Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
The best thing that can be said about ‘The Force Awakens’ is that it feels like a return to the type of films that made ‘Star Wars’ such a phenomenon in the late 70s and early 80s, and it helps to eliminate the memory of the hated prequels. Hopes had been raised when lifelong fan and self professed sci-fi geek J. J. Abrams was given the director’s job and it’s clear from the end product that this is a man who just gets it. The premise of ‘The Force Awakens’ focuses on the First Order, an organisation who have formed from the remains of the Galactic Empire after the events of ‘Return of the Jedi’. The film begins as The First Order are in conflict with The Resistance, a military force backed by the Republic, and the film focuses on a conflicted Stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega) and a scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley) who get caught up in the conflict. From the moment John Williams legendary score opens up the movie, ‘The Force Awakens’ has you in the palm of its hand.
One of the biggest challenges for Abrams was to introduce a new set of characters whilst servicing fan favourites from the original trilogy and he does so with aplomb. Relative unknowns John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are both terrific in key roles, and Harrison Ford is as good as he’s ever been in years. Amidst a series of strong showings, the standout performer is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the film’s primary villain. He covers a range of emotions as Ren, appearing frightening, dominant, vulnerable and weak at different points when the script requires it. Anyone who has seen Driver before (I know him mainly from the HBO series ‘Girls’) knows what a talented young actor he is and his career is only going to go upwards from here. Abrams manages to make this transition or ‘passing off the torch’ as you could say seamless and there’s a steady and natural flow to the way the narrative plays out.
Abrams choose to make the film with a combination of CGI and practical effects and this works better than the much maligned CGI heavy prequels, and it gives the world a much more lived in feel. The care and attention paid to even the smallest details makes every scene a treat, with highlights including Rey scavenging off an abandoned star destroyer and the return of the Millennium Falcon. The location choices are well selected to depict the various spacecrafts and worlds, with the dusty plains of Jakku contrasting with the military base on D’Qar and of course the First Order’s Starkiller Base.
The narrative does follow a fairly similar path to the original ‘Star Wars’ film, and there is a heavy reliance on every character seemingly being related, both in terms of heroes and villains, but there’s enough style and visual panache to overcome most of these minor quibbles. ‘The Force Awakens’ bursts with energy and delivers a strong sense of scale and scope to bring this epic world to life, as Abrams manages to pay tribute to the series past whilst boldly hinting at what the future of this series might hold and whetting the audience’s appetite for more. ‘The Force Awakens’ is a welcome return to the type of Star Wars film that made fans fall in love with the originals so dearly and that is pretty much what everyone hoped for when it was first announced.
Directed By: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Ken Leung, Simon Pegg and Greg Grunberg