It’s been 30 years since the Rebel Alliance ran victorious against the Empire. Now, the rise of the First Order threatens the very freedom of the galaxy. Led by the relentless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he identifies a key element to swing the battle in their favour. The Resistance have been tracking an important map and the First Order are fast on their trail to seize control.
After what seems like an eternity we finally have a new Star Wars movie to embrace and it’s (by and large) everything fans have been waiting for. Going big on nostalgia and setting up a story that effortlessly blends classic and new characters, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is what blockbuster cinema should aspire to be – hitting sensational highs and evoking strong emotions along the way.
John Boyega is a breath of fresh air as Finn and is constantly the most entertaining element of The Force Awakens. His back-story is also very interesting and adds an unfamiliar element to the legacy of the Stormtroopers. He also shares a great dynamic with Daisy Ridley as Rey. She really steps up to the plate with a strong and energetic performance that shoulders a lot of the heavy lifting. It becomes clear that her character has a very large part to play in this saga and she handles the responsibility well. Adam Driver makes for a menacing villain in Kylo Ren and certainly looks the part. His character is complicated, with elements that work and some that don’t. No spoilers so I won’t go into detail here.
It’s a dream come true to see Harrison Ford back as the charismatic Han Solo and I’m pleased to say he features in the film a lot more than I expected. His dialogue, especially with Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca is an utter joy, as are his interactions with Carrie Fisher’s Leia. J.J. Abrams knows how to pay homage to the past (Star Trek did it exceptionally well) but at times The Force Awakens feels a little too much like a re-hash when setting up its own identity was probably the more crucial move to make. That said, he uses the classic cast to good effect and they dutifully oblige in recreating that unmistakable magic.
It takes all of one scene for the BB-8 droid to undo all of the negativity left by the hapless Jar Jar Binks from the prequel trilogy. The BB-8 is a wonderful and engaging addition to this franchise and has some fantastic moments. My favourite character by far was Oscar Isaac as the Resistance’s best pilot Poe Dameron. He is everything a swashbuckling hero should be and I hope he’s used a lot more as this saga progresses. Andy Serkis is very effective as the franchise’s new bigger baddie Supreme Leader Snoke and Domhall Gleeson hams it up as the Peter Cushing-esque General Hux. It’s a shame that Gwendoline Christie is wasted as Captain Phasma though.
The spectacle of Star Wars is strongly present in The Force Awakens. The film starts off with an adrenaline-fuelled attack by the First Order on a village, and it steadily builds momentum from there. All of the lightsaber moments are brilliant and the finale-fight features some breathtaking aerial combat that perfectly utilizes the X-Wings and Tie-Fighters.
Whilst there is a lot of good in the film, The Force Awakens has a few niggling problems. I’m not going to give away any spoilers so you’ll discover most of these as you watch it, but ultimately this all feels far too familiar. The first third is an exceptionally involving segment with J.J. Abrams delivering a blistering introduction that perfectly sets up this new saga whilst honouring the past. The middle slows down far too much and undoes a lot of the hard work from the start. It needed to move a lot quicker and establish essential plot threads in a more immediate manner. The finale is glorious to watch but it just feels like a re-hash from a past film in the Star Wars saga.
Predictability is also a problem here. I think the marketing for The Force Awakens has been superb so far – especially given how films are usually pre-sold to audiences these days. Star Wars has managed to keep all of their cards close to their chest and the end experience rewards the viewer with some big surprises. But there’s also a lot that becomes very predictable as the film progresses and the fates of certain characters could have been handled a lot better.
The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray sets has lots of brilliant extras that makes this a must-own purchase. Bonus features include Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – for the first time, discover the complete story behind the making of The Force Awakens, revealed through in-depth footage and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers in this feature documentary.
The Story Awakens: The Table Read – cast members familiar and reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie’s script. Building BB-8 – see how the filmmakers brought the droid to the screen, creating an instant fan favourite in the Star Wars universe. Crafting Creatures – watch movie magic as the filmmakers bring a cast of creatures to life. Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – go deeper into the epic, climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren.
John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – the legendary composer shares personal insights of his work on Star Wars and The Force Awakens. ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force – an insider’s look into the remarkable digital artistry of the movie’s visual effects. Force For Change – heroes come in all shapes and sizes. See how the Star Wars: Force for change initiative has united Star Wars fans all over the globe to help others. Plus there’s deleted scenes titled Finn And The Villager, Jakku Message, X-Wings Prepare For Lightspeed, Kylo Searches The Falcon, Snow Speeder Chase and Finn Will Be Fine.
In spite of a few flaws, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still a wonderful blockbuster that echoes the past and suggests a promising future for the saga. Hopefully Episode 8 will be slightly braver in establishing its own identity. Until then, this remains one of the best blockbusters of the year and guarantees a great night out, with spark and spectacle that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac Director: J.J. Abrams Writer: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt Released By: Disney Certificate: 12 Duration: 135 mins Release Date: 18th April 2016