After a ten year wait, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh film in this beloved sci-fi/fantasy franchise, has finally arrived. It's been a film that was highly anticipated by many, including my self. As a matter of fact, I have never been more excited for a movie in my entire life, and I even reviewed all of the previous Star Wars movies (including the holiday special) here. It's a film that was kept so under wraps it's not even funny, and every critic ever is too scared to say anything as it will ruin the viewing experience. While my reviews for the previous Star Wars movies have all been riddled with spoilers, my Force Awakens review will be as spoiler-free as possible, so don't you worry about that. There will, however, be a spoiler-filled review later in the week.
It's very difficult to summarise the plot of this film without giving away any plot details. I could just mention what's said in the opening crawl, but it's best you don't know what that says. So, instead, I'm going to tell you what the trailer tells you (and trust me when I say that's not a lot of information). The film revolves around two leads, Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey is living on the desert planet of Jakku where she runs into Finn. Thanks to a series of action packed events, the two cross paths with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Also in the mix is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the best damn pilot in the galaxy. So yeah, I think that's all I need to tell you about the plot of this movie. When you go see it, you can find out just what's going on for yourself.
There was no way I wasn't going to see this film as soon as I could. I just couldn't live with myself if I didn't see it at the very first showing possible. Since I wasn't able to squirm my way into the Sydney Premiere, this was, of course, the midnight showing, which had quite the atmosphere, especially since I was at the IMAX. Us Star Wars fans were roaring and ready to go, hoping for the best. I had avoided social media for a few days prior, not even wanting to know what people thought of the film. If you were to say I was excited it would be a serious understatement.
Expectations were high, and once the Lucasfilms logo had appeared, I'd already decided that I was in love with the film. It was a foolish thing to do, but I did it anyway. As the film went on, I was still in love, but I couldn't help but nitpick. There were certain things that were annoying me about the movie, simply because it was different to what I expected it to be. When the film came to a close, I knew I had a great time with it, but it wasn't perfect. It wasn't my favourite film of the year. I knew I had to see it again. So, I did. Two more times. I've now seen the film three times and let's just say that I was very overwhelmed the first time I saw it. This film is going to be a classic, on par with the original trilogy. Film of the year? I think so.
It's been thirty years since the last great Star Wars movie, and ten since the last decent one. Thankfully, Disney knows what they're doing, hiring the right people to get the job done. J.J. Abrams is certainly the man for the job, getting rid of his signature lens flares to make the film more like a Star Wars film than a J.J. Abrams film. His direction here is stunning, the set design and the cinematography gorgeous. Star Wars: The Force Awakens really is a beautiful looking movie, everything layered with detail. Everything feels like it has a history to it. Nothing is fresh and sparkly, not even Captain Phasma's (Gwendoline Christie) shiny metal armour.
Why is this, you ask? Why, because most of this film was done using practical effects, recreating the magic of the original trilogy. With the prequels, everything in that film looks computerised and fake, dating horribly despite not actually being that old. The original trilogy has dated far better than they have, and if you watch the theatrical cuts this is evident even more. It doesn't have the pointless edits and changes of the special editions. But away, with this new trilogy, J.J. wanted to make something that would last, and his efforts payed off. It feels like a real world with real people and real creatures. The use of practical effects helps with the believability.
There may be a lot of practical effects, but that doesn't mean the film is without visual effects. We're talking about Star Wars here. This is the franchise that revolutionised visual effects. Did they revolutionise them yet again? Not exactly. But we're living in a very different world right now and unless you're Avatar, there's not really much you can add to it. So do the visual effects look good? Damn right they do. From motion capture characters to space battles, the effects are unnoticeable, blending seamlessly into this rich and dangerous world that's just flooding with history.
It's all good to use the effects well, but at the time, the prequels had good visual effects. They just needed good screenplays. With The Force Awakens, the film was co-written by J.J. Abrams, the director, and Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, an earlier (but unused) draft written by Michael Arndt, the writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3. Their screenplay is mind blowing, covering the last thirty years while also focussing on setting up these new characters and the new plot. Plus, they really understand what makes Star Wars Star Wars. It ticks off all the boxes of being a Star Wars movie.
Before I get into the newcomers, let's talk about the familiar faces. Pretty much every character who isn't dead makes a triumphant return in this movie, or so we were lead to believe. Han and Chewie play a very important role in this movie, serving as the connection between the old films and the new. They've aged, but they haven't changed, and you get this impression right away. Han essentially takes on the role of Obi-Wan, Chewie tagging along because he's Chewbacca and everyone loves him so he can do whatever the hell he wants. And yes, he does steal a few scenes here and there.
Leia (Carrie Fisher) is given a considerable amount of screen time as well, as is C3P0 (Anthony Daniels). R2D2 (Kenny Baker) isn't quite as lucky and neither is Luke (Mark Hamill), but those are for good reasons. I can't say why, but you'll understand when you see the movie. There's a reason some characters didn't show up in the advertising and because of that, I don't wish to discuss why they're not given much screen time. They're just not. End of story. Moving on. Remember that time when Han shot Greedo first? Same.
