sorting through my feelings (I’ve not even managed to give it a rating yet). They’ve done such an excellent job with the new characters, though! That was most important to me & they got it so right. I have so many new favorites here. Didn’t expect that. πŸ™‚

    • Three Rows Back · December 21, 2015

      Thanks mate. I always try to avoid ratings! I really look forward to seeing where these characters go from here. Rian Johnson has big shoes to fill!

  3. mlbradford · December 19, 2015

    Great Post!
    SW:VII is an absolute triumph, although several extra minutes wld have been v much appreciated.
    Want to see more of Dameron in action, and some decent scenes w Cap Phasma, who was barely used at all.
    A tad miffed that w are no closer to finding out who Rey really is – Ridley was fantastic.
    So good to see Leia – and Luke – again.
    https://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2015/12/19/star-wars-the-force-awakens-review/
    Cheers!

    • Three Rows Back · December 21, 2015

      I’ve read a few articles that took the plot apart. Having read them I can see what they are saying, but honestly those issues didn’t make much difference when I was watching it. I loved it, pure and simple! Will check out your review.

  4. ruth · December 19, 2015

    Seeing this in a few hours so I’ll be back to read it more closely Mark.

  5. Adam (Consumed by Film) · December 20, 2015

    Excellent review Mark. You hit the nail on the head regarding complaints that it’s too similar to past instalments. I thought the film straddled the nostalgia-newness line perfectly. Pus, it’s not as if there is absolutely nothing fresh going on — there’s loads, not least a bunch of exciting and engaging new characters. It’s a Christmas miracle! (Or maybe we should’ve anticipated this kind of greatness all along?) πŸ˜‰

    • Three Rows Back · December 26, 2015

      Thank you Adam. In the case of TFA being too close to A New Hope, I personally think Abrams didn’t have much choice. He needed to remind us why we loved the franchise and balanced risk-taking with retreading old ground. It’s a Christmas miracle indeed!

  6. Keith · December 20, 2015

    Agreed! As an old school Star Wars junkie it was so nice to write a positive review for this one. All hesitation was for nothing and I couldn’t be happier!

    • Three Rows Back · December 26, 2015

      Same here mate; I was pleased as punch with the film and will definitely be seeing it again very soon.

  7. ruth · December 22, 2015

    I finally saw this Mark. I agreed w/ a lot of your points and generally it’s a triumphant reboot to the franchise. But it’s not to say it’s perfect, I posted my full thoughts on it this weekend, but it seems that my *quibbles* didn’t bother most of the fans πŸ˜‰

    • Three Rows Back · December 26, 2015

      Well, perfection is pretty hard to achieve, but Abrams did about as well as he could under very difficult circumstances. Can’t wait for Episode VIII!

  8. Tom · December 23, 2015

    Love the review man, and yours is wonderfully concise! Seen so many posts that waffle on at length (*cough cough that douche over at DSB *Cough!*) about the film, and that is to be expected with a property this large and this anticipated. I can imagine Abrams has probably gone grey in the span of shooting this, much like a President or Prime Minster does (but over the course of several years, obviously. πŸ˜‰ ) I really enjoyed this ride myself, and wasn’t really bothered either way with it going in. Maybe that actually helped me as I found much less to nitpick story-wise than some. Same time, I can see where the complaints are coming from. Lots was retread, but I think they all did the right thing and balanced new characters on a familiar and logical timeline.

    • Three Rows Back · December 26, 2015

      Hey Tom, and Merry Christmas to you mate. Have been laid up for a few days, so haven’t been on top of the blog. The nitpicking annoys me somewhat, as if any film could stand up to the scrutiny TFA is put under. Bearing in mind what a mess it could have been, this is great stuff.

      • Tom · December 27, 2015

        Merry Xmas to you as well my friend! Hope you’re getting to feeling better. Never fun being sick on the holidays. 😦

        But yes, with you on that. Spectre took a rather unfair beating b/c it didn’t become Skyfall 2; imagine that situation applied to the new Star Wars, but the reaction intensified by like, a million. :\

  9. Dan · January 2, 2016

    I agree with lots of things you say. It has its faults but in terms of what I wanted to get out of a new Star Wars movie JJ Abrams delivered completely. No complaints. Brilliant entertainment.

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