Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Review

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

 Look On The Light Side

The franchise is rebooted in style with energetic, passionate new characters, some classy moments and a sense of reverence for the old ways – but it arguably clings too closely to what has gone before.

12A, 135 mins

***

‘If he just takes his time and lets his patent skill with characters breathe, he’ll make The Empire Strikes Back’, or so (very suitably) film publication Empire said of J.J. Abrams in their review of his film Star Trek Into Darkness. In the end, perhaps, it’s not as good as all that, although Abrams has in fact made something similar to another film in the series. Let’s get this straight, however – The Force Awakens is good, just not maybe the masterpiece some are lauding it as.

In any case, for everything I have recently said about the return of Star Wars, there was a definite sense of homecoming in the cinema when the yellow letters scrolled across the screen, proclaiming the closely-guarded plot of this most closely-guarded film, which I shall endeavour not to spoil here. All you need to know is that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone AWOL and that with him gone, an Evil Empire-esque group named The First Order, headed by masked baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), wants to continue doing evil things where the Empire left off. Simple enough, really.

With everything set up, we have some new heroes on the scene. Desert-dweller Rey (up-and-comer Daisy Ridley), rogue Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and loveable spherical droid BB-8 are thrown together in the hunt for a much-coveted object which is key to proceedings. Ridley plays Rey as a strong-willed, feisty young woman who soon proves to be the beating heart of the story, while Boyega’s stumbling steps towards heroism are very endearing to watch. The pair work very well together, full of excitement, energy and wonder, the actors themselves seemingly unable to believe the fact that they’re in Star Wars. Oscar Isaac also enters the fray as engagingly old-school pilot Poe Dameron, who has a pivotal part to play. The new blood is extremely welcome, and the film would be nowhere near as good without the new actors’ presence in it.

Meanwhile, of course, there is the return of old favourites. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are back, with the former getting the best lines. One particular exchange is an absolute zinger, calling to mind the sardonic, stony-faced Solo of the 1980s.

Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 also return, but perhaps the most interesting character in the new film is the villain, Kylo Ren. Although he’s decked out in similar threads to Darth Vader, he is also fairly complex, and his character’s development throughout The Force Awakens is one of its very best elements. So although I would have preferred to see something more original than a baddie in black with some stormtroopers, the emotional intensity Driver brings to Ren is arguably more important.

So all in all it’s an entertaining jaunt, though just to my mind not as purely entertaining as the likes of The Martian and SPECTRE, and here my problems with the film come in. There is no real originality on show whatsoever. Too much of The Force Awakens – the environs, some of the characters, the plot itself – feels as though it is running on autopilot, the greatest hits of Star Wars rehashed for a new generation.

I appreciate that this hat-tipping is most likely done out of love for the originals, but to an extent it has hamstrung Abrams and Co as much as it has helped them. It’s not as though there’s nothing fresh here (there is also one big, and unnecessary, surprise), but a bit more originality wouldn’t have gone amiss.

That said, Abrams arguably saves the best part till last. Whatever my thoughts on the rest of the film, I now cannot wait for Episode VIII, as the final scene of VII is brilliant, and works greatly to build up suspense and anticipation. I have no doubt that the sequel will be better.

However, I just hope that the strong new characters get a bit more space and time to grow, and to craft their own story next time. Then, and perhaps only then, will this new Star Wars go into hyperdrive. But with a new-found spring in its celestial step, there’s plenty of reason to look on the Light Side. It’s just a shame that on this occasion Abrams and Co didn’t quite step out of the shadow of the series’ past.

Alex Nicholson

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