Verdict: 3.5 / 5
If I had to sum up why The Force Awakens is awesome in one sentence, it would be this: the hero is female and her love interest is black. This catapults the movie into the realm of ground-breaking cinema, but it is not the only, nor the first, movie to do so; which brings me to one of my pet peeves about the Star Wars saga: the continuous claim that it changed cinema. That is not what it did, rather: Star Wars changed the way cinema is sold.
The cash-in opps surrounding the seventh chapter are obvious – and there are already sequels and anthology tie-ins planned – sending Star Wars along the now-familiar, money-making path of merchandising and franchising it so firmly cemented. But this is not a secret, and there are already countless articles everywhere addressing this blatant point. Put that aside and enjoy the movie for the adventure it has to offer, and the kind of heroes Hollywood doesn’t typically feature – especially not in a commercial blockbuster.
The Force Awakens starts 30 years after the events of the first trilogy, continuing a story that, while not wholly original, is much-loved. Family, so central to the plot, plays as key a role as ever. The interest of love, mentioned before, is a mere hint; and you can rest assured that there is no field-frolicking.
It strikes a stronger thematic note than previous chapters by lurching into a Marxist tone at the start, in the form of the character Finn. It’s a theme which is clearly established, yet not strongly developed; but there’s a hint of it nonetheless. The new protagonists, Finn and Rey, work in quite the opposite way: being poorly grounded, but firmly developed thanks to young actors far more capable than Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were in their twenties.
George Lucas is thankfully nothing more than a name, because he is possibly the best and worst thing that can happen to an actor. Having Star Wars on your filmography has the potential to be impressive, but mention Hayden Christensen or Jake Lloyd and the argument stops cold. This time round we have J.J. Abrams at the helm, and though I‘ve said it before I’ll say it again: he ruined Lost, but at least he can yank halfway decent performances out of his casts.
The standout actor is Oscar Isaac as pilot Poe Dameron, who delivers his performance with enthusiasm but never topples into that hammy, shouty, break-up-every-word thing that has become the benchmark of Star Wars acting. Andy Serkis continues his mo-cap glory, and although magnificent, looks bizarrely like Gollum.
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, as Rey and Finn, have a somewhat shaky start. At times it feels like they’re so caught up in the excitement of what they’re doing, that their performances are put on – which is absolutely the worst thing an actor can do. Even though it’s doubtful anything was filmed in sequence, it feels that way as the two young actors blossom and bloom into their roles. Ridley’s Rey slowly but surely becomes the standout character: as willing and able to fight, fix and fly, as she is to show vulnerability. Together she and Finn find their feet and stand their ground against two of the franchise’s strongest characters: Han Solo and Chewie.
I may be reined in by keeping this as spoiler-free as possible, but luckily the trailer already revealed their return; and even this not-a-Star-Wars-fan was thrilled by their entrance. Anyone who knows anything about Star Wars – fan or not – will feel a wave of nostalgia when they see Chewie, Han, Leia etc. etc. What makes their moments great is that any tributary nods are not as contrived as they often were in Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys. Instead The Force Awakens focuses on staying true to form and style through music and editing, instead of lame nods and endless Easter eggs.
If “manners maketh the man”, music maketh the movie. For everything that Star Wars does (or does not) offer, there is no denying the grandeur of its John Williams’ score. And there’s the unavoidable mention of the special effects. I hate 3-D, but The Force Awakens makes it worth wearing those plastic pieces of discomfort that make you look like a cine-dork. During one of the many explosions, I actually recoiled in my seat as a hunk of spaceship seemed to fling itself at my face. I can only image how awesome IMAX will be.
As much as Star Wars’ movies of yore may be a collection of copy and paste technique, recycled stories and bad acting, no one can argue with the incredible visual effects that send your imagination soaring into the worlds it creates. The Force Awakens continues this tradition: from the desert planet of Jakku littered with spaceships to the contrasting worlds of green pines and icy vistas, Star Wars builds worlds as fantastically as ever. My only criticism in this regard is that while the movies know how to impress on a grand scale, they stumble on the detail; not so much messing it up as forgetting about it. Considering the myriad potential of its worlds, and the characters inhabiting them, there is a slight lack of intricacy.
Nevertheless, the first instalment is a wild ride, setting standards for those to follow that it will hopefully surpass. Like Craig’s Bonds, it shines because it stays true to form. Like The Avengers, it delights with cheeky humour and unstoppable action. But unlike any of these, including its own predecessors, The Force Awakens has something to offer the daughter of every fan.