We finally made it to the end of Star Wars Week! Day Seven means Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the most recent Star Wars film that brought us back from a time when Star Wars films weren’t a sure thing, and restored our hope for the future of Star Wars. When I reviewed it when it came out, I loved it, but a year on from release, is it still as good?
Thirty years after the Battle of Endor, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and is tightening their grip on the galaxy, led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Sith Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). With Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hiding, scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) must team up with a droid and two familiar smugglers, Han and Chewbacca, to help the Resistance destroy the First Order’s new weapon and complete a map which will lead them to Luke.
With the rose-coloured glasses of hype behind us, The Force Awakens is still good – but its faults are more obvious. Its story is far from perfect, rehashing a lot of plot points from A New Hope: the orphan (or is she?) on a sand planet, a Cantina-esque scene, a new Death Star. Even the death of Rey’s would-be mentor by an old friend (did I forget to say spoiler alert?) harks back to the very first film, with Kylo Ren’s slaughtering of Han very reminiscent of Darth Vader killing Obi-Wan. These familiar plot points don’t make the film bad – after all, Return of the Jedi borrowed much from A New Hope as well, and was a solid film – but hopefully we’ll see more of what the galaxy has to offer in Episode VIII. And where the film isn’t familiar, some scenes are just unnecessary; the rathtar sequence is a complete deviation from the rest of the film, with no real repercussion for the rest of the story, and doesn’t hold up with further viewing of the film.
Yet I have always argued that the most important part of Star Wars is the characters: it is not the situations that they get themselves into, but how they deal with them, that we are connected to, and that’s what makes Star Wars such a great space opera. Old and new, the characters in the Force Awakens take what is sometimes a familiar setting and make it engaging and fresh again: Rey’s life on Jakku is far different from Luke’s on Tatooine, as she must scavenge and work hard to merely stay alive. Why was she left there? Who is she waiting for? Daisy Ridley’s intriguing and lovable performance as Rey was one of the highlights of the film, and though her character seems to succeed at almost everything so far, it’s wonderful to see yet another strong, determined female Star Wars character, and I have no doubt we’ll watch her struggle more in the films to come.
Her chemistry with John Boyega’s Finn is sweet and fun, as Finn offers something new to the franchise: an ex-stormtrooper on the run from the First Order. With Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron every bit as charismatic and cocky as Han once was, and his adorable, scene-stealing droid BB-8, Abrams has assembled a solid rag-tag team for the rest of the trilogy, and an even more menacing villain. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the best part of The Force Awakens, from his lightsaber (which is not as clean-cut as ones we’ve seen before) to his mask, his uncontrollable anger, piercing gaze and intriguing family history. More than just the emo-kid meme that has sprouted on the internet, Kylo Ren’s dedication to finishing what Darth Vader started is possibly the most intriguing part of his arc: after all, Darth Vader turned good in the final moments of his life.
From the new to the older, catching up with the Skywalkers thirty years later was both a blessing and a curse in the right ways, as, with Luke having disappeared and with the loss of their son, Han and Leia are further apart than ever, which, considering the end of the film, will never be the same again. In saying that, seeing Han and Chewie back in the Millennium Falcon after all these years was a beautiful moment, and Harrison Ford never lost that roguish charm, as he is, once again, one of the funniest parts of the film, especially his trash-compactor joke. Speaking of which, the references to the older films this time around weren’t all perfect: most stick their landing, but there were one or two too many that, combined with the similar storylines to the first, made the film a little bit too similar.
Yet, sometimes, feeling similar and being similar to the originals are two different things: the prequels were missing that magic feeling that didn’t allow them to feel as special as the originals, but the Force Awakens has magic in spades. JJ Abrams use of practical effects and his exciting direction made the film thrilling and spectacular, with many of the film’s fight scenes, such as the battle around Maz Kanata’s Cantina on Takodana and the beautiful lightsaber battle in the snow at the end, up there as some of the series’ best. The Force once again felt mystical and all-powerful, and definitely had an air of mystery to it, during Rey’s dream sequence on Takodana, that creates some questions in need of answers.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Force Awakens just feels like a Star Wars film. In a time when films are being brought back from the dead and, more often than not, being tarnished by soulless remakes, reboots and sequels, the Force Awakens is both a love letter and a new beginning for the Star Wars franchise. Despite it’s familiarity to the first film, it’s still a great film, as it captures the wonder and heart of the stories that first fascinated us by focusing on its strong characters, and building a beautiful world around them, full of danger and magic. It’s not perfect, but not all the Star Wars movies are. It’s a nice welcome home.
And that means it’s time for Rogue One soon!!!
Photos taken from IMDb.com: