Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

Written by: Johnny Messias

Star Wars isn’t a film. It’s a piece of your childhood you don’t want to pack away. Before your waist expanded and your hair went; a time when girls (or boys) made you tingly before you knew what to do about it. In the midst of all this sticky yearning, could J.J. Abrams possibly deliver? No Bothans died to bring you this information: yes, he could.

Fin and Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes us back to the humour, fun and derring-do of the original films.

For the first time since 1983, we have a proper Star Wars.

The 20th Century Fox logo is gone, but just 30 seconds after the twinkling Lucasfilm one; it feels like we’re back. It’s Star Wars; the scale is there and we’re dumped in the middle of a universe we don’t quite understand (and with no trade disputes or Rastafarian ducks).

Opening in Jakku, another desert planet, we get the POV of a brutal Stormtrooper attack, as well as the introduction of the young blood who will play out the new trilogy. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is the ace Resistance fighter pilot, with a touch of Han Solo swagger. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a pretty scavenger, living on her own, and perfectly capable of beating seven shades out of any villains who cross her.

And we have John Boyega’s Finn, a Stormtrooper who defects from the new evil empire, The First Order. We first see him turn against the cause when a stricken colleague smears a bloody handprint on his helmet. Red on white, it’s a powerful image. J.J. Abrams and his team really get these films from their own childhood, and they’ve created whizz-bang new sequences with the iconic X-wings, TIE fighters, troopers, and of course the Millenium Falcon.

That’s it plotwise from me. Disney kept schtum in those non-spoilery trailers, and from listening to Harrison Ford at the European press event, the people who made this film are very happy the press have followed suit.

Stormtroopers in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

J.J. Abrams and friends had two audiences to hit. The old school crowd, with mortgages and kids of their own, and a newer generation. They manage to please both. What we see from the old guard of actors is nicely judged, and well-played.

And of course the baton had to be handed on to the next generation. What they’ve done with Daisy Ridley’s character will be of huge significance, and John Boyega is terrific fun as well. Two Londoners at the centre of a universe which used be run out of Elstree (not any more). You can also feel the masterly touch of writer Lawrence Kasdan, whose great career included the screenplay for  The Empire Strikes Back.

We’re light on exposition; the script is spare and precise, leaving plenty of issues tantalisingly dangled for later. And it’s very funny.

A word on the villains. As ever, you get that sort of Galactic YTS training scheme with Sith/evil figures. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, a young man under the influence of a certain version of Darth Vader’s history. He’s impetuous, filled with anger, with certain vulnerabilities which make this a good piece of casting, and a clever way to follow up on Vader – a baddie that could never be topped by hyperbole or bigger weapons.

For the first time since 1983, we have a proper Star Wars.

If there’s a negative, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does rehash many of the key plot elements of A New Hope. It seems that was deliberate – Abrams has talked about Star Wars being a genre in itself, like the Western. In Westerns, you expect to see a saloon bar and a bad guy dressed in black. So we get Star Destroyers, rebel bases and Death Stars. We really don’t need to see any more Death Stars. But after a film like this, there is only excitement.

We spoke to Harrison Ford at the European press conference on release day. We asked him whether he actually relished the secrecy around this film, and also whether he would approve the casting of the planned Han Solo: Early years movie which is reportedly being prepared (with Lawrence Kasdan as writer).

Here’s what he said…

Author: Johnny Messias

Film critic, Johnny will urge you to watch Big Night, Boogie Nights and much in between. He's been a straight man for Miss Piggy, has interrupted Leonardo DiCaprio and walked out of Sucker Punch - find out what he's been up to @JDMessias.

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