Star Wars fans, fear not. Firstly because fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering, etc. And more importantly because JJ Abrams and his team have succeeded in augmenting the original trilogy where even George Lucas could not.
The Force Awakens offers more of the same to a degree that I found surprising. It takes many of the familiar elements of the original trilogy and mashes them up into a new narrative. There are desert and forest worlds, dodgy spaceports and gleaming starships, scary tentacled aliens and tense lightsabre duels, all fuelled by the interpersonal drama that’s always been at the heart of the series.
Best of all, there are no convoluted plots about trade negotiations, and nary a Gungan in sight.
The déjà vu is intense – just about every scene feels reminiscent of something that’s appeared before, like a series of narrative Force Ghosts. But Abrams breathes an abundance of new life – new hope, even – into the franchise with some engaging young performers alongside the familiar favourites.
It’s hard to discuss a movie without revealing a little bit of the plot. It’s especially hard when Disney has done such an excellent job of concealing the details of the decade’s most anticipated film. Despite watching every trailer, I never had a firm handle on what the story was about, and there are surprises galore in store. Do try and stay away from spoilers.
For the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume you’ve watched a few clips, at least, but I won’t give any more details than appear there.
We rejoin the galaxy far, far away a few decades after the Battle of Endor. There’s still a Rebellion, and they’re still fighting against stormtroopers, TIE fighters and a black-clad, mask-wearing enforcer who terrifies even his own colleagues with his dark side powers.
One of those stormtroopers, Finn, abandons his fellow shiny goons and joins forces with a young scavenger, Rey, who lives on a desert planet rather like one we’ve seen before. Accompanied by a new droid, BB-8 (the offspring of R2-D2 and a soccer ball) they meet Han, Chewie and Leia on their travels, among others, and end up getting drawn into the wider conflict.
The new characters are compelling, which is perhaps the greatest achievement of The Force Awakens, seeing as they have to carry the story despite the procession of series legends. Daisy Ridley’s prickly smarts and John Boyega’s charisma work excellently, especially when they’re onscreen together, and despite my fears yesterday, let’s just say that Adam Driver gives us something brand new and rather extraordinary as the hooded, masked Kylo Ren.
The whole thing has been done with enormous love and devotion, together with some outstanding special effects. Clearly, we are in the hands of superfan filmmakers.
If anything, they might have been too reverent. Bold new ideas are thinner on the ground than fans of The Phantom Menace. It’s JJ Abrams’ other star-based franchise that’s dedicated to boldly going where nobody has gone before, after all.
At the end of the film, I’d enjoyed myself immensely – there’s plenty of action and drama. But I was left with many questions about the characters, and how the galaxy’s new order stacked up. Some of these questions are cliffhangers for the next instalment, clearly, but some felt like the results of undue haste in the storytelling.
The Force Awakens is so good that I’m extremely confident in the new creative team. But despite the two hours of Episode VII, it’s fair to say that they’re only just getting started.
In the end though, the important thing is that the film delivers what we love about Star Wars in spades. Nobody will be unhappy, especially if they see it in 3D. The wonderful dogfights and several scenes where the action looms out at the audience make it well worth the extra bucks for crappy glasses, especially because you get to feel like the mysterious new Maz Kanata.
In what’s destined to be one of the film’s most famous lines, Han Solo boards his ship and says, “Chewie, we’re home”. It’s hard not to feel the same way. JJ Abrams has navigated his way through an asteroid field no less perilous than anything the Millennium Falcon has had to face, and done so spectacularly.
I just hope that now it’s awake, the Force is working on a few answers for us.