Length: 135 mins
Writers: Lawrence Kasdam, JJ Abrams,
Dir.: JJ Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Right… Tricky one, this. It’s going to be difficult to review The Force Awakens without talking about specific story elements – I’ll try my hardest not to ruin it for everyone. But if you really don’t want to know anything about the movie, then I’ll put a massive SPOILER WARNING here, lest mega-fans soil their R2D2 themed pyjama bottoms in rage.
I should probably also clarify right from the start that I loved every minute of this movie and that it’s ridiculously entertaining. It has a brilliant sense of humour (including several laugh-out-loud moments), the cast – both old and new – are exceptional, it’s visually striking, and it’s a far more faithful follow up to the original trilogy than the awful prequel ‘saga’ (though I suppose that isn’t really difficult). Having said this, the movie is not without its flaws – no movie is – and these range from little quirks and minor quibbles to rather glaring problems. All in all though, The Force Awakens is a very well-made and enjoyable movie which you should definitely go and see if you haven’t already.
Say what you like about JJ Abrams (I personally think he is extremely overrated), but he definitely knows how to put a shot together. There are several scenes in this movie that are visually gorgeous – seeing the ruined Star Destroyer shot from the trailer on the big screen was a particular highlight. CGI is used a lot less than you would think – practical effects, elaborate costumes and real-world locations are used to great effect. While you can tell that Abrams is restraining himself here, old habits die hard and there is the odd needlessly complicated sequence (the Millennium Falcon’s loop-the-loop being an obvious one) that sticks out from the rest. For the most part, it’s a faithful recreation of how the original trilogies were shot – and there’s no lens flare in sight!As I mentioned, all the actors are on top form here. Seeing the old characters again was a joy – I even liked the bit where C3PO turned up, and I really hate that gold-plated berk! The new cast also do a really good job, giving their characters real depth and endearing themselves tremendously to the audience despite the fact that we’ve just met them. I do wish that we could have spent more time with some of them and there is some confusion over who exactly should be designated as the ‘main’ character, but I’m looking forward to learning more about them in the coming movies – more so than nearly every character from the prequels.
One of the key improvements from the prequel trilogy – apart from having actors who can actually act (looking at you, Christensen) – is its economic deployment of the much-hyped lightsabers (SPOILER, there are lightsabers in this movie). The prequels focused on the spectacle of lightsaber fights over giving them any sort of emotional depth, to the point where they became exercises in how well the actors could remember their choreography rather than compelling parts of the story. The rather ridiculous duel between Anakin and Obi Wan in Revenge of the Sith that went on for 20-odd minutes was extremely boring, especially when compared to the Luke vs Vader in Return of the Jedi. Their limited use in The Force Awakens lends the inevitable duel real weight – especially when one of the characters has never really used the weapon before (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer). In contrast, force powers in this movie are off-the-charts – but this suits the over-arching story and characters well. It’s called The Force Awakens for a reason.
Having said this, I do think that many of the issues I have with the film are related to the story – specifically with the speed at which the narrative barrels along. New Hope is frequently referenced as a key example of excellent narrative pacing – consistently building to a crescendo and then masterfully winding down so that the audience doesn’t feel that there’s more to tell. The Force Awakens on the other hand, moves with such speed that it doesn’t feel like it earns its reveals or plot twists. It allows very little time for the audience to settle in with what’s happening on screen – new elements are introduced and explained in minutes. This is particularly apparent in the third act which speeds towards a climax, introducing big plot points and character elements, and then takes too long afterwards to end the story, raising more questions than it answers. It gives the impression that the movie is manoeuvring its characters to where they have to be for the rest of the films, rather than telling a satisfying story in its own right. All set up, little substance. There is so much more to talk about here and many examples that I could make – but it would spoil the entire movie if I went any further. Suffice to say that the story itself is surprisingly disappointing in a movie that got nearly everything else so right.
I reiterate that I loved this movie, and that I only critique it because it loved it. I feel there were a few things that could have been done better, but that’s just me. Audiences are going to come away with very different opinions as it’s a movie that truly caters for everyone – from the older die-hard fans to kids who’ve never experienced this universe before. This is good thing and extremely difficult to get right with a franchise as old and well-regarded as this (let’s just forget the prequel trilogy, shall we?). It’s a great film and you should go and see it whether you’re are Star Wars groupie or a newcomer to the series. Fans can rest a little easier now – the world’s favourite franchise is – seemingly – in safe hands.