Editor’s note: Seeing as the marketing for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has avoided revealing the film’s premise, be aware that the following review does contain some basic plot descriptions. And, of course, we’ve made sure there are no major spoilers.
When J.J. Abrams last took the reigns of a beloved science fiction franchise, he did at least put his own stamp on it. His Star Trek movies were divisive to say the least. Many enjoyed his less cerebral, action-adventure take on Roddenberry’s classic, while many (this reviewer included) felt he took way too many disrespectful liberties with Star Trek lore, creating movies that were not for the existing fans. In essence, he tried to turn it into Star Wars, and now with The Force Awakens he has the chance to make Star Wars for real.
Star Wars is an almighty juggernaut, so enmeshed in popular culture that it transcends all geek culture. Star Wars is a part of people’s lives. It represents much more than mere nostalgia, and what George Lucas failed to understand, with his endless tinkering and dodgy prequels, is that Star Wars now belongs to all of us.
So with that in mind, the question we have to ask is does The Force Awakens work? And the answer is yes…mostly. For the most part it is largely enjoyable, but it’s not without flaws.
As the movie kicks off we get some rapid-fire introductions. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is on a quest for a map that will reveal the location of the missing Luke Skywalker; Finn (Jon Boyega) is a morally compromised First Order Stormtrooper who, realising he’s on the side of the bad guys, decides that he wants out; and Rey is a scavenger living hand-to-mouth in the ruins of Jakku’s desert battlefield. After the First Order arrive on Jakku, in pursuit of spherical astromech droid BB8, Rey and Finn’s paths intersect with a familiar Correllian smuggler and his “walking carpet” co-pilot. They must join the Resistance and prevent the evil Kylo Ren from going ahead with his plans.
The movie kicks off at a fair chop, and doesn’t really let up until at least halfway through. Thusly, the first half of The Force Awakens is an absolute blast. Although a Jedi may not crave excitement and adventure, there is plenty of it to go around at this point. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are perfectly cast as Rey and Finn and immediately feel like classic, familiar Star Wars characters. When Han and Chewie show up and get chased through the corridors of a smuggling ship by Lovecraftian aliens – half shuggoth, half mobile Sarlacc – The Force Awakens really delivers the goods.
Unfortunately, it can’t sustain the early pace. Perhaps the Jakku heat got to the plot, but when things slow down, the movie gets a bit dry in the middle. The last act, as the resistance stages an assault on Starkiller Base, is decent enough fun but little more than a repeat performance of two previously seen Death Star assaults.
In Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), we have an exciting, monstrous villain; a definite highlight. No complaints there. He is a volatile, conflicted heir to Vader’s throne. Still learning his way through his own powers. The dark side to Rey’s light.
The rest of the villains don’t fare quite as well. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is probably the weakest link in the film, with some very poor-quality CGI placing him on an axis somewhere between the Emperor and a sub-par Gollum. Additionally, the much-vaunted Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is woefully underused, her screen time barely registering more than five minutes. The only hope for Phasma is that more is planned for her in subsequent installments.
The look and the feel of the picture fit right in with the original trilogy. Make no mistake, in both design and spirit this is a Star Wars movie, and a lot of its superlative praise is likely to be the collective expression of relief that we don’t have another Phantom Menace on our hands. It’s easy to overlook its difficulties, because The Force Awakens is by and large, a good time. It’s not the greatest Star Wars movie ever made, but it is a good one.