Well, JJ did it. While it’s not perfect, Star Wars The Force Awakens flies faster, hits harder and just resonates more than the prequels ever did or could, while (mostly) satisfying one of cinema’s most unforgiving fanbases.
While it naturally owes a lot to Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope if you’re nasty) and the original trilogy, Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan have wisely made this the newcomers’ film. The classic, dearly beloved characters all make an appearance in one way or another, but the nostalgia never threatens to overshadow the fresh new faces on screen. Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper for the ominously named ‘First Order’, Rey (the fantastic Daisy Ridley in her first starring role), a scavenger from the desert planet Jakku and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), “the best damn pilot in the galaxy”, are all captivating in roles that thankfully don’t just cut and paste from the mould of the original trilogy. Adam Driver also delivers an extremely complex and volatile performance as Kylo Ren, potentially one of the most human villains Star Wars has ever delivered. His intimidating profile, mixed with a temper and inner conflict we haven’t ever seen in a Sith – he is both a worthy follow up and a total contrast to Darth Vader and his more cool, collected menace.
This is a story that finds most of its worth in its characters and its action, and how each informs the other – not solely from the plot, which is, admittedly, rather simple, and borrows from the original Star Wars quite heavily, in ways I won’t disclose. However this is not to say that The Force Awakens can be reduced to simply being the same story with different characters – Abrams and Kasdan cleverly use our expectations of what a spiritual sequel to A New Hope would look like, and subvert them. Besides, there’s a lot more going on in this film than there ever was in the original trilogy.
Both in storytelling and aesthetic, JJ Abrams has learned an extremely valuable lesson from the less than well received prequels – less is more.
While The Force Awakens mostly belongs to the new characters, the returning cast of the original trilogy all make great use of their time on screen. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher turn in great performances as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and General Leia, playing the characters as we know them as well as well as how we don’t – weathered and weary from the years we haven’t seen.
Both in storytelling and aesthetic, JJ Abrams has learned an extremely valuable lesson from the less than well received prequels – less is more. We are finally getting a Star Wars film that has nuance in the dialogue and some subtlety where it counts – to say any more than this would be saying too much. This approach also means that the film looks incredible, with more ‘minimalist’ shots that allow a single subject to dominate the frame, giving the audience the chance to actually take things in rather than be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things on the screen, a la the “dense” cinematography of Episodes I though III.
There is a perfect balance of CGI and practical effects – The Force Awakens uses painstakingly crafted puppets and animatronics that fans longed for in the often soulless prequels – everything in The Force Awakens is just so tangible – to the point that it’s actually somewhat jarring when fully CGIed characters such as Lupita Nyongo’s motion captured Maz Kanata and Andy Serkis’ mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke first appear on screen. Beautiful landscapes, thrilling and extremely kinetic takes of exhilarating aerial dogfights mixed with pulse pounding, visceral action on the ground, wide shots of giant relics from old space battles are just a small part of The Force Awaken’s visual majesty, the stunning direction mixing with classic Star Wars iconography and sound to make something truly special. This would all be fantastic by itself, but John William’s breathtaking score (“Rey’s Theme” is awesome) punctuating these moments turns the film into something almost overwhelming to take in on the first viewing.
It’s really something else, seeing a new and such a well crafted Star Wars film on the big screen. JJ Abram’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an astounding follow up to the practically mythical original trilogy, and breathes new life into the galaxy far far away – for audiences new and old, fanboys and sceptics alike. It isn’t necessarily subtle and it borrows a lot from the first film, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is awe-inspiring, and I can’t wait to see where the franchise goes next.