Director: J.J Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Peter Mayhew, Domnhall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis with Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford
Plot: Luke Skywalker (Hamill) has gone missing, The First Order search for a helpless droid while building a super-weapon and a young scavenger (Ridley) is dragged into the centre of a galactic struggle.
Star Wars opens beautifully. From the first few moments, we have both covered what made the original trilogy great and what J.J Abrams is going to do differently to make the new trilogy worth being remade. In terms of the classic trademarks, we have the opening scrawl, complete with the opening theme and credits just as they should be. There has been no 2015 modernisation or tinkering. The first few scenes follow closely to the colour scheme and charm that made the first films so iconic. Oscar Isaac struts into character, roguish and fun to be around, echoing a young Han Solo. However, then the new starts seeping in. Never before would we expect to suddenly watch a Stormtrooper suffer shellshock as his commanders order him to commit mass murder and then fall in PTSD. J.J Abrams has taken Star Wars and decided how to logically upgrade it to essential cinema without stomping all over the nostalgia of the original.
And for a while, we are treated to the Star Wars we have always wanted. The direction of the first hour of the film keeps the set-pieces both small and large at the same time. When I say large, I mean in terms of scale. Rey scavenges for junk in the carcass of a demolished Star Destroyer, her figure kept to a tiny dot to the side of a frame, so we can fully appreciate the size and awe of one of the first Star Wars vehicles (a metaphor for the original trilogy, perhaps). However, when I say small, I mean in terms of the cast. Star Wars has an awful habit of getting messy fast, so it is a credit to Abrams that he decides to limit his principal characters down to the newbies. We all know that when Harrison Ford and R2-D2 step onto the screen, the audiences will be happy, so it is important that Abrams spends the time building up the new faces. Finn and Rey are quite frankly show-stealers. The small fish in a big pond… scrap that, ocean!… both Daisy Ridley and John Boyega knock the ball out of the park, with two fantastic performances. Acting has never been Star Wars’ strongpoint with both the prequels and the original trilogy guilty of the most wooden performances and dialogue in cinematic history. The truth is Star Wars is usually so fast-paced that we never get the time to care too much, until we sit down to pick it apart as critics much later. The same can be said for here as Rey and Finn flee from TIE fighters and mercenaries. However, Ridley and Boyega take the time to make sure they never let the acting and characterisation take a back seat. Daisy Ridley is incredible, instantly the key female figure that Star Wars never really had, and almost a fan favourite (until a certain ball-shaped droid rolled into our hearts, that is!). Abrams even finds time to squeeze in some comic relief between the two leads. For a moment, we are almost watching a buddy space comedy where two mismatched heroes are forced to take on The First Order. And, in this reviewer’s opinion, this is exactly what the franchise needed.
Around the midway point, things get less good. Or they unfold exactly as you think they are going to. As soon as the new characters have been developed enough, it is time to crack on with some Empire destroying. The First Order become an imminent threat, Rey is forced to make a decision whether to join the fight or continue with her mundane life and there is a prophecy to do with the Force. Don’t get me wrong; it is all very good cinema. As much as I have seen this same space battle that closes the movie in almost every other Star Wars, it is always refreshing seeing it with upgraded visuals. However, J. J Abrams, in a bid to make sure everyone stays satisfied, clings too closely to the original rulebook. Part of you wants him to tear it up and make something new, but as the movie hits the finale segment, you aren’t subjected to anything ground-breaking in the franchise. This is essentially Star Wars with a new lick of paint. All the major shocks can be traced back to a familiar pattern and the First Order never quite break away from becoming a cheap knock-off of the Empire, right down to the holographic overlord and the masked light-sabre wielding villain. Sure, Abrams adds the smaller beats to keep the proceedings exciting, like injecting some personality into the stormtroopers (including an inexplicably bad-ass punch-up in the midway point), or turning the damsel in distress card on its head. As a result, The Force Awakens serves as a promise, rather than a show-stopper. Star Wars is in good hands for the time being, Abrams understanding how to service the fans and build character. The people that will get the most out of this movie are the ones that see this as the opening gambit in an exciting new trilogy. Gwendoline Christie’s mysterious villain is side-lined, obviously to be used at a later date and some of the older characters are reduced to cameos, hopefully for good reason. This isn’t quite the perfect Star Wars movie, but it lays the groundwork for the successor to create that dream movie.
Final Verdict: Daisy Ridley and BB-8 shine in an action-packed comeback movie, but the whole picture is magnificent, if a little too attached to what came before.