Obviously, expectations for this new Star Wars film have been sky-high. That’s not only because it’s been ten years since the last instalment. In fact the prequel trilogy, released from 1999 onwards, are universally agreed to be a bit duff, misconceived and half baked, so this carries the weight of carrying on the beloved original saga and atoning for the sins of the prequels. Impressively, it manages to pull it off for the most part.
Just like the very first Star Wars film, The Force Awakens focusses on three central character types – a flinty heroine (here Rey, played by Daisy Ridley), a roguish pilot (here Poe, played by Oscar Isaac) and an accidental hero (here Finn, played by John Boyega). They cross paths, and meet up with the original characters, because of the growing shadowy threat of the First Order, which is basically the old Empire after some new recruitments at the top and a bit of rebranding. If we’re being picky, it could be argued that the ease with which that evil lot has carried on undermines the ending of Return of the Jedi, in which the Empire is seemingly routed and everyone has a massive party. But clearly, you can’t have a Star Wars film without the big baddies.
There are oodles of wit, charm and skill on display here which, for one thing, wipe away any memories of those troublesome prequels in a trice. The first half of the film, in which the First Order’s threat is established and our heroes assemble, is an utter delight, with pulse-pounding set-pieces and spectacular visuals. The cast is mostly very strong, with John Boyega’s Finn in particular hitting the right notes effortlessly. On the minus side, Adam Driver plays arch-baddie Kylo Ren, the galaxy’s biggest Darth Vader fanboy, as a surly recalcitrant youth, delivering every line in a terse monotone as though he’s asking if you’d like fries with that.
The sparkling tone never falters, despite some slightly indulgent meandering at the half-way point. For all its blockbuster flash, it’s a film anchored in character and dialogue, with plenty of humour. And the little knowing nods to its forebears are generally very pleasing, too. It’s a shame though that the final act turns into a blow-by-blow rerun of the original Star Wars (with a bit of The Empire Strikes Back thrown in for good measure). It’s understandable as a technique for re-establishing the series, but it goes far too far. You say ‘homage’, I say ‘disappointing lack of originality’.
But on balance these are minor quibbles. This comfortably achieves its mission as a rollicking big-screen adventure which conjures the thrilling spirit of the original films. Next time out, though, hopefully, it can afford to branch out more fully into entirely fresh territory without cleaving too closely to the past. Certainly, there’s plenty of mileage in the story of these characters, and it should be a delight to watch it unfold.
By Andy Murray