Firstly I must say that I love this movie! I’ve seen it twice in cinemas – opening day at the IMAX 3D and again in regular 3D. I’m a huge Star Wars fan and have been for many years so obviously there was a lot of pressure on this installment being good. I remember when people first heard that they were making a new Star Wars film, my reaction was, “Well, we weren’t really expecting anything more than these six films, so anything they give us now will be fine.” This is clearly the opinion of someone who was hurt by the prequels. Maybe I didn’t realise when I said it, but the prequels made me actively apathetic to the thought of new Star Wars.
Of course as time went on and more and more was revealed about the new film, I got more and more excited – all the while keeping my guard up in the background. I’d been hurt before and I didn’t want it to happen again. I saw cast photos, pictures from on the sets, teasers, trailers, interviews. Eventually I needed to stop looking for articles because I was just seeing too much.
Come opening day. We sat in the cinema. The lights went down. I whipped out my Force FX Replica Darth Vader lightsaber that I got on my 21st birthday. Some people cheered. One person from the back of the room yelled, “Put that down!”. I did. And then the all too familiar yellow text filled the screen. And right from the very first moments I was convinced. Little pieces of text – LUKE SKYWALKER, FIRST ORDER, GENERAL LEIA ORGANA (“To me, she’ll always be royalty”), DESPERATE TO FIND HER BROTHER. Such exciting ideas. And all to the iconic score from John Williams.
I know it may sound that I was just going to be overjoyed with anything – being that excited just from the opening text. I did love this movie. But it does have flaws. I will get to some of those shortly. But one aspect that seems to have split people right away was the not-very-subtle parallel between this film and previous films from the original trilogy, most notably A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I personally don’t mind it for the most part. In very simple terms; I love those original three films. I don’t love the prequel trilogy. The prequel trilogy was daring in its trying to show us something new. That daring was commendable, but the execution was poor. The result was the vast majority of viewers left with a nasty taste in their mouths after seeing episodes one, two and three. And that bitter taste has had time to fester. The story is boring, the acting is stiff and the fact that the films’ aesthetics relied so heavily on CGI which has not aged well has not helped either. So in THE FORCE AWAKENS, when BB-8 physically and actually rolls over a sand dune on Jakku and some strange alien pops his head up and turns to camera, I took it as a nod from the film’s creators to its fans. “It’s all going to be okay now. This is a real practical droid rolling on real sand. And here’s a puppet with glowing eyes for you. No vast halls of never-ending green screen. No droid armies that may as well come from a video game cut-scene. You’re in safe hands.” And for the most part we are.
From very early on we were promised practical effects, real sets, tangible action and that is exactly what we got. But it does unfortunately make a few moments stand out. While I loved the reveal that Supreme Leader Snoke was a hologram all along during his first interaction on screen, his CGI motion-capture appearance makes him stick out a little which can remind one of the prequels if one lets it. The same can be said for Maz Kanata, but to a lesser extent. It’s like an inverse of JURASSIC WORLD’s problem. All the dinosaurs were computer generated, so when we finally saw the physical head and neck of the wounded Apatosaurus it felt a bit silly. Like there was suddenly a Muppet on set for that scene.
THE FORCE AWAKENS introduces us to new characters that are likely to go froward into the next two films in this new trilogy. Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren being the main four. I’m really excited about these characters. Rey is brilliant. She’s strong, self-sufficient, comes almost “fully assembled out of the box” but is still childlike and approaches new experiences with a wide-eyed sense of awe. Rey’s confidence and aptitude to new situations provide humour as Finn tends to mistakenly treat her as a stereotypical “Damsel in Distress”. And this film is really funny at times. Finn is burdened. Scared. Ultimately cocky. It was great to finally see things from the perspective of a Stormtrooper. It’s not necessarily the life they chose. And he decides to break free. Poe Dameron is a fun and skilled X-wing pilot (as well as a TIE-fighter, it seems) who we don’t get too much of in this first installment of the new trilogy. He also offers some great humour very early on into the film when confronted by Kylo Ren.
Ah, Kylo Ren. People seem to really like, or really dislike this guy. I personally am a big fan. He’s flawed. He’s petulant. He has power that he hasn’t fully figured out yet and, more importantly, doesn’t seem to be entirely on the dark side. He’s conflicted, undeveloped and he is young. When we first saw Darth Vader in A NEW HOPE he was fully realised. Evil. That was it. And if we let ourselves think back to how we saw him at the end of REVENGE OF THE SITH he was basically the whiniest version of Hayden Christensen’s Vader we ever saw. “Noooooooooooo!”
But then we never got to see the development between those two states of Vader. Here we get to have a look at an evil villain on his way up and I find it really interesting. I look forward to seeing the progression of all of these new characters.
Honorable mention must go to General Hux who, while most of his time on screen is fairly uneventful, gives a chilling speech to the First Order going into the third act. Really great performance.
As for the legacy characters, Han and Chewbacca were absolutely perfect. Even though I’d seen the “Chewie, we’re home…” moment a number of times by watching and re-watching trailers, my eyes still welled up to see it in the context of the film. The change in Han from the skeptical, sarcastic cynic in the older films, to the wise older man shepherding the new characters on their journey was a thrill to see. And when he is killed, it really hurts to watch. I’m sure everyone let out a little Chewbacca cry in their hearts. I’m glad the filmmakers decided to do it though. It adds weight to Han being back in the first place. It adds to the threat of Kylo Ren. And for when the time comes that the film is inevitably remastered to more kid-friendly, #kylostabbedfirst. You heard it here. It was a brave move and I liked it. General Leia was there too. Not a massive role, but it was great to see her again. Leia and Han’s interactions were meaningful on screen. You could feel a chemistry. She could have had more to do following the death of Han perhaps, but then again a lot was said in the silence. The tease of Luke at the very end of the film was just right for me. Some people felt there might be more to it. I didn’t really expect him to be in the film at all, let alone play a major role in it. There was little to no mention of him in any promotional material. I thought they might just refer to him in this film. If anything I think the shot could have been even shorter. Maybe Luke doesn’t even turn around. Rey stops behind his cloaked figure, he begins to turn and we go to credits. Either way, I was happy with Luke’s involvement.
Overall the film really works for me. Yes, it does mimic elements of the original trilogy. Starkiller Base is probably the most obvious of these. I’m not sure anyone left the theatre saying, “Wow! I’m sure glad they included a third Death Star!”. It’s a strange choice. But then again, everything that was happening on Starkiller Base – the death of Han, the lightsaber duels – was very compelling. So I’ll let it slide. It’s a Star Wars film – they need a couple of small spaceships flying up really close to a massive evil structure and blowing it up from within. It happened in THE PHANTOM MENACE with the Droid Command Ship and nobody ever said that was too similar to the originals.
The film also introduced some new and exciting uses of the Force – freezing a blaster shot in mid-air, Force mind-melding, Force-pulling soldiers across the room – and for anyone who has played a Star Wars video game, it’s great to see them expanding on those abilities a bit.
THE FORCE AWAKENS is an incredibly fun adventure which ultimately reminded me again why I loved Star Wars in the first place and left me feeling confident that the saga will be great going forward.
If you’d like to hear Dylan, Andrew and Simon discuss THE FORCE AWAKENS, you can do so by listening to episode 8 of The Brothers Streep Show here. Alternatively, you can take a musical trip down the Death Star Trench here.