Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer #2 screen cap
Passing the torch - 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer #2 screen cap
'Star Wars The Force Awakens' poster artwork
‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’ poster artwork
  • Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
  • Directed by J. J. Abrams
  • Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisey Ridley, John Boyega and many many more!

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is in cinemas worldwide now!

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Where do you start with perhaps the most highly anticipated film of the decade? Firstly I’m going to try and keep this review spoiler free but I will warn you if something creeps in that you don’t want to know.

I’ll also preface with the fact that I’m a big fan of the franchise, particularly episodes 4-6 over 1-3.

I’ve had a good feeling about ‘The Force Awakens’ since the first trailer but then I so often have good feelings that go very wrong… Ben Affleck’s ‘Daredevil’ springs to mind but then I was only 16 at the time. The anticipation was pretty unbearable by the time December 17th rolled around. I was briefly in Leicester Square around the time of the premiere but I can tell you that if you hadn’t arrived around 48hrs before then you wouldn’t have seen very much!

I finally saw ‘The Force Awakens’ on the evening of 17th so I can at least say that I saw it on opening day. It wasn’t an overly pleasant cinema going experience due to the entire lack of popcorn or drinks on tap as the many many ‘Star Wars’ fans before me have eaten and drunk the place dry.

The showing was sold out, there wasn’t an under 18 year-old in sight and excitement was fever pitch when the title card appeared and the music began.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer #2 screen cap
Han & Chewie return in’Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

‘The Force Awakens’ is a tour de force journey through ‘Star Wars’ old and new, mashing up the characters and tropes of old with the ideas of the new.

Abrams, jumping ship from Trek to Wars, takes very carefully planned steps throughout the film to pay homage to that which has come before. There’s little time to linger on episodes 1, 2 and 3 so don’t expect to see Jar Jar Binks or to find General Leia lamenting on the loss of her birth mother, Amidala but there is plenty of time to hark back to episodes 4, 5 and 6 as the natural jumping off point given ‘The Force Awakens’ place in the timeline. Some critics of the film have picked up on the amount of nods, cameos and throwbacks to the ‘original’ series saying this overshadowed the potential for originality but for me the balance was perfect.

The whole film is cleverly constructed to hand off the old to the new and not just in terms of story. Abrams and co were clearly aware that the audience rushing out to see ‘The Force Awakens’ would predominantly be fans of the original film now bringing along their children to jointly enter the world of the new ‘Star Wars’ as well as a small number of newbies coming along for the ride and those who choose to see it later in it’s cinema run out of curiosity. With that in mind the film caters to all audiences brilliantly, nods to the past films give way to intriguing new characters and artefacts from our childhood become wondrous new discoveries for the young’uns in the audience.

But to my surprise its done incredibly well. There are individual hand off moments where the cast of the past do pass the torch to the new leads however really the whole film conjures a sense of the familiar but with a new spin.

All of which leads me to a little criticism, because no film is perfect, given time to dissect what I saw on screen (having still only seen it once) it does become fairly obvious that the story of ‘The Force Awakens’ is more than a little familiar, particularly to ‘Star Wars’ fans.

That being said although the story will feel like a re-treading to seasoned fans it is incredibly well dressed up in the bells and whistles that modern film making can allow so whilst you’re watching it all feels like an entirely new entity. It also doesn’t feel anywhere near as long as it’s running time which is both a positive and a down side.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' trailer #2 screen cap
Captain Phasma – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Having now seen the film I have great hope that Disney have a long term plan for developing the stories of Rey, Finn and new villain Kylo Ren. There are small snippets of back stories and history but on the whole the developmental aspects of this film and heavily focussed on reintroducing the universe and bringing the viewer up to speed on the galaxy far, far away thirty years after we last left it.

My concerns come with the new Emperor figure, the idea feels underdeveloped and I hope that this can be rectified quickly in the next film. There’s a reliance on CGI in his scenes which really jar with the rest of the film like it had been shoehorned in as a way to force a bigger issue to be brought back in later films.

I’ll let you sound off in the comments with your theories on who the newbies might be or be related to but mark your posts with spoilers!

Stylistically ‘The Force Awakens’ isn’t obviously a J. J. Abrams film. Fans of his ‘Star Trek’ films will know exactly what I mean. I’m pretty sure I could count the lens flares on one hand. There are some very Abrams camera angles at times but overall the film still feels incredibly ‘Star Wars’. I had some concerns going in that the film wouldn’t feel ‘Star Wars’ enough given the move away from Lucasfilm to Disney and with Lucas himself less involved but actually this film begins to right the wrongs of episodes 1, 2 and to a lesser extent 3.

There is no reason to fear a repeat of ‘The Phantom Menace’ here.

Casting is also genius. Returning leads Hamill, Fisher and Ford step back in to their roles as if this is just the next film in a franchise. The chemistry still pops on screen and given the wealth of story that has happened in the time since ‘Return of the Jedi’ both Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford play the heartbreak perfectly.

New leads Ridley, Boyega, Drive and also Oscar Isaac slot in to the franchise incredibly well. Ridley’s posh British accent took a while to get to grips with but by the climax of the film she will win you over. Driver makes for an interesting villain, stealing most of the character development from the others, but little more can be said about him. Kylo however is much much more than a Vader clone so naysayers beware.

The character of Poe (Isaac) is also an interesting addition to the cast, there’s a feeling of Han Solo mark two but I think there is a lot more to be seen of him in later films.

For me the show is stolen by John Boyega. His humour, the tragedy of Finn’s story and his arc throughout the film all work for me. It’s a masterpiece of scriptwriting and pulls all the different storylines and aspects of the film together to make it the triumph that it is.

I couldn’t write a ‘Star Wars’ review without touch on the score. John Williams returns to the franchise that he’s been with from the start and creates another masterful score worth of the inevitable Oscar nomination. There are familiar themes littered throughout and scattered amongst new themes for the likes of Rey and Finn.

Aside from the main theme it was great to hear the love theme of Han and Leia making a return to the series. Each era of ‘Star Wars’ is, to me, identifiable by certain themes. With episodes 4-6 it’s the Imperial March. With episodes 1-3 it’s the Anakin & Padme love theme. With ‘The Force Awakens’ it is easily Rey’s theme which makes the biggest impact, recurring several times throughout the film.

Thankfully I’ve managed to remain spoiler free for you throughout so I’m quite proud of myself. Overall ‘The Force Awakens’ is definitely the film that ‘Star Wars’ fans needed and deserved. It’s a great fresh start to the franchise and also a great film in general but not without it’s drawbacks.

I’m going to go with my gut on the score….

5 stars

 

 

5 stars

About Neil Vagg 1025 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG