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Film review: A new hope for the Star Wars saga in “The Force Awakens”

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Warning: This review contains details of “The Force Awakens”, though no major plot spoilers.

IN THE opening minutes of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, a stormtrooper stops in the middle of his unit’s assault on a village of innocents to help a dying comrade, who reaches up and smears his white helmet with streaks of blood. It is a jolting moment of humanity in this galactic story of good versus evil, a hint that this film is something more than the epic crowd-pleaser fans have been awaiting for more than 30 years. For the first time in the “Star Wars” saga, a stormtrooper becomes something more than a thug, stooge or prop—the beginnings of a fully realised character with emotional depth in Finn (John Boyega). He is reluctantly under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a masked villain with an altered voice who is in search of a message hidden in a droid that must not get into the hands of the Resistance—and who, like Darth Vader, has a somewhat Sophoclean backstory. We then meet the heroine of the film, a young scavenger of mysterious origins, who, like a certain young Skywalker from long ago, is coaxed to leave her desert planet and pursue her destiny.

The blueprint and the tropes are familiar, and the heroes of the old films are back in pleasing form—Harrison Ford does his best turn as Han Solo since before he was frozen in carbonite. There are plenty of call-backs to the original trilogy to delight fans. But the triumph of “The Force Awakens”, the seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga, is in its humanity and authenticity, manifested in a new generation of heroes and villains with the potential to be as compelling in this trilogy of films to come as were the first generation of heroes in theirs. Some of that is down to brilliant casting. Daisy Ridley is utterly persuasive as Rey, who will be an idol to a new young generation of fans, both girls and boys. Mr Boyega and Mr Driver give convincing performances of their own, as does Oscar Isaac in a more limited role as Poe Dameron, a fighter pilot.

The choice of director, though, was most decisive. Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, persuaded J.J. Abrams, who had already successfully taken on the “Star Trek” franchise, to take charge of the most coveted nerd franchise of them all. A “Star Wars” nerd himself, he knew the important pitfalls to avoid—namely anything to do with the three prequels that Mr Lucas made from 1999 to 2005. The special effects are not glossy and alienating. There are no midi-chlorians. There is no Jar Jar Binks. There are no ill-conceived characters with cringe-inducing accents or speech impediments. No trade embargoes or obscure parliamentary manoeuvres. No super-fast cuts that leave one feeling adrift without a story or characters to care about. Before “The Force Awakens”, “The Phantom Menace” had been the most anticipated next “Star Wars” film, holding the promise for millions of fans that they could recapture the magic of their youth. That promise was betrayed and murdered.

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Mr Abrams has brought it back to life, confidently reintroducing us to the galaxy we knew a long time ago. It has much of the look and feel of the original “Star Wars”, gritty and real, with practical special effects, well-paced scenes that take their time developing storylines, and secondary characters that are charming and funny in familiar ways, like the new droid BB-8 (sold separately at every store on Earth). At some points the old “Star Wars” blueprint may feel overly familiar for some fans, an issue that Han Solo confronts directly for some good laughs. But for the most part Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are allowed to play with old tropes in inventive new ways, in an intriguing story that entertains, surprises, and, in an evocative final shot, fires the imagination for what is to come. It is the opening chapter of a space opera in the grand tradition that George Lucas invented, even if this is not the opera he had envisaged (as he himself has made clear). This story is the vision of Mr Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, a screenwriting legend who helped write two of the original films, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”. Fans of those films will recognise signs of his handiwork. They will rejoice and will, as with the originals, watch it again and again, while waiting impatiently for the next episode, in two years’ time. For those moviegoers on this planet unfamiliar with “Star Wars”, this should be a rousing introduction to the Force. The greatest and most mysterious power in the universe is back.

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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