"There has been an awakening, have you felt it? The dark side and the light."
How great does it feel to be able to say that we can finally talk about ‘The Force Awakens’. It has been a long road to the most anticipated film (ever?) of the decade and now that JJ Abrams has brought his continuation of the space opera into cinemas, what is the final verdict?
Thirty years after the events of ‘Return of the Jedi’….. That is it, I literally don’t want to say any more about the plot because frankly, every twist and turn you undergo as a viewer is more fantastic, every parallel to those original films nearly forty years ago is a joy to notice in the cinema and every character’s backstory is one that you can explore and discover in an innovative way.
That may give you a clue as to what is to follow, because ‘The Force Awakens’ is a great film. Notice how I did not sate that it is a perfect film, because it is not. However ‘The Force Awakens’ is only imperfect in the same way that the Original Trilogy is imperfect. The most ruthless critic could easily tear ‘Empire Strikes Back’ apart with its unanswered questions and unexpected narrative shifts. But if you do that you are looking to dislike that film and frankly, if you cannot find anything good to say about ‘The Force Awakens’ I would argue that the same applies to you.
This film is just so well made and fun and emotional and heartfelt and everything you could possibly want a ‘Star Wars’ film to be. I am going to get the two main criticisms that most people seem to have with the film straight away. The first is how it does draw a parallel between ‘A New Hope’ and though that can be distracting in a certain sense, there is enough innovation, new characters and environments to introduce some unique feeling to it. People have also criticised the amount of unanswered questions, the combatant to that complaint is simple, this is part one of a trilogy. There are questions left unanswered, but JJ Abrams has done a magnificent job of answering enough questions to generate closure, and left enough unanswered for Rian Johnson to helm Episode VIII into further brilliance.
There are also some rare occasions in which I would prefer a bit more exposition on certain elements. Again one must look at this from the big picture of the first part of a trilogy, and compare it to ‘A New Hope’ and the amount of information it gave away, as well as the fact that trying to fill in every last detail rather than allowing the viewer to fill the gaps led to some of the sloppiest moments of the prequels, but still maybe one or two moments to explain one or two things would be nice.
That is it. Everything else (at least without spoiling anything) is magnificent and fantastic. Above all else this world has the feel of ‘Star Wars’, perhaps the most essential ingredient. From the opening crawl to the last shot of the film it is undeniably set within the ‘Star Wars’ universe, down to the smallest detail. Those of you who saw the SDCC interview with Abrams would remember him explaining in great detail a model that had been brought along, the artistry behind it and the creative teams efforts to bring it to life. That particular model was in the film for a total of two seconds. It is that level of detail that makes ‘Star Wars’ so wonderful, there are no shortcuts or half-heartedness to it, the universe feels familiar, fleshed out and lived in.
The first ten minutes of this film contains more character development, more humour, more familiarity, more excellently directed action and more spectacle than the entire prequel trilogy put together. It sets the tone for the entire movie as we realise how fantastic it is to see genuine acting in a ‘Star Wars’ film, and these performances are not ‘good for a blockbuster’, they are good, full stop. Daisy Ridley (whose only previous credit was a deleted scene from ‘Inbetweeners 2’) could be the standout of the film, her overarching development is reminiscent of what we love about the heroes of ‘Star Wars’ and she is more than capable of handling it emotively and physically. John Boyega brings a lot of energy and humour to his role and their dynamic is only rivalled by that of Boyega and Oscar Isaac. As Poe Dameron Isaac may become the staple of cool for a new generation, with a warmth and humanity that makes his character immensely likable.
But for me the most valuable player (in terms of acting) might just be Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, and here’s why. When you compare the character of Ren by the end of this film to that of Vader in ‘A New Hope’, Ren is far more interesting and intriguing. Vader would grow as a character as the trilogy progressed, but as far as first instalments go, Ren is ahead by miles. Driver manages to convey more than just a sense of dread and fear with the ferocity and power of this villain, but he and the writing do something even more remarkable. They make him human. It is easy to create a villain who is intimidating and frightening, but what is really commendable is simultaneously making that villain pitifully and achingly humane. Ren is a volatile and damaged individual, and for that reason we end up fearing him even more. Domhall Gleeson is also on hand to be a very satisfying counterpart to Ren with his cool collectiveness against Driver’s aggression, having more than one scene to interact very interestingly.
In terms of how the old cast compare, they are equally brilliant. Carrie Fisher surprisingly returns with a natural grace to the character of Princess Leia, or as she is now known, General Leia (that’s not a spoiler is it?) It is amazing how despite being established as one of the greatest actors of all time (don’t argue, he is) since his last turn as the scruffy looking nerfhurter, Harrison Ford sinks into the role of Han Solo almost effortlessly. From the moment he appears on screen there is no Harrison Ford, it is Han Solo. For both characters the same rules apply, as though they have undergone changes and it would be lying to say they are exactly the same as we left them over thirty years ago, we believe that progression, it seems natural and consistent to what we know of their character. As for Mark Hamill…. Well that’s all I have to say about that.
The direction of the film can probably best be summed up in a statement I read earlier, and as much as I would love to claim that it is a sentence I came up with, I can’t. It comes from RogerEbert.com’s review of the film, in which the critic in question, Matt Zoller Seist, writes “‘The Force Awakens’ is the film that J.J. Abrams was put on Earth to make’. That really is the best way to summarise it, as Abrams uses his talents as a director to continue the saga rather than try to reinvent it or put his own stamp on it. Every shot somehow feels both thoughtful and exhilarating as Abrams is intent upon re-immersing you within this world while also introducing so many new aspects of it while balancing that action with soul and emotion. By employing a range of techniques of wide angles, tracking shots and rapid editing, Abrams crafts a film of soaring magnificence. I know everyone talks about the practical effects but they do make a difference. Everything has such a weight and feel to it, even the CGI aspects, because they are interacting with a real set and real people they just feel real.
‘The Force Awakens’ is not a flawless film. However ‘The Force Awakens’ is an excellently directed film, it is a superbly acted film, brilliantly scripted film, stunningly shot film, emotionally investing film, a film that is brimming with imagination and innovation, and one that leaves me eager for more.