The Force Awakens is a film that's both about the original trilogy characters and not about the original trilogy characters. They certainly play an important role, but it's a new story for a new generation and because of that, we get a lot of new characters. The first of which is Rey, a scavenger who's living alone in harsh conditions on Jakku, the previously mentioned desert planet that 100% isn't Tatooine, despite being almost identical in looks. I didn't see this coming, but Rey was my favourite new addition to this franchise, or at least my favourite new human character. She gets to do a lot of cool things in this film, things I will not spoil, but it certainly makes her the most interesting of the lot.
While she's the best in terms of humans, the real stand out is the new droid, BB8. He's a round, child-like droid who we essentially follow the story of. He's the reason we get to go on this journey, much like R2D2 and C3P0 in the original film. And boy is he cute. BB8 made me fall in love, laugh out loud and smile harder than I've ever smiled before. He's the best thing about this film, and yes, he is a he. Two separate characters refer to him as a he, so I'm trusting them on that. Even J.J. Abrams says he, if that means anything.
The next new character is Finn, a stormtrooper who's sick of working for the First Order, which is the name given to the regime of bad guys hunting down the regime of good guys. You know, your typical Star Wars shenanigans. Finn is described by John Boyega, the actor who portrays him, as the audience of The Force Awakens. He's thrown into this situation and he's taken on a journey that wasn't meant for him. So are we. He's witty, charismatic and, just like Rey, the acting is top notch. There really aren't any bad performances in this movie, so that's another thing this movie did better than all of the prequels combined.
Our final hero in this tale is Poe Dameron, a Resitance fighter who's sent on a mission from a certain Princess.... or a certain General, as she's now referred to. Oscar Isaac is quickly making his way through Hollywood and he's becoming one of my favourite actors. It'll be a strange day when he's in a movie where his performance isn't excellent and with The Force Awakens, he's sensational. He brings a lot of humour to this story, but his character is never there for comic relief. He's a Han Solo type, always doing what must be done, although if I'm perfectly honest, Poe appears to be a little more enthusiastic than Han was in the original film. But that's all part of his character, and I guess Han's character, too.
Enough of the light side. Let's talk villains. There are four significant villains in this movie, although it's only Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that takes the lead villain role. Not much was known about his character prior to the release of this movie and it's probably best to keep it that way. He may not be a Sith, but he's trained in the ways of the force, and damn, he sure is aggressive with a lightsaber. He's a villain you can understand and while I didn't necessarily sympathise with him, I got why he was the way he was. He may just be my second favourite Star Wars villain to date, and his fight scenes are intense.
Helping Ren with his dark side duties are two characters who I love, despite neither of them getting too much to do. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is a little shit. He has complete faith in his stormtroopers and his weaponry and he's willing to do anything to get what he wants. Captain Phasma, on the other hand, is more of a follower, doing what she's told and doing it well. She may look cool, but she's really just a stormtrooper. She was a fan favourite before the film came out, but she won't be now that it is. That's not to say she's a bad character though, if you were at all getting that impression. I quite liked her.
While Phasma answers to Hux and Ren, those two answer to somebody called Supreme Leader Snooke (Andy Serkis), a motion capture character who, like most of this film, we didn't know anything about prior to seeing the actual film. In fact, we didn't even get to see what he looked like. Because of this, I won't really discuss him in much detail since this is a spoiler-free review, but he will certainly get discussed in my spoiler review. Let's just say he's not what I expected, but I liked him nonetheless. He certainly isn't on the same level as Caesar or Gollum, that's for sure.
When you place all of these distinct and very different characters into the one movie, nothing short of excellence occurs. The Force Awakens is a film that's funny, action packed, thrilling and everything a blockbuster should be. As a matter of fact, it really is the perfect blockbuster. 2015 has been the year of the let down, most movies ending up being pretty good, rather than excellent. Then Star Wars came along and changed everything. It's a constant blast from start to finish and I really can't emphasise enough how much fun I had watching this movie.
The Force Awakens was a film fans have been waiting decades to see. It's a film that, if bad, would've killed people. I honestly think it would have. Thankfully, it's the opposite. It's not without flaws, though. It does feel very much like a remake of A New Hope at times and there's a couple of convenient events that happen, especially in the third act, but after watching it three times, I really don't care. Everything else about this movie is just brilliant, including the new score by John Williams. I loved this movie. I think I'm going to grow an addiction to it. Somebody help. I don't think my body can handle the amount of popcorn I will end up eating.
To sum up, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant return to form for the Star Wars franchise, serving as a great standalone movie and setting up the films to come. J.J, you've done good, kid. You've done good. Episode 8, I'm coming for you.