Star Wars has always had a somewhat mixed reaction from critics; though it inspires widespread love and pandemonium amongst a massive fan-base, has produced some of the most iconic cinematic moments of all time and even watching the opening crawl, A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… paired with the iconic opening theme is enough to induce goosebumps, but it’s had a more prickly reception for critics.
The originals were (mostly) lauded, and the sequels (mostly) loathed. I love Star Wars, having watched it routinely since childhood and, like every generation since the very first film was released in 1977, spent many hours playing with light sabres and trying to perfect the whoosh sounds they make when you swung it, but none of the Original Star Wars films nor the Star Wars prequels make for particularly great viewing once you’re an adult; Series Creator George Lucas has always said he intended to make a kids film with Star Wars, hence why a generation of 30 and 40 somethings were left unimpressed when the prequel trilogy did not appeal to their audience, but instead birthed a whole new generation of Star Wars obsessives, and further secured i’s position in pop culture and its status as a Hollywood classic. Star Wars was a wonderful, immersive experience that left you wide-eyed and mind-blown as a kid, but now much of it might seem to you a bit silly. If it doesn’t have the nostalgic throwback-to-your-childhood effect, then its adult appeal is mostly limited.
That is, until The Force Awakens came along. The plot is simple but smart, sophisticated and sweet, with a great balance between new and original ideas and material, and nostalgic throwbacks. It twists and it turns, but never sinks too deeply in to complexity, and whenever the narratives trajectory takes a turn that you might begin to predict (and there are a few) the delivery and the impact of those moments are enough that they still hit hard.
The new cast, headed up by Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, are great additions and hold up well. They’re never overshadowed by the bigger names, which is an important and impressive feat. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren brings a depth to the dark side we’ve not yet seen, and the script allows him better opportunities to show how well he can act than most Star Wars antagonists have had before; he could potentially be one of the best Star Wars baddies we’ve had. Even the Robotic and Alien additions are great, and none seem unnecessary (and none should warrant the same hatred that Jar Jar Binks did). Every character is likeable, charismatic and comes completely packaged with a personality that was missing from many characters in the previous films. BB-8 might just become just as well loved and just as iconic as his droid counterparts C3PO and R2D2 have; he’s already the poster boy for the movie!
The returning actors hold their own, too; they don’t look out of place, they’re not shoe-horned in just to appeal to the older generation of fans, and the narrative is more reliant on them than you might be expecting. They’re relevant, they’re needed, and they’re better than they’ve been for a while.
The dialogue is witty, snappy and more conversational and authentic than we’ve seen in Star Wars (Lucas himself admits that dialogue is his weak point, and he never uses it to show much character). It makes for a movie that is charming and funny without being too try-hard.
Right from the off, when the opening crawl pans down to an extreme wide-shot of a planet that is then hidden from sight by the silhouette of a Star Destroyer, the behind the camera crew deliver a masterclass in imagery and visuals. Such shots like silhouetted Tie-fighters flying in front of a sun set, tracking shots of the Millenium Falcon in flight and the image of two duelling opponents separated by a gorge in the floor are all delivered beautifully and look amazing, and even casual conversations are shot in a way that makes them easy on the eyes (Much of that can be attested to lighting, which is always great in a JJ Abrams film, and thankfully has been improved on this one with reduced lens-flare).
The locations bring a lot to the film, too; it’s more reliant on nature and reality than that the prequels, but has the same balance of sci-fi and spaceships that made the originals so great. Battles that, in the prequels, would have been fought on CGI space ships just because Lucas never had the chance to test that kind of film making on the originals are played out in snowy forests and empty deserts. That’s not to say there isn’t any CGI space ships or sci-fi location, but the film has a good mix that allows for intricate and exuberant set pieces.
JJ Abrams takes a bold and daring approach both as one of the films writers and its director, riskier even than George Lucas in all his repeated edits of his long-released films (Han Shot first, Mr Lucas, and no re-editing will change that!). He does things you might think he might no dare to do, but he does them so well that they are not likely to induce the same outcry the same plot points would have in the hands of someone less capable. The film is heart-warming and heart-wrenching in equal amounts, staggeringly bold in how it treats some of its key character, with Abrams often side-lining them where an audience might want them emphasised, and not taking the easy path in his approach to any of the established characters or his new arrivals.
It’s not all perfect, though; Actors like Max Von Sydow and Lupita N’Yongo are probably underused (though equally, drawing out their characters when they were no longer needed just because they’re such good characters would be a negative, too). They don’t tread to far from the predictable path, and some of the bigger moments don’t always take you by surprise. Maybe they’re not supposed to, maybe Abrams was going for a big build up rather than a knock-out punch from nowhere, but it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t lessen the impact of those moments in anyway. Though it is a complete film in itself, it’s certainly episodic, and ends in a kind of cliff hanger that will keep us waiting until 2017 for resolution. When that film comes, it will have Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm, and the final film in the new trilogy will be under Colin Trevorrow’s (Jurassic World) control; though they’re good, it’s hard to know right now if they can follow up this Star Wars, or if the new saga has peaked too soon. The biggest downfall of this film is that it will be the only one that JJ Abrams does.
This was my first opportunity to see a Star Wars film for the first time as an adulthood; my opinion on them was not clouded by nostalgic fondness or the fact I’d never seen anything like that before, but still I was impressed. I was left feeling the same way I was when I was 9, sitting in the cinema watching Attack of the Clones, covered in goosebumps and holding my breath when Yoda drew his light-sabre and stood in opposition of Count Dooku – a moment I’ll never forget. The Force Awakens has an appeal for all ages, for fans of all generations.
Eagerly awaited, but worth every second. The expectations were almost insurmountable, but JJ Abrams exceeds them, and delivers possibly the best Star Wars yet.
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