Quite easily, Star Wars is the biggest movie franchise in history. Adored by millions across the world by both young and old, a new Star Wars film is more of a celebration or annual event. However, after the shaky response the CGI infused prequels received, the announcement of Episode VII left many with concerns that the good old days of Star Wars were lost to a galaxy far far away. Thankfully, J.J Abrams washes those doubts away by delivering a fresh, thrilling, and at times genuinely moving, outing to the Star Wars universe we know and love but of course stumbling across a few hurdles along the way.
Before I begin, this review is spoiler free so you will find no major plot points or scandal here, though I will most likely do a spoiler review in the near future, most likely in time for the DVD release. Plot wise, it follows the same spirit of 'A New Hope', by giving a droid crucial information that has to reach a certain planet in order to save the galaxy from the threat of the First Order (the remains of the Galactic Empire) but of course gets sidetracked with our new trio of leads, Rey, Finn and Poe, not forgetting brushing shoulders with some familiar faces. Some have argued that the film is essentially a retelling of 'A New Hope', to which I can agree, but Abrams carries the story in such a fresh way, you could almost be forgiven for the derivative nature. There are moments of humour that support the nods and references to previous films, no doubt intended to put a smile on your face. The first time Han and Chewie appear on screen, I was surprised to find a lump in my throat. I suddenly became a child again and importantly, I think Abrams is connecting to a new generation of Star Wars fans, to reinforce that the universe carries on past its central characters and we need to look forward rather than hold on to the magic of the past, this is the 'New Hope' for a new generation and it left me fully satisfied.
As a film, Abrams has to be commended for its sheer beauty. Wide shots highlight the scale and largeness of these worlds, from the crashed Star Destroyer on Jakku to the snow covered plains of Star Killer Base, everything looks and feels like a Star Wars film should. Furthermore the use of Abrams' decision to favour practical effects over CGI was something that really strengthened the film, everything felt authentic and genuine, like these were real characters and real environments that you could interact with. That being said, when CGI was used, sometimes it halted things entirely and made certain scenes, rather clunky. Certain characters, such as Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata, are completely motion captured, and juxtaposed with the practical sets and characters, it feels outdated and lacks the polish and refinement that otherwise sparkles over the film. These moments are brief however, and never become too distracting to taint the magic of Star Wars.
Character wise, it is Daisy Ridley's Rey who steals the show. It's made clear that she is the front runner for the new trilogy, rather than the traditional 'male' lead, which shows natural progression in terms of gender equality, Rey is feisty, independent and highly intelligent, in the chase scenes with Finn she repeatedly quips to "let go of my hand!", tossing aside any pre-assumed stereotypes of her being a damsel in distress. John Boyega and Oscar Isacc give excellent performances as a on-the-run stormtrooper and a Resistance pilot, both carrying the right amount of charm and humour to make them likeable characters, though not fully fleshed out, which I presume will be explored in future chapters. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren however, was a very big disappointment. Though he looks intimidating with the mask and the cloaked attire, he fails to hit the highs of Darth Vader or even Darth Maul as a memorable villain. Granted, he is more complex than your generic Star Wars baddies, but moments of emotion are misread as bland and uninteresting. Also, the reveal of who was behind the mask was far too early, as all intimidation and menace was lost. Domhnall Gleeson's performance as General Hux in contrast was stellar. Maddeningly eccentric and chilling, this was a true villain with only evil in his heart, particularly shown in a striking scene in which Hux delivers a speech in front of the First Order army. It visually resembles the Nazi rallies of the Third Reich, reinforcing the horror and the darkness of the character.
For all of the good moments, there are some clunkers to be had. Characters such as the heavily marketed Captain Phasma and the shrouded in secrecy Supreme Leader Snoke are given next to no screen time which is disappointing, though they are most likely back for Episode VIII. Crucial moments (no spoilers) are given hardly any emotional impact due to it's wild predictability and the rush to progress the plot forward. Also, certain characters seemingly know how to handle a lightsaber quite naturally, whereas it took Luke Skywalker three films to get to that level. But these issues are minute in comparison to the rest of the film, to which I loved.
By no means is this a perfect film, but it comes pretty darn close. 'The Force Awakens' reintroduces us to the world we once knew and loved and vamps it up by ten. Visually outstanding, nostalgic without being derivative and heart warmingly charming, the force is most definitely strong with this one.