When the Lucasfilm logo fades onto the screen, the tension is palpable, excitement building up inside me like air in a balloon. Then, it explodes – the main title appears, followed by the signature crawl, the opening theme blasting towards me, and all I can think is, “I can’t believe I’m seeing a Star Wars film in theatres!” It’s something that I never thought would happen in my lifetime; a continuation of my – and most people’s – childhood, a film that could possibly bring back the magic of the original trilogy many people hold so dear. As one of the most anticipated films of the decade, Star Wars: the Force Awakens had a lot to live up to, especially following the disappointment of the prequel trilogy.
It’s a good thing it succeeded.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens picks up in our favourite galaxy thirty years after the Battle of Endor, where the First Order, a regime akin to the Empire, has risen to power and a new Resistance is being led by General Leia Organa. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker is missing, and an ex-Stormtrooper and a scavenger team up with a droid to get a map of his whereabouts to Leia.
It’s a similar formula to the first film, but with much more detail, as not only are we caught up on what the Skywalkers have been up to over the last 30 years, but are also introduced to new characters, with their own rich pasts and lives. Luke’s disappearance is hindering the Resistance’s attempts to bring peace to the galaxy, and Han and Leia’s past has caused a rift between them. And new characters Rey and Finn (Daisy Ridley and John Boyega) create an incredible mix of new with the old; as we see them learn more about the Force and the original wars, we learn more about Rey’s traumatic family history and Finn’s Stormtrooper upbringing, whilst still leaving plenty of mystery for the rest of the trilogy. There’s plenty happening in the film, and barely a moment wasted.
Although it’s not totally original, with a similar structure to the original film, Star Wars is arguably at its best when there is a struggle between an empirical power and a resistance, something which the prequels didn’t contain as much of and suffered accordingly. The Force Awakens takes what worked for the original trilogy and rolls with it; there is less boring politics and more war strategy and fighting, which was complimented very well by JJ Abrams’ use of practical effects and his brilliant directing. It also treated the Force as more spiritual and mystical (goodbye, midi-chlorians), it has a dirtier feel and look, like the originals, and it’s actually quite funny (and not in a Gungan way). That was always one of my favourite things about Star Wars as a kid, how witty it was, and this is quite a return to form, especially now that this new film can reference the old films. Oh, the references. From the reappearance of Admiral Ackbar to jokes about trash compactors, there’s more than enough little in-jokes to satisfy long-time Star Wars fans, yet not so many that it feels like an old joke. As well as humour, it’s also full of friendship, family and love, much like the ones before it, with touching reunions and devastating heartbreak, giving every Star Wars fan in the audience an enormous dose of feels.
More than just a brilliant premise, a major part of the Star Wars success story has always been its strong, affective characters and their relationships, portrayed by a wonderfully talented cast. Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker was much speculated over, but did not disappoint (I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible, so that’s all I’ll say), and Carrie Fisher as his sister General Leia gave a wonderful performance full of heart. As an integral part of the story, Harrison Ford welcomed in the new additions to the Star Wars cast as Han Solo, and had great chemistry not only with Leia (hearing Han and Leia’s theme made my heart explode), but also Rey, as more of a mentor figure for this young character. As a character, Rey feels very human and real; she is cautious and sometimes afraid, but also strong, with a great sense of loyalty and adventure, and Daisy Ridley portrays this very well. She and John Boyega have great chemistry, too, and his character Finn is something new to the series, a runaway Stormtrooper trying to leave his evil past behind him. Adam Driver is also a magnificent villain as Kylo Ren; he’s terrifying and fanatical, with such an interesting backstory (again, no spoilers), and his angry, torturous brooding is played to perfection by Driver. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is witty, cocky and strong, hopefully a character we’ll see more of in the future films, and then, of course, there’s BB8, a new droid who is instantly loveable from the second he rolls onscreen. Though the cast is big, no character is really overshadowed by another; they all have such interesting pasts and relationships, and it will be interesting to learn more about them, and see their relationships develop.
More than anything, the one expectation from Star Wars fans about The Force Awakens was for Disney to make something that does the series justice. A perfect combination of old and new with characters and story, with effects that impress and gripping characters, there’s meaning in every second if you look hard enough. Though it’s not perfect, Star Wars: the Force Awakens is definitely a film worth getting excited over, and it seems that there is plenty more excitement and mystery to come in the next Star Wars films. But the best part? It felt like a Star Wars film. As I sat there, I was recalled to my childhood, sitting in front of the TV watching The Empire Strikes Back on VCR, and because of that, JJ Abrams has made a Star Wars film that we can all be proud of.
And this is my top five list of my favourite films starring the cast of the Force Awakens:
- Indiana Jones: the Last Crusade (Harrison Ford)
- Kingsman: the Secret Service (Mark Hamill)
- About Time (Domnhall Gleeson)
- Blade Runner (Harrison Ford)
- And, of course, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (literally half the cast).
Talk soon, and may the Force be with you,