If you’re anything like me, you will have done your best to have not read any reviews, even the non-spoiler kind and kept clear of social media this past few days. I didn’t want to write a whimsical half hearted review on whether I liked “The Force Awakens” and be worried about hyper-sensitivity of any spoiler at all, we all have different thresholds and “Star Wars” seems to be turned up to eleven on our spoiler Richter-scale . I wanted to really delve into the story and speculation on what we might get in Episode VIII and beyond, so click away now, if you haven’t seen the movie.
I have seen the movie twice now, and both times I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie moves at a brisk pace, with the 136 minute runtime feeling much shorter. Each time I have watched “The Force Awakens” I have felt this unquenchable thirst for more. Not since “The Lord of the Rings trilogy have I planned multiple visits to the multiplex to see the same movie at least a half a dozen times.
Part of this desire to see the movie again is to try and decipher the clues we get on a lot of the questions we have been asking over the last two years as information on characters as seeped out. J.J. Abrams as cleverly left us with an insatiable appetite to continue on this journey with these new characters, with many of the questions still left unanswered.
The new core characters are a resounding success. There is an instant like-ability factor to all of them, much like the way we all loved Han, Luke and Leia, our new core trio of Rey, Finn and Poe are our new instant friends that we will be fully behind for next trilogy of movies and beyond perhaps?
The tone of the movie is on point, from the first scene when we see Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and his encounter with Kylo Ren, we know we are in for a fun ride, with lots of witty repertoire. One character we saw in this scene and I thought was slightly short changed on his screen time and back story was Max Von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka, a Jakku village elder. Who is this man? how does he know the Skywalkers and Solos? How did he get the section of map to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts? I need all this information, but it so hard to squeeze thirty years of history to an 136 minute movie. This is a clever move by Lucasfilm, as it creates this desire to see Rian Johnson’s “Episode VIII” and delve into all the canon material that will build our history of the last 30 years between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens”.
Once Poe meets John Boyega’s Stormtrooper – FN-2187 or Finn as he decides to call him, we start seeing the chemistry of our new characters, the back and forth repost is witty and it has all the hallmarks of Lawrence Kasdan’s ‘goofy’ Star Wars sensibility. This chemistry continues on with Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey, with the fun and jocular dialogue ever present.
“The Force Awakens” is a really funny fun movie, this never feels like the prequels, with the horrible childish humor of Jar Jar Binks or boring exposition conversations in countless circular meeting rooms. The 2 hours 16 minute runtime, whizzed past, with never a dull moment. I could have quite comfortably enjoyed another 10-20 minutes.
Of our three new main characters, we still have many unanswered questions on all three, with the confident, but not arrogant Poe having the most backstory thanks to canon materials. We know Poe is a native of Yavin 4 whose parents were familiar with Luke Skywalker and grew up with a force sensitive tree nearby, a gift from their Jedi friend. Is Poe force sensitive? his talents of a fighter pilot would suggest he is more than an expert in his field.
We know Finn was taken at a young age to be a storm trooper and we only know the name FN-2187, the name the First Order gave him, who are his parents, where is he from? are is parents people we have met before in the “Star Wars” expanded universe.
Rey’s background is still the biggest enigma, the film continuously reminds us that she is waiting for her family and has been alone on Jakku for some time (since the age of five), left to scavenge to survive on this junk yard desert planet. We see force visions she has on Takodana of her being left by unknown parents and Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren, along with the famous shot of Luke with his robotic hand on RT-D2 from the trailer. With these visions and her force sensitivity we can presume she was at the least a pupil of Luke at his new Jedi training academy? With speculation also pointing to that she is in fact his daughter? we still don’t know her full name and she seems to remember little of her past, is she related to Kylo Ren?
As the months roll by I’m sure some these questions will be answered with novels and comics, but “Episode VIII” will likely reveal many secrets. The biggest secret in “The Force Awakens” is probably the highly speculated revelation that chief antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who was born Ben Solo. This in its self made the character something more than we have seen before from a “Star Wars “villain, he is torn and conflicted, there is nothing two-dimensional about Driver’s brilliant portrayal of Ren. Like with many of the other new characters, there are questions left to be answered or at least play out in other media or flashbacks or as exposition in “Episode VIII”.
One of my preconceptions about going in the “The Force Awakens” was Harrison Ford’s portrayal of his iconic Han Solo; were we going to get the grumpy Harrison Ford, basically playing Harrison Ford like in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”? I can gleefully confirm we get the much loved smuggler and quick witted, smooth talking Han Solo from 1977’s New Hope. Ford plays it perfectly, his interaction with all the characters new and old alike is typical Solo.
