Note: While care has been taken to not divulge the entirety of the plot or giveaway exciting twists and reveals, as always in The Kinswah Reflective, the regular tone applies which includes examining certain aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, then it’s recommended you skip this review for now.
Finally, the anticipation is over and the most hyped film ever has been released. Under the weight of its own expectation there was a danger Star Wars: The Force Awakens would end up being a crushing disappointment. Fans of the Star Wars saga had been there before after the release of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. Thankfully J.J. Abrams has alleviated those fears and surpassed the hopes laid down by a new generation.
From the opening scene, it’s clear Abrams is aware of the universe he’s helping resurrect. It was a franchise he grew up with and hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, like George Lucas did with the prequels, instead his job has been getting the old familiar to spin once again. With the use of goggles to scan the distance, using the same graphic from Empire Strikes Back‘s ice planet of Hoth scene, a sense of reassurance settles in.
The nods to the past merely tease nostalgia, as opposed to making a vulgar grab for it. After a few more scenes it is clear we are in an authentic Star Wars universe. The prequels felt disconnected, both visually and from a storyboard point of view, from the original films. Here J.J. manages to immerse the viewer back into the world first seen in A New Hope.
This is no doubt helped by the use of actual sets, allowing for the imperfections and grime of a real world. Just like the original 1977 movie, the characters are easy to connect with too. Daisy Ridley’s Rey, plays the role of lonely scavenger on a dusty planet. She soon gets a droid that’s on a secret mission. Sound familiar? It should and it doesn’t matter. This formula works in Star Wars for a reason.
Rey is soon teamed up with Stormtrooper defector Finn, played by John Boyega. Unlike Luke from the original movie, Rey is already driven and headstrong, so Finn doesn’t need to play the role of Han Solo or Obi Wan. He provides the everyman role we can all relate to. He wants to do good but is aware of the dangers.
Plus, we get given Han – and Chewbacca – so it allows Boyega to provide comic relief. The laughs are littered throughout the story without ever being cheesy. J.J. has managed to balance drama and fun perfectly.
It’s not just the very first film that sets the ambiance for all that follows. Acknowledgements and inclusions referring to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are placed throughout the movie. Each one accentuates the feel of connection rather than labours it. The Force Awakens isn’t a spectacle that requires a prop-up from the past, it just absorbs those used because they fit the scenario so freely.
Unlike J.J.’s interpretation of Star Trek which also required him to juggle history and move the brand forward, he doesn’t recolour the old palette. Star Trek needed an overhaul, Star Wars just needed to be put back on its original footing.
The main focus of the saga, the drive from prequels until Darth Vader’s redemption, is the balance between the light and the dark side. Adam Driver is the actor asked to carry that load this time around. He plays the villainous Kylo Ren. As a nod to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren has chosen to wear a dark mask and matching attire. He’s aware of Vader’s history and feels obliged to continue his goals. If you’re reading this after the warning note at the top, then you can’t blame me for mentioning, this sense of duty comes from a family connection.
It isn’t a burden he bears lightly. Driver excellently displays anger, inner struggle, fear and retribution. Mid-film he unmasks; this could have killed the mystic the imposing figure had created. But it was a genius move. It allowed Driver to fully express all his uncertainties, sadness and rage. Having all the contradictions works for the subject matter.
J.J. has managed in one film to show the descent to the dark side more effectively than George Lucas did with his entire prequel trilogy. For everything that was contrived and poorly acted in in those films, there is an organically produced alternative in The Force Awakens performed by actors excelling in emotional roles usually reserved for the theatre.
The greatest testament to the payoff in all this is how Kylo Ren, for all the vulnerability he shows, is hated by the end of the story. There’s no creation of the cool anti-hero here. He’s a bad guy you want to see lose, making Rey’s character easier to get behind.
Running alongside the force is the story of political power. It has always been present in the Star Warsuniverse. The original trilogy simply had an overbearing empire fighting the voices of freedom. The prequels described a more complex system that amounted to the same thing. Here the remnants of the former empire have become the First Order. They take their cue from Nazi Germany, in both styling and use of military might.
It’s easy to see the force used directly, like with Kylo, but Leia has been a political player from day one. Perhaps her use of the force enabled her to be a key royal figure and helps her thrive in her latest incarnation as a general.
It’s the absence of her brother, Luke, that caused a pre-release debate. And he proves to be the contradiction to the former statement about seeing the use of the force directly. Without much screen time, his existence and lack of appearance, helps drive a key plot point. He proves that less is more.
To find faults with the film would be nit-picking. It may mirror some of the original trilogy in terms of storytelling too closely for some but it updates it in a way everything feels fresh rather than redone.
For this writer The Empire Strike Back is the Star Wars benchmark and it’s with a small degree of hesitancy it can be confirmed that The Force Awakens surpasses it.
With the new cast, set in motion by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars has finally found a new hope.