Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Genre: Action/ Sci-fi
Three decades after the defeat of the empire, a new threat has arisen in the form of the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Colonel Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). A defector (Boyega) and lowly scavenger (Ridley) find themselves by chance in the middle of the escalating war between the First Order and the Resistance, and also in possession of a top secret map which shows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill), the last of the Jedi Knights.
So the wait is over, and while I was not particularly excited about the release of the latest Star Wars chapter, I was certainly intrigued by what the current franchise reboot go-to-guy J.J. Abrams was going to produce. I will happily admit that I am not a Star Wars fanboy; I have seen each of the six films a few times, enjoyed some more than others, but they would never get near my top 100 favourite films of all time (if I were to ever do one). I do however appreciate not only the great world building of the franchise, but also its humungous cultural significance and what the films mean to so many people.
Well, if anyone was going to successfully create the next instalment it would be J.J. Abrams, and he certainly delivers; Though it is best to avoid saying too much at the risk of including the plethora of potential spoilers, The Force Awakens is very much a triumph in that it pays respectful homage to the franchises mythology while (and more importantly from my point of view) is also a genuinely fun, entertaining and action packed blockbuster that can be enjoyed by all.
Abrams is a self-proclaimed fanboy himself, and it is obvious when watching The Force Awakens that it is made and written with genuine passion and enthusiasm for the story, the characters and indeed the whole mythology of Star Wars. There are plenty of narrative developments and individual scenes that directly mirror previous films, but these are done in a way that is not simply lazy, but a respectful way that does work very well, and it is the obvious passion that Abrams has for the subject matter which helps with this. Though this brings a slight element of predictability to certain narrative tropes, it allows the film to be economical with exposition, and it actually builds engagement and anticipation for the resolution we know will eventually happen and more importantly genuinely want to happen. There are plenty of moments where it is fair to say that the hair on the back of necks of many people will stand firmly on end.
The inclusion of many of the franchises much loved characters plays a huge part in the success of The Force Awakens, but rest assured that even the few uninitiated will not feel alienated or like an unwelcome guest at an exclusive reunion party. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt blend old and new characters with great skill, setting up what are set to be deeply engaging character arcs in this and the next two chapters.
Of course the biggest character journey of all is Daisy Ridley’s Rey (not a spoiler as her image dominated the marketing). She settles into the role pretty quickly and makes for an engaging protagonist and we do genuinely care for her character and are engaged with the personal journey her character embarks on.
In this day and age, blockbusters have a tendency to produce forgettable bad guys (Spectre, Ant-Man and Fantastic Four are recent examples), but of course Abrams brought us a memorable and well developed antagonist in Star Trek into Darkness and has once again succeeded in bringing us an engaging and memorable antagonist in Adan Driver’s Kylo Ren. He is a deeply conflicted character, and the narrative patiently and skilfully reveals why this is the case, and though it may seem so simple, having an antagonist like this makes a film so much more engaging and only enhances the sense of danger and unpredictability at certain moments. Adam Driver also excels in the role; skilfully avoiding simply overacting to instead portray his character’s deep internal conflicts with genuine authenticity.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Domhnall Gleeson’s Colonel Hux; Gleeson has proved on many occasions to be a talented actor, but in this case chews scenery as if his life depended on it, and his character his very one-dimensional. There is the occasional reference to an apparent rivalry with Kylo Ren, but alas what could have been a genuinely interesting subplot gets very little coverage.
The characterisation of Colonel Hux is not the only aspect lacking in The Force Awakens, as it is a film that is most certainly far from perfect; there are plenty of narrative contrivances that are occasionally a little too contrived and convenient for their own good. There is also the classic macguffin, and this said thing plays a huge part in the plot, but any plot aspect about it is written with slight laziness. I appreciate this is fantasy and technology does not have to be explained in too much depth, but considering just how important this thing is to the film’s individual narrative, it is dealt with jarring causality at times.
The other key new character to the franchise is John Boyega’s Finn, but though he has one of the more potentially interesting character arcs of the narrative of this individual chapter, this is in my opinion not examined with as much depth as it could have been. Boyega takes a while to settle into his role, but does emerge as genuinely likeable, even if his journey is perhaps a little too textbook at times.
Though it has a fair few storytelling flaws, The Force Awakens is always great fun and visually spectacular. The contrivances and predictability does allow Abrams to be avoid too much exposition to be able to focus on the countless battle scenes that the narrative brings about, and these are all visually stunning, and crucially some do bring about a genuine sense of peril and danger.
Meanwhile the humour is also very much there, as for me, if this film were to work it cannot ever take itself too seriously. Though the occasional joke does feel a little forced and out of place, there are some genuinely hilarious moments, which only adds to overall sense of fun and entertainment the film brings. The Force Awakens may not be perfect, but Abrams has not only successfully brought the franchise back, but also delivered the best blockbuster of 2015.
Abrams once again delivers the goods; The Force Awakens is simply a great blockbuster that though not perfect, will please both franchise diehard fans, the uninitiated and basically anyone who just wants to be thrilled and entertained.