Over 30 years since the original Star Wars saga closed, with Return of the Jedi, and we're returning to "a galaxy far, far away" and reuniting with some familiar faces (along with some new) this year, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens - one of the most universally anticipated films ever. And, with it FINALLY set to open this weekend, here's my review of the film.
Back in 1977, George Lucas revolutionised cinema with one of the greatest science-fiction films ever to release, the original Star Wars. It was a true cinematic triumph. 38 years later, having kicked off one of the most iconic franchises in the world, and we're set to be transported back to that beloved world in the long awaited seventh instalment in the Star Wars saga. 3 years in the making, there has never been quite such hype surrounding a film as there was for The Force Awakens. From the first teaser this time last year to the monumental Star Wars Celebration in April to the huge world premiere the other night, all climaxing with the release of the film itself, Episode VII has already broken all sorts of records and generated such unbelievable masses of anticipation. And now the film is actually upon us - I still can't believe it myself, quite frankly. Savour the hype, because it won't come again.
It's not something I do here on my site, for any film, as I hate to ruin surprises but, seeing as this is The Force Awakens, I should just enforce that this will in-fact be a SPOILER FREE review. Also, since I do not want to give any details whatsoever - spoiler or not - because going in with as little knowledge on the premise as possible constitutes for the best viewing experience, this is one instance in which I won't be going into detail on the film's plot. All you need to know is that it takes place around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi (which I reviewed here, earlier this week) and sees a new threat, The First Order, rising to power. However, a rebel force, the Resistance, fight back to prevent this from happening. Basically, if you go knowing just that about the story, you'll be fine because, the less you know, the better and more enjoyable the overall experience of the film is - this film deserves to be savoured and to reveal its own surprises in its own ways.
With the film now out, the big question that everyone is asking is just how good a film is The Force Awakens? Very good, is the answer. As a mega Star Wars fan, this is everything you want it to be. As a critique of films, not letting my fanboy nature get the best of me, this is a great film that is massively entertaining and ticks all the right boxes, delivering a great cinematic experience. After the prequels, there was always going to be a little doubt going into this screening. However, when the familiar blue of "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" pops up and John Williams' iconic theme plays as the words Episode VII - The Force Awakens roll onto the screen, all doubt fades and our imaginations are reignited as we are whisked back to our childhoods. We then get a shot of the Star Destroyer and the newly re-designed Stormtroopers as they make their way to Jakku, in pursuit of rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8, and from there, an intense and thoroughly entertaining action sequence plays out and the game is quickly afoot - throwing us straight into the action, right from the off-set.
From the first second to the last, this FEELS like a Star Wars film. Unlike the prequels, which just used the franchise name to draw in audiences, The Force Awakens is very clearly a Star Wars movie and the tone and the atmosphere feel like one too. It's evident that this is a film for the fans, made by one himself. J.J Abrams has nailed it, re-capturing the true essence and magic to this illustrious and wondrous world. He knows what the fans wanted and he delivered; mixing the old and the new and giving us a nostalgic whilst still unique and massively fun film. Using the original cast, most prominently Harrison Ford, as a guide for our new cast of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac into this world is clever and a nice way to hand down the baton onto this new trio that will be taking over from the old. Of course, all the returning members are just as good as we remember. Seeing the cast back together is beautiful and emotional - especially for anyone that actually grew up with them. The charisma and the wit and the banter is all back but, most of all, the characters retain what made them so special in the originals.
Newcomers Boyega, Ridley and Isaac all give incredible performances here. Working on such a renowned franchise, alongside such iconic actors can be daunting for any young actor - especially for the former two, plucked from obscurity, with Episode VII being the first major film production for both - but they fit in so well amongst these characters. They show that they belong here. Instantly likable and full of energy, this is the perfect trio of actors to take the helm and lead the new trilogy. All three bring such charisma and heart and nuance to their characters but Ridley is by far the real standout here, stealing the whole show. She plays the hopeful Rey perfectly, portraying her fear and emotion extremely well. It's a very real and raw performance and the actress crushes it. Another newcomer, Adam Driver, also shines as our antagonist Kylo Ren. The worry would be that he would remain under the shadow of Vader (who is one of cinema's greatest villains) but he is his own character and stands out, very intimidating and imposing and fearful. Although, we get to see the human element behind his character and we understand his motivations, giving him a sense of vulnerability, which makes for a more intimidating and powerful antagonist.
Everyone excels in their roles and the acting is stunning all across the board. It's great to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher back - both their initial appearances in the film were exciting! As far as what the film does with Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, all I'll say is that he has a big role in driving the premise and he is in the film! However, the rest is best kept secret. Speaking of discovering for yourselves, one of the best aspects of viewing The Force Awakens was how little I knew going in which meant it was all the more surprising and exciting to watch, especially as a huge fan of the franchise - a credit to the impressive and exciting script, which was penned by Lawrence Kasdan. Both Kasdan and Abrams understood the fans and the franchise and there was a nice mix of rewarding nostalgia and fresh, new material too. The story ranges from everything from being hilarious, dramatic, emotional and fun. However, there were a lot of familiar beats to the first film, to the extent that you couldn't help but feel it getting a bit much. The premise has a lot of echoes of the premise of A New Hope. But, whilst there's a sense of unoriginality to that, Abrams manages to throw in enough new ideas to keep the familiar story always throwing things our way and continually surprising us because this film never gets boring or never drags for even a second and the pace is fast and there's always something to think about or get excited about and to keep you interested.
The best praise that can be given to The Force Awakens is that this looks and feels like a Star Wars film. After the prequels, whilst that idea was totally discarded, this film re-ignites the imaginations of millions of old fans and sparks the imaginations of millions of new fans - it's a film that works and can be accessed by everyone and anyone - transporting us to a fantastical world, launching us into a galaxy far, far away. The tone and the humour and all the energy resemble the original trilogy and this film also features one of the best lightsaber fights in any Star Wars film yet. The return to practical effects is a clever move on Abrams' behalf because it adds an authentic, organic feel to the proceedings. Visually, this film looks stunning. The practicality of it, from set pieces to shooting on location, adds to the overall quality of the picture. The cinematography is gorgeous, from vast sandy landscapes to sharp, cold mountain settings - this is a breathtakingly beautiful film. The blend of CGI and practicality works well too, although the motion-capture characters such as Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) feel a bit out of place in such a real world. Honestly though, to quote a friend of mine, the film is very "aesthetically pleasing" because it looks visually fantastic and it's all believable too, immersing us into this world.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a breathtaking piece of cinema. Not only is this a great Star Wars (the best in some time, for sure), re-capturing the true essence of this world and these characters, but it's also just a great film, in general. From astounding visuals to some incredible acting, blending new with old - in terms of characters, premise and even score (John Williams' soundtrack is a truly mesmerising gem) - this is a well-made film that is magical and awe-inspired and massively entertaining. Fun and engrossing from the off-set, this is an immersive and exciting film for all and, for all the Star Wars fans, that grew up with the films, there's more of a sentimentality factor here and this is a rewarding film and one of the best cinematic experiences of the year. Star Wars is FINALLY back and it's about damn time. Bring on Episode VIII.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.