Screening Reviews… Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Should you go back to a galaxy far, far away? Find out in our spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The wait is finally over. The seventh instalment in the Star Wars saga – The Force Awakens – is finally in cinemas around the globe and fans who have been clamouring over every tidbit and scrap of news relating to the year’s most eagerly-anticipated blockbuster can finally relax.

Let’s cut to the quick – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. And I mean really, really good. Like the world over, I had extremely high hopes and expectations going into my local cinema on Thursday to catch the last IMAX showing of the day and I can absolutely, categorically say without a shadow of a doubt that all of my expectations were both met and exceeded across the board.

Director J.J. Abrams has taken the classic Star Wars universe that we know and love and succeeded in both making it familiar and yet completely brand new at exactly the same time, which isn’t an easy feat – the film is packed with homages and thematic links galore to the original trilogy, yet doesn’t feel encumbered by the weight of it. Instead, it feels fresh and exciting, almost as if we’re experiencing the whole thing for the first time.

R2-D2 in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Everyone favourite astromech droid R2-D2 is back in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

From the second the now-iconic “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” title card appeared on the screen, everyone in the showing was completely captivated, so it’s no surprise that a second later, when that theme music kicked in, it felt like the entire audience was whooping and cheering with child-like glee. I defy anyone not to get caught up in that moment. Indeed, the excitement didn’t stop there – our first glimpse of Star Wars stalwarts Han Solo and his Wookie sidekick Chewbacca also elicited cheers from the audience, as did the arrival of Solo’s intergalactic vehicle, the Millennium Falcon.

The film’s plot, then, is a relatively simple one – the Rebel Alliance, now under the moniker of ‘The Resistance’, is locked in a bitter struggle with The First Order, who have grown out of the ashes of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars mythology of old. Of course, that’s not all there is to it, but to say much more would be to give away much of the film’s plot, so I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself if you do see the film (and I urge you extremely strongly to drop what you are doing and see it immediately). Upon finding new fan-favourite droid BB-8, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a scavenger living on the planet Jakku, becomes unwittingly drawn into the aforementioned struggle, as she teams up with John Boyega’s Finn and, from there, it’s a rip-roaring ride across new planets to prevent The First Order from unleashing chaos across the galaxy.

With any new Star Wars film, then, comes a whole host of new characters and The Force Awakens is no exception. There’s very few surprises when it comes to characters, however, as nearly all of them have been revealed in the pre-release promotional push, so don’t expect to see any cameos from huge names that you’re not expecting. That said, the ones we are treated to are given as much depth as is possible from a Star Wars film – a character piece this ain’t – but that’s alright, because there’s so much going on that to slow down the film’s (excellent) pace would probably throw the entire thing out. We learn as much about the characters as is necessary, and no more than we need to to serve the purpose of this particular film – it is the first in a new trilogy, remember.

Photo of Domhnall Gleeson in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Domhnall Gleeson is General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux is a bit two-dimensional, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a bit weak when it comes right down to it, but it’s Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma who draws the short straw overall. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll already know that Christie is capable of drama and emotion, even if on first glance her Thrones character Brienne comes across as quite harsh and uncaring. In Star Wars, however, she’s given hardly anything to do and we never see her face, so it’s a real shame that she seems pushed to the side, especially as her part was so hyped during the film’s promotion. I can only hope that she’s back and is given much stronger material in Episode VIII.

Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac play their characters – Rey and Poe Dameron, respectively – excellently and Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Katana is quite endearing, but a special mention has to be given to John Boyega, who really shines. Finn is instantly likeable and Boyega plays it perfectly, navigating Finn’s softer scenes just as well as he does the larger, battle-led setpieces, so I’m already looking forward to see how his character progresses in future episodes; it’s easy to see him as the Han Solo of this new Star Wars generation.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, then, a very funny film. It’s in no way a comedy, but J.J. Abrams has managed to lighten the film to give it a more humorous touch, especially as the latter two instalment released to cinema – Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – were quite dark. Han and Chewie are just as good on-screen as you remember, bouncing off each other exactly like the old friends they are, and even BB-8 gets his fair share of laughs for a droid.

Image of BB-8 in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
New droid BB-8 aboard the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Tonally, The Force Awakens is very similar to A New Hope, capturing the sense of adventure and camaraderie which made the original so memorable when it was released to cinemas back in 1977 much more so than any of the prequel trilogy films did. Those in the know will already be aware that creator George Lucas wanted Episodes I-III to mirror the themes of the original trilogy quite strongly, but it feels like Abrams is already off to a better start in this respect than Lucas managed in three films. Villain Kylo Ren is clearly the Darth Vader of The Force Awakens and General Hux may as well be called Grand Moff Tarkin 2.0 for all the similarities there are between the two. If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to spot these links a mile off whilst you’re watching the film but, again, it would be too much of a spoiler to mention any more here, so let’s cover it by reiterating that Abrams does a great job of making The Force Awakens feel much more like classic Star Wars than any of the prequel trilogy did.

Staying on J.J. Abrams, then, he’s done a fantastic job of increasing the sense of scale on screen. Visually, The Force Awakens looks incredible – the vast size of the sand dunes of Jakku make Daisy Ridley look tiny in comparison, and there’s plenty of variety in the landscape of the film as Rey and co make their way across the galaxy from Jakku to the icy tundras of The First Order’s Starkiller Base. It may be that only one scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot in true IMAX, but the entire film benefits from the added screen size and enormity. Of course, seeing Star Wars in this format may not be an option to you, and I’ve no doubt that it’ll look incredible no matter what format you choose to see it in, but it’d be remiss of me not to encourage you to experience it in IMAX if you have the opportunity.

Image of Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kylo Ren means business in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Of course, for all its many successes, The Force Awakens does have some small niggles. Much was made of Andy Serkis’s voiceover for the first trailer, but his actual role in the film – the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke – is a bit hit and miss. I’m very excited to see what his role will be going forward into future episodes, but visually, he looks a bit… well… naff. It’s no secret that Snoke is a mo-cap character, but after Serkis’s past roles as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes series, his character looks very poorly realised, with CGI shots which don’t really hold up well in comparison to other films, and which would probably look more at home in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. It’s a shame more wasn’t done here to make Snoke more of an imposing figure, even if he’s rather tall physically, as it seems like Abrams et al. are positioning him as this trilogy’s Emperor Palpatine.

Similarly, there are a couple of glaring plot holes, not least why everyone’s so happy for The First Order to run around willy-nilly, despite them being cut from the same cloth as the Galactic Empire. Yes, The Force Awakens does take place after Return of the Jedi and the apparent dissolution of the Empire, but the timings between the two aren’t that long that there’s no-one left who remembers the tyranny of their namesake.

I have to say, though, that I am being picky and, really, who cares? I’m talking about the new Star Wars film here! Expectation and anticipation was always going to be off the scale for this, so it’s a relief to be able to award this one top marks. The Force Awakens deserves every award going, purely for not being rubbish. For me, it’s weathered the storm of fan hype fantastically, and the finished product is an outstanding piece of cinema which pays homage to its forebears whilst creating its own mythology along the way. J.J. Abrams has tread the fine line between giving us exactly what we as fans wanted and telling us a fresh story in the Star Wars saga, intermingling every device at his disposal – visually, narratively, and auditory – to create an absolute masterpiece.

If you’ve seen no other film this year, do yourself a favour and go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens immediately. Thank me later.

Posted by Alex

The head honcho, the editor-in-chief, the founder. Alex enjoys films (obviously), great TV shows, developing websites and writing about himself in the third person.

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