Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler-Free Review

by thethreepennyguignol

So, I saw the new Star Wars movie last night.

That might not sound like a particularly earth-shattering statement, but for me, it kind of is. I’ve spoken before about my passionate, probably dangerous love, of the entire Star Wars franchise (yes, even including the prequels) on this blog, but I don’t think anything I could type here would accurately sum up the bone-shivering levels of excitement I felt when I sat down in the cinema yesterday afternoon. I’ve watched all the trailers for The Force Awakens multiple (MULTIPLE) times, analysing every frame and tearing up every time I saw the Millenium Falcon, and, for me, The Force Awakens was always going to be the best film of the year, whether or not it was actually any good. It’s a new Star Wars movie, for Christ’s sake- a new STAR WARS movie. Nothing at all could dim my levels of blind excitement for this film, not bad reviews, not fandom cynicism, not people gracelessly reminding me of the prequel trilogy, nothing. My expectations were so staggeringly high, all The Force Awakens could do was match them.

And it did.

I think it’s easy to forget, when you’re a Star Wars fan the way I and many other people insist on being, that the Star Wars movies-even the original trilogy-are intensely flawed. The dialogue is wobbly at best, the performances (aside from Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, which is basically down to flawlessly perfect casting) are decent but rarely ground-breaking, occasionally dipping into outright terrible, and the stories are often peppered with inexplicable plot points (Leia and Luke’s steamy incestual make-out session springs to mind). But the success of the original trilogy, and what little good there is in the prequels, comes from being able to capture a certain bombastic tone. A New Hope, for example, is a flawless adventure movie, two hours of obscenely entertaining nonsense that captures you from the first enormous chord of John Williams’ career-best suite through a gloriously simple story set in world thick with dashing rogues, mysterious powers, and political intrigue. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the ultimate blockbuster, and that was the best thing that The Force Awakens could evoke.

And evoke it it did. In fact, the plot had strong echoes of a New Hope that will make themselves evident to anyone who’s familiar with the original movie, but The Force Awakens had more than that. Where the prequels had gone wrong- focusing on dull characters and drudging political stroylines- the seventh part of the Star Wars franchise crisply sets up a galaxy struggling to right itself after the emergence of the Empire 2.0, throwing us straight into the action with a handful of strong, interesting new characters who demand your attention and endless speculation. With an almost aggressive focus on real effects (SEE THESE THINGS RIGHT AT THE FRONT OF SHOT SEE HOW THEY’RE REAL YOU SEE DO YOU SEE?!), we’re instantly guided back into the always-welcome Star Wars universe.

Of these new characters, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, is my favourite, maybe because I was already coming to this movie with a very high opinion of him as an actor but probably because Ren is one of the best villains the whole franchise has ever seen (especially after the  hilarious mishandling of Anakin’s prequel character arc). And there aren’t really enough good things to say about newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey, whose sharp, witty, compassionate performance continues in a long line of fantastic leading women in the franchise. John Boyega as Finn, with his compelling backstory, was about as charming a leading man as you could hope for in a franchise in which both Harrison Ford and Ewan Mcgregor have starred, and Oscar Isaac as the best pilot in the galaxy didn’t seem able to wipe the excited grin from his face for the whole two hours. I only have a shrug to offer on the subject of Domnhall Gleeson and Andy Serkis, both of whom I assume will get plenty of time to expand on their villainly in later movies.

Of course, the stars of the original series made a comeback too, with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill all returning for various amounts of screentime. Among them, Harrison Ford is still my favourite, just as morally ambiguous as ever, but Carrie Fisher proves once again why she’s the feminist icon of my movie-watching career. I saw some reviews snivelling about how The Force Awakens pandered too much to fans of the original trilogy, but frankly, they couldn’t be more wrong- there’s just enough to connect the seventh instalment to the one before it without letting it get bogged down in nostalgia, and besides, this is a continuation of that story. It would feel like cheating if they dropped everything that the original trilogy worked so hard to achieve, and tapping into that mythology gives the film an instantly deep backstory. Which is not to say there isn’t a little fanservice here and there- the introduction of the Falcon caused a ripple of excitement across the whole cinema-but after ten years of waiting, I’m not going to begrudge that.

Above all else, though, The Force Awakens is one of the finest blockbusters in recent memory, and believe me, I’ve seen ‘em all. Careful pacing, a sharp vein of humour, and good balance of brilliant action and actual storytelling mark this out as a worthy successor to it’s predecessors, and for that alone, The Force Awakens deserves your custom. Well, we’ve got two more movies to come yet, so you may as well get on board now.

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