As you may have gathered my lovely wife, Janice, and I went to see Star Wars The Force Awakens between Christmas and New Year. We are both lucky enough to have been of an age to have seen the first Star Wars film on its original release. We sat there, hand in hand, with huge grins on our faces throughout, taken back to being kids again. Which seems like a pretty good reason for me to knock out a quick review, don’t you think?
Right from the off JJ Abrams had a tricky balancing act to perform. Obviously he needed to banish the memory of the prequel trilogy, but without throwing out the elements of the background story as Disney had confirmed were canon. Also, he needed to pay homage to the original trilogy without The Force Awakens becoming a carbon copy, or looking old fashioned. Fresh yet traditional.
One criticism of the prequel trilogy was that the plots were boring while being overly complicated, while many action films are considered to by plot light with very little actual story going on between the effects. This was another tightrope Abrams had to walk. Too much mystery and politics and the charm of the film would be lost, too much action and not enough plot and we would end up in clone territory.
Thankfully Abrams managed his various balancing acts really well and The Force Awakens is a great, fun, family action film which feels part of the wider canon, honours the original spirit and gives enough plot, and raises enough questions, to keep viewers happy. Fans may already know what happened to Luke, who Kylo Ren actually is, but the mysteries of Rey and Snoak remain. There are, of course, shocks which add weight to the story, alongside humorous moments and witty dialogue. This is a neat trick for a family film as it makes it accessible and exciting for all.
It has been well documented that The Force Awakens makes more use of traditional practical effects and it less reliant on CGI and the extra effort is clear on the screen. There is a feeling of solidity in the effects, sets, costumes and machinery. There has obviously been CGI scattered liberally throughout but the film never looks unreal or ‘flimsy’. Much like the latest Mad Max film it is more likely that CGI has been used to enhance and work alongside most practical effects rather to to create from scratch.
The cast is excellent. The old favourites from the original trilogy are there, and the Han and Chewie chemistry is still very much there. Harrison Ford plays Han as a grumpy old man still reliving a misspent youth which comes across well. There is less of the original Leia to see in Carrie Fisher’s performance, instead we get a more stoic and pragmatic General more in keeping with Mon Motha. It is, however, the new cast members which really light up the screen.
Daisy Ridley is a delight as Rey, the character comes across as strong without being a caricature and has more than enough depth for a family action film. Equally John Boyega is a revelation as Finn, showing us his understandable fear and inner grit. Oscar Issac’s Poe has the same cocksure charm as Han Solo and should be kept in future films. Very little is written about Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux which is a shame as he makes an excellent foil to Kylo Ren and neatly balances between mouth frothing leader and youngster promoted too early. Sadly it is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren which is the weak link in the headline cast. It may yet be revealed and expanded on in future films but sadly rather than sinister and dangerous he tends towards teenage and awkward, which is a shame.
There is a reason for the huge success of Star Wars The Force Awakens, it is an excellent example of a well made family adventure film. If you haven’t seen it, go.