Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Dir: J.J Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow
Run-Time: 135 Mins
One of the most eagerly anticipated movies of recent times, if not of all times is finally upon us, directed by self-confessed Star Wars nut J.J Abrams. His love of the franchise and the burden of expectation of a massive fanbase are apparent throughout and these demands prove to be both the big strengths and big weaknesses of The Force Awakens.
Visually, this truly feels like the Star Wars universe we’ve all come to know and love; with detail pouring out of every corner: the strange truly alien creatures that pop up in the corner of the screen or at the start of a low tracking shot, for example, or the style of cantina’s and buildings; this is the same sandbox countless fans have let their imaginations fall into across the years.It’s often striking and gorgeous: Rey descending on a rope down the vast hollow bowels of a fallen Star Destroyer, a lightsaber duel in a snow covered forest. The Force Awakens maintains the dirty, lived in aesthetic of the original trilogy while never looking so good.
There are many clever and delightful references to the classic trilogy, although to be honest these begin to feel forced and the overall plot is far too similar to that of A New Hope. The Force Awakens has been criticised in some circles for being professional Star Wars fan fiction and this assessment is extremely harsh but the feeling creeps in that this is a little Star-Wars-By-Numbers as if the expectation has left Abrams and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt afraid to leave any little thing out. Likewise the humour is mostly awkward and smacks of trying too hard to please. There are many conveniences and contrivances in the plotting and some disregards for previous lore but it isn’t as if Star Wars hasn’t been full of these issues before and anyone seriously degrading the film for these reasons is nit-picking and looking too hard at one tree to appreciate the whole forest.
The long-term success of the new trilogy will largely depend on interesting a new generation of fans by establishing a new cast of characters to get hooked on, and the new trio of heroic characters are the true strength of The Force Awakens. The brilliant Oscar Isaac’s cocky pilot Poe Dameron is underutilised but with plenty of scope for this to be rectified in sequels. Finn had the potential to be annoying but it is credit to the performance of John Boyega that his is believable and empathetic as an everyman trying to do the right thing in a bad situation; but the run-away success is the scavanger Rey. She is instantly one of the most well rounded characters in the canon and doesn’t fit into a stereotype. Vulnerable without being a damsel in distress, strong without being an ice-cold Ripley clone and captured by a brilliant performance from Daisy Ridley. There is a changing of the guard feeling between the old characters and the new and as heroes are concerned the trilogy is in good hands.
It’s a “trueism” that heroes are only as good as the villains they are against and here The Force Awakens is really let down. Domhnall Gleeson has proved himself to be a versatile actor of great talent and greater potential and he actually gives a good performance but his is just too young and clean-cut to convince in his role as a military general. He barely looks old enough to run an errand, never mind a military base. The hint of a power-rivalry with Kylo Ren (Driver) is like hormone-ravaged teenagers scrapping on a school playing-field, more Dawson’s Creek then House of Cards and scenes likening The First Order to Nazi’s are crude and heavy-handed. The mysterious Snoke (a name like a Harry Potter creature and designed to look like Voldemort) played by Andy Serkis has the potential to be an interesting over-arching villain but for now he just comes across as a cheap Emperor knock-off. And then there is Kylo Ren, the Big Bad who justifies that tag for the wrong reasons. The never impressive Adam Driver is let down by weak writing but a wretched performance doesn’t help establish him as a heir to Vader’s throne. Ren is a weak, unconvincing, stroppy, snivelling juvenile, a spoiled brat rather than a convincing villain. When he rasps to Rey that he can show her the ways of the force he is more like a seedy wretch picking up drunk girls in a 2 A.M night club then a powerful presence enticing somebody to the dark. Even the much-maligned prequel trilogy had the cool Darth Maul and the gravitas of Christopher Lee to up the bad-guy stakes; Ren is more Christensen’s Anakin than Prowse & Earl Jones’ Vader and he helps rob some potentially hugely emotive moments of their maximum impact.
Any other issues are minor. One of the problems that has dogged Abram’s Star Trek reboots is his seeming instance that there has to be an artificially contrived action sequence every few seconds as if scared the entire audience has ADHD and early on there is the sense Star Wars is going the same way but thankfully he allows the characters and story grow and to be fair, when the action does come it’s always lively and entertaining.
The Verdict: The Force Awakens may lack any iconic moments and it as flaws but on the whole it’s an encouraging start to a new series and as a foundation piece the impact of the flaws are lessoned if this springboards some truly excellent new additions to the franchise. After the prequel trilogy this is a new hope.