We get the humorous Han, but in some beautiful heartfelt scenes, we see the mutual pain he shares with Leia and why they ultimately separated, the loss of their son, to the seduction of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) . In the standout moment of the film, one highly reminiscent of the Obi Wan/Vader confrontation from “A New Hope” we see Ford get the heroic end to his character he wanted way back in 1980 in “The Empire Strikes Back”. As he makes one last valiant effort to save his son from lure of the dark side, we see father and son come face to face, Ford and Driver delivering masterful work as Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) strikes down his father, with helpless onlookers, Chewbacca, Rey and Finn watching on.
I can’t really pick fault with any of the performances in the film, Carrie Fisher was slightly rusty, but still serviceable. Daisy Ridley plucked from obscurity is perhaps the standout of the whole movie. With the relatively unknown John Boyega also proving to be a likeable presence to get behind in this next planned trilogy of movies. Adam Driver’s performance was truly remarkable, he displayed so many different emotions. He portrayed the evil authoritative dark side agent when needed, but also showed great vulnerability. Kylo Ren had layers of depth and as a result I would speculate his will be the biggest character journey throughout the new trilogy.
I was skeptical about BB-8, our new soccer ball droid Disney has insisted on shoving into our faces ever since the start of the the marketing for “The Force Awakens”, I was under the impression it was just a cool looking droid to help sell toys. I was wrong, he his a strong character in his own right. With little from R2-D2 in the film, BB-8 filled the void quite capably and I suspect he will be our droid focal point for the movies to come. You genuinely felt his love and loyalty of Poe Dameron, especially in a amusing scene when he pushes past Finn to get to his previously presumed-dead, beloved master.
I have wax lyrical about “The Force Awakens”, and it’s hard for me to genuinely pick major fault with the movie. There are some slight issues with the editing, I sometimes felt that key moments were sometimes not dwelled on enough, before we were onto the next big set piece. That is perhaps the biggest complaint of the whole movie, because we had so some much history to catch up on, it was hard to cram all the story into the runtime. As a result the movie did feel quite condensed, but as a counter note to that negative, the film certainly does not drag.
The movie uses all modern film making techniques perfectly with a perfect blend of practical effects and CGI. With only one slightly jarring aesthetic in the whole film. I thought Supreme Leader Snoke, although only seen in hologram form, seemed slightly too artificial, when compared to the majority of non CGI creatures and Aliens on display. There was clever misdirection with the hologram and as a result we still don’t know how tall the character is, which leads me to my next point.
I was firmly in the Supreme Leader Snoke is Darth Plagueis camp, after seeing his appearance in the film, this could still be a possibility, but he does not have the typical Muun appearance Plagueis had in the now non-canon novelisations. Could Snoke still be Plagueis? possibly, his Muun heritage is now not canon afterall, although the character is in fact canon. I do believe we will find out much more about the characters past, true identity and motivations in “Episode VIII”.
The comparisons to “A New Hope” are unavoidable and some will see this as a negative, but the callbacks also ensure the magic of the original film is in this new incarnation. The similarities are obvious. Rey’s story mirrors Luke’s, a dissatisfied young adult on a desert planet, Han Solo takes on the wise guide role of Obi Wan, with the band of Resistance Fighters (Rebels) needing to destroy a giant weaponised space station (planet) and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux clearly mirrors Peter Cushing’s Tarkin. There are many more familiarities and similar story beats and scenes, but this “Star Wars” is for a new generation and plays out as a love letter for old fans, reminding us why we loved the series in the first place, with the long-term aim to capture the hearts and enthusiasms of new younger fans.
On first viewing it was slightly distracting waiting the appearance of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, and slightly disappointing with the amount of screen time he actually got. On my second viewing I am glad with the way Luke was dealt with, it leaves us with still so much more to saviour for “Episode VIII”. It would have been epic if Luke had turned up during the Force battle between Rey and Kylo Ren on the Starkiller base, but the narrative was served better with the outcome we got.
J.J. Abrams has done a fantastic job with re-launching this franchise, with a solid platform and plenty of potential for “Episode VIII” and beyond. As a piece of pure entertainment, I don’t think I have had a better time at the movies this year.
Please let me know if you agree with my assessment in the comments below and please leave your own ideas and speculation on the many unanswered questions we still have.