Disclaimer: I will do my best to avoid major spoiler details, but this review will discuss certain plot points. To enjoy The Force Awakens in its fullest, I suggest you stay spoiler free, and avoid this review for the time being (feel free to skip for the verdict). But do promise to come back once you’ve seen it. StarWars-1

‘This will begin to make things right.’
These are the first words uttered in the seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise. Uttered by Max Von Sydow’s Jakku Elder as he hands a vital piece of information to top resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), setting the plot in motion and taking the next step to restoring balance to a Galaxy now beseeched by the threat of the First Order, who have risen from the ashes of the Empire. It is also something of a meta comment. The Force Awakens marks the first instalment following the much disdained prequel trilogy, a trio of films that very much lost devotees of the Original Trilogy. Star Wars remains beloved, but there was a certain pressure on JJ Abrams, despite the almost guaranteed monetary success. How does one re-stall faith in a franchise that has let its fan-base down so many times before? The answer, it would seem, is simple: just give them what they want.

30 years after the Empire has fallen, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing and in his absence the First Order has risen and has become a significant threat to the New Republic. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads a Resistance against the new threat, who are strong with the Dark Side, what with the sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in their ranks. When a disillusioned Stormtrooper (John Boyega) breaks away from his ranks, he sets out on an adventure with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) one which will throw them into the fight for peace in the Galaxy and change their destinies forever.

Straight off the bat, it must be said that the narrative offers little in the way of surprises. The film is quick to set down a letter of intent, throwing set pieces left right and centre, all the while playing like a ‘best of Star Wars’ reel. Many of the beats of the plot are almost exactly the same as that of A New Hope, from plans hidden in a StarWars-2droid, to a young hero on a desert planet, to a huge weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. While it certainly allows for the nostalgia to flow, in a similar way to the intoxicating pleasures of Jurassic World, there is no escaping the feeling that this is somewhat a little lazy in regards to how the story-telling can develop within the Star Wars universe.

The nostalgia factor is one that is certainly forgiveable for the first time back in a world where the Original Trilogy exists. There is a great thrill in seeing the original cast members return, and while the beats and winks to the Wars past do threaten to grate, they are simply placed with the intention of ensuring that this feels like the Star Wars from ones youth. The 40’s serial that inspired George Lucas are similarly evoked, if only because Abrams is evoking Lucas’ film-making style rather than drawing directly upon more varied titles. This is a Star Wars made by a man who loves Star Wars movies, and that energy is infectious and helps drive the film with a rollicking pace that often forgets to stop and take a breath. Abrams, while more than adept at constructing wonderful action set-pieces, seem almost too concerned with having as many as he can leading to action beats which are never slack, but not always all that inspired (I’m looking at you Rathtars).

Nonetheless, Abrams is an assured visual director, but I think perhaps his greatest strength is within casting, something which Lucas truly lacked within the prequel trilogy. The combination of bringing back both the original cast and introducing new characters to the Star Wars universe is perhaps the hardest trick that Abrams has had to pull StarWars-3here. After effectively rebooting a whole cast of Star Trek characters however, this almost seems easy. The main focus on particularly Harrison Ford’s Han Solo allows the film to combine the old and new very effectively, as Ford provides an engaged performance, while the new characters prove just as engaging and as endearing as old favourites.

The new hero of this trilogy looks set to be Daisy Ridley’s Rey. While her initial line readings approach prequel levels of wooden-ness, she quickly settles into her role once she is paired with the charismatic Boyega as conflcited Stormtrooper Finn. Her characterisation is what is impressive, with Rey providing fans with a new poster figure, giving young girls a Luke all their own, while giving female fans a hero they have been waiting for for quite sometime. Boyega shows great potential and incredible screen presence as Finn, demonstrating why he will have a successful career far and beyond even the likes of Star Wars. Oscar Isaac exudes his usual charm and bravado in a role which lacks the complexity of both Rey and Finn’s arcs, but none the less is a role which utilises the strengths of dashing good looks and unwavering likeability as a star.

Where the film truly excels is in developing a new antagonist for the Star Wars universe, one who manages to use the looming shadow of Darth Vader to his advantage. Kylo Ren is one of the more complex, intriguing and fierce characters that this series has produced. Attempting to hold the visage of Vader, Ren’s struggle to truly attain the dark side is what tears him up inside, a wonderful reversal on the struggle we have usually seen within this franchise; the light is what he must refuse, not the darkness. Adam Driver plays him StarWars-4with a ferocity that is at once menacing and like  teenage tantrum at the same time. He relishes the complexities of the character and truly comes out as the more defining character of this sequel trilogy thus far.

The Telegraph’s Robbie Collins once described JJ Abrams as less an auteur and more an upholsterer, and its kinda easy to see his point. Abrams is a Fanboy director whose filmography thus far has been entirely about revamping existing properties (M:I3, Star Trek) or crafting love letters for his heroes (Super 8). Here, he combines those two facets, facets which are undoubtedly strengths. He has a very keen awareness of what it is that people love above certain properties, even if his Trek films owe more to Lucas than they do Trek-lore. Star Wars needed to return with a bang, Abrams delivers an atomic bomb. Its over-whelming, its emotional, familiar, and feels like the Star Wars we grew up with. Leaving as many question open as he answers, Abrams has set the course for a bright future for the franchise. He has more than begun to make things right.

4/5- Stuffed with action and driven by familiar plot devices, The Force Awakens delivers the Star Wars film fans have been craving for. A rollicking start for a new generation.

 

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