Few films have been as hotly anticipated as this one. So much so, I feel for people who aren't into Star Wars. It's been nigh-on inescapable. Disney are banking on peoples' nostalgia and affection and, in turn, fans are counting on director/co-writer JJ Abrams to deliver a competent, fun experience that thoroughly washes horrible words like “prequel”, “midichlorians” and “Jar-Jar” out of our collective mouths.
Any discussion of The Force Awakens is going to involve something that someone out there will regard as a film-ruining spoiler, but I promise I'll tread as lightly as I can whilst still delivering the same level of absolutely-bloody-nailing-it film criticism you should all be used to by now. Nervous filmgoers can relax. It's fine. If you haven't had the chance yet, go and see it, safe in the knowledge that it won't be a complete betrayal of something you may hold embarrassingly dear.
It also works as a great introduction to series newcomers too. Some familiarity is assumed, but I'm sure that any burning questions can either be answered by Google or that geeky person you know. There's one in every family. There are about sixteen in mine.
Shaken down to basic elements, The Force Awakens is a remix of the original trilogy of films. JJ Abrams does what he did with 2009's Star Trek and taken familiar source material elements and supercharged them. It's a jazz rendition of A New Hope more than anything, with elements of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi folded in to the mix. It may be the most expensive fan-fiction film ever made.
There are some clever twists on the formula that elevate above a simple retread, but if you've seen A New Hope, you'll recognise the same story beats. I wished the story was a little more original but, considering the prequel trainwrecks, I'm just happy things are back on track. They won't be able to pull this trick again and thankfully, it doesn't seem like they will. The final twenty minutes were the most promising narrative-wise, promising a brave new world filled with exciting possibilities.
What makes those possibilities doubly exciting is the promise of more time with the new characters. John Boyega does fantastic work as Finn, a stormtrooper who reaches his moral breaking point as a jack-booted thug and defects. Boyega plays him with just the right balance of bravery and capability whilst simultaneously being terrified and out of his depth. Daisy Ridley is fantastic as Rey. Rey is the best heroine since Katniss Everdeen and Ridley is a joy to watch. Oscar Isaac is on form as ace pilot Poe Dameron. He's the most unapologetically uncomplicated “good guy” I've seen in a long time and I couldn't help but be charmed by that.
By far the most interesting addition to the cast is Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, the classic masked villain of the piece. On the surface, Ren is a scary dude with his sinister mask and distorted voice, but inside, Ren is a tormented youth trying to live up the legend of Darth Vader. Ren is fascinating because of how unrestrained he is. I get the feeling this is what George Lucas was going for with the character of Anakin in the prequels, but fell short. Kylo Ren was my favourite thing in a film full of highlights.
The characters work so well, it's easy to forgive the story shortcomings and the narrative's dropped stitches. They keep you invested enough to feel excitement during the multiple well-choreographed action sequences. The sets are beautiful, the music is great and the whole shebang feels like Star Wars of old. It's fun and fast with plenty of exciting space escapades to keep children, both inner and actual, happy.
The Force Awakens is a return to form for a series that lost its way. Despite the long-ish runtime, when the credits rolled I felt energised and was in a great mood. Star Wars is back and I can't wait to see where they take it next.
Ben Browne, The Popcorn Bucket
*Image credits: Flikr.com cc2