In the days leading up to The Phantom Menace I bought into the hype. Hard. I watched the Duel of the Fates music video almost constantly. I knew the soundtrack backwards and forwards. But, though I tried to love it, the film let me down. So this time around I played it cool. I watched the first two trailers a few times. Then that was it. No hype for me. No excitement. No expectations. Or low expectations, if you prefer. I wasn’t going to let The Force Awakens break my geeky little heart.
I needn’t have worried.
Warning: while I won’t spoil a thing in the words ahead, the truly spoiler-phobic should wait until they’ve seen The Force Awakens.
“Didn’t we just leave this party?”
There have been a few accusations that The Force Awakens is a remake of A New Hope. Those accusations are extreme and you can dismiss them. There are similarities, to be sure, certain elements that recur (super weapons, anyone?) But this is not the same film. And the stuff that looks similar has a new twist on it, keeping the call-backs fresh and familiar at the same time, so you smile when you see them instead of rolling your eyes. Abrams does play on your nostalgia, and I often got the feeling this film was made for those who saw the originals when they were young, rather than for the young themselves (unlike the prequels; there’s not one poo joke in The Force Awakens).
“Wonderful girl. Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her.”
Rey is my new hero. She was my favourite, not just a worthy successor to the strong female role of Princess Leia, but a layered, earnest character of loss and independence and capability. On the opposite side, Kylo Ren is my new villain. In one film, Abrams made Ren more interesting than Anakin was over six. Both Rey and Ren have typical Abrams twists in their stories. Rey’s tend to be either emotional or uplifting. Ren’s are mostly shocking. But both characters are strong and engaging, pillars on which The Force Awakens can rest safe.
Finn and Poe were, I thought, not as strong, but still great. Finn is a great mix of fear and decency and loyalty. Poe is a funny, capable character. And the two have a great chemistry. I want to see some more Finn/Poe bromance, please.
“I’m out of it for a little while and everyone gets delusions of grandeur.”
A sad, but good, side-effect of such strong new and central characters is that it sidelines the old cast. We always knew that Luke, Han and Leia would only be in The Force Awakens to pass the torch. Elevated to the status of legends and generals, they are supporting cast only, but the strength of the new cast means that isn’t a disappointment. In fact, sometimes it felt like Abrams was shoe-horning in some of the old faces. Han was a great presence, but poor Leia was woefully underused, and don’t get me started on the droids.
“Vader doesn’t want you at all, he’s after someone named Skywalker.”
And Luke. Where is Luke Skywalker? Absent from the trailers, posters, TV spots, toys, and et cetera, this is a question so important it’s actually addressed in the opening crawl. Luke’s role in The Force Awakens was, for me, the biggest flaw in the film because it wasn’t quite tied up. My wife disagrees; she says it’s all there on the screen. But I say, just as with the ending of Breaking Bad, that Luke’s story needed just one more moment. Something to tie it up and acknowledge the journey. Just two words would have made a huge difference. Ask me what they are once you’ve seen it.
The other big disappointment? A certain character is barely a presence in The Force Awakens. If they don’t return, I shall become angry and use my magic.
“Look at the size of that thing!”
I’ve written a lot about the characters. That’s my bag, I suppose. But as for the rest, well, there was no prequel-esque reliance on CGI. The Force Awakens has real sets filled with real people and costumes blended with computer effects where necessary. This is the lived-in, functional world of the originals that you felt you could touch, not the sterile CG fantasy of the prequels. But, despite that, The Force Awakens has a grander sense of scale. Scenes are bigger, unhampered by low budgets or green screens. The camera can move across enormous battles and the Star Wars universe feels bigger for it.
The Force Awakens feels different. That was natural, since Lucas isn’t calling the shots anymore. So there is more modern camera work, different techniques, more twists and turns in the storytelling. But it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Different doesn’t mean bad. This is still a Star Wars film.
“My ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is.”
There’s a reason I’ve been quoting the original films throughout this review. They have a place on a pillar in my consciousness, seminal and influential and, yes, untouchable. Abrams et al realise this. The Force Awakens is their attempt to create something worthy of those films. It doesn’t always work; the plot has some holes as a direct result of that effort. But they use the original trilogy as an inspiration and a strength, and that lends strength to their film. I’ll never love The Force Awakens the way I love the original trilogy. But I’m not supposed to. I’m supposed to love it in a very different way. And I will. It’s a worthy sequel, one I’ll watch again and again, and I’m already looking forward to Episode VIII.