It’s finally here! A new Star Wars movie! And it’s actually good! In my opinion anyway. I’ll say it now, J.J. Abrams and I share an opinion on films in that, the less you know going into a film the better. If you plan on going into The Force Awakens completely blind, stop here. If you don’t mind knowing a few things before you go in, carry on as you were.
The first thing I have to say about the 7th instalment of the Star Wars franchise is that the story is good…enough. Some things are rehashed from the originals with some new concepts thrown in. The story is that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and our unlikely heroes need to piece together a map and find him to defeat the new baddies, the First Order. Along the way, they come into contact with Han Solo, Leia Organa and the resistance, who are also trying to take down the First Order. There are a few odd things but not huge plot holes. For example, there are scenes that don’t really fit like when Finn and Rey first meet Han Solo and there’s this whole thing with monsters on a spaceship and bandits which really just inserts itself into the film. Also Finn and Poe Dameron seemingly become best friends, having known each other for maybe 5 minutes. It seems to happen too suddenly, but then again, Poe is really, really, really cool.
Speaking of the characters, I found the new protagonists, Poe, Finn and Rey, were actually far more likeable, interesting and funny than the original trio: Luke, Leia and Han. J.J. Abrams knows how to write and direct charming characters. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega portray their characters so well- they immediately make themselves seem like your friends. Daisy Ridley’s acting was a little stale at first but she had some of the scenes that were the most powerful in the film, like her harrowing interrogation scene. The chemistry between the three of them is perfect and each of them has an interesting story of their own. Poe is the best pilot in the resistance, Finn is a First Order defector and Rey is a humble scavenger and part time fan girl of the rebel alliance. And they had a lot to compete with too. Han is introduced as somewhat of a mentor figure, similar to Obi-Wan in Episode IV. The repartee between Han and Chewie is certainly not gone and his relationship with Leia has certainly developed into something far more compassionate (and actually more interesting) than it was all those years ago.
The villains are also great. Kylo Ren is a really compelling villain, who actually comes across as very human until he makes his decision to commit to the dark side, when he becomes the monster he is destined to be. It was a great idea to make him clash with the First Order, creating that parallel between him and Vader. Domhnall Gleeson makes an incredibly imposing army General, Hux, cuckolding Kylo Ren and his personal agenda. The supreme leader didn’t look great because he was a motion capture creature but he was portrayed very well by Andy Serkis. I’m interested to see his role in later films because, like Emperor Palpatine in the first film, he didn’t appear too frequently.
All the side characters have personality as well. Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Maz Kanata is probably one of my favourite characters from the Star Wars universe; she has the air of being in the know which makes her really interesting to me. She played it very well, especially as it is not the kind of role one might expect from a young actress. There was also a small cameo from Simon Pegg in the form of Unkar Plutt, kingpin of the black market on Rey’s home planet, Jakku.
I’d say that this is the best looking Star Wars film I’ve ever seen. It has the gloss and polish of a modern blockbuster, with the beautiful cinematography that looks as if it was taken straight from the original trilogy. Remember all those extremely long shots of vast landscapes filmed on location. They definitely found some beautiful locations, too. Expansive deserts, tropical jungles and a remote island that looks like it was found just off the coast of Ireland. Everything in space looks good too. The opening shot clearly sets up the power of the First Order as the silhouette of a huge spaceship slowly moves across the screen, blocking the view of an entire planet.
Another thing that makes this universe look real is the practical effects. There are so many awesome imaginative creatures created with make-up and puppets. Clearly a huge amount of effort was put into recreating the magic of the originals. BB-8 is an incredible feet of engineering and design. I don’t know how but somehow, I was tricked into falling in love with a football. There is a bit of computer animation, like the monsters on Han’s ship, but it’s used sparingly enough that it’s not obnoxious like in the prequels and the remastered versions of the originals.
The editing was competent. I don’t think there was anything spectacular about it and it worked to serve the cinematography. There was one moment when a character touches Luke’s old lightsaber and there was a jarring flash of images which felt very out of place in a film that often stayed still, allowing shots to linger. The best aspect of the editing was, as usual, the sound design. The film was loud when it needed to be and quiet when necessary as well. There were actually a lot of moments that were made effective by silence juxtaposed with the loudness surrounding it. And of course, John Williams’ score accompanies the sound and image perfectly.
So yeah, I’d say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just as good as the first instalment. I never considered the originals infallible and neither is this one but it sure is a spectacle and that’s what I paid to see, so I’m happy.
Written by Sam Packer