Just back from the worldwide cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the true new Star Wars movie for anyone that – like me – loathed the inept prequels. I’ve mentioned numerous times over the last couple of weeks on FB and in the real world that I’m not a Star Wars fan, and I’m really, honestly not. The Empire Strikes Back was the last one I enjoyed. Return of the Jedi was very poor, and the prequels were truly bad movies. So I go in to this one first and foremost as a fan of J J Abrams, a director I admire greatly, even if he’s worked on mediocre to just plain bad movies in the past. To me, he’s Spielberg’s natural successor in the world of genre blockbusters, and he was the perfect choice for this new wave of Star Wars movies.
You’d need to have lived under a rock (on the moon) to not have been assailed by the plethora of ads and tie ins for this movie, some of which are just truly incomprehensible, and it would be easy for a shallow mind to be unable to separate marketing from a movie itself, but I successfully managed to avoid all spoilers for it, which is good because there are two significant moments of note in it, both of which relate to a main character. I’d have been angry if someone had mentioned those to me. Other than those two, the other big thing is the notion of a black stormtrooper that set the internet alight with racist fanboy reactions when the concept was first revealed. I must admit, I DID think that it was a clumsily transparent attempt to add diversity to the movie, but as it turns out it’s actually addressed by a casual line of dialogue reasonably early on in the movie, and that’s the kind of writing I absolutely love. End of story, move on.
My experience of this movie is a mixed bag, but moving swiftly on, good stuff first. The new characters – I really liked them all. They instantly fit in with the Star Wars universe, in tone and character. John Boyega and Adam Driver in particular were terrific, I thought. I might have felt stronger about Daisy Ridley, but I was distracted by her Angry-Hermoine-played-by-Keira Knightly vibe. But even so, I really liked her character, and I feel it marks an important step for gender equality in these kinds of movies, where women are mostly relegated to love interests or damsels in distress. Another good thing is the look and feel of the movie is completely note perfect for the Star Wars universe – which is odd, because it’s the complete opposite of how Abrams essentially made the Trek universe almost unrecognizable. Everything in this paragraph is what I gave my final review on.
What’s not so good here is potentially what most Star Wars fans will love about it; the inclusion of the original characters. It’s no spoiler to say that the characters of Finn and Rey are the leads, as they should be, and to me the addition of the old gang felt unnecessary. Not that it isn’t good to see them, and not that I think their scenes were not integral to the story, but the lasting effect for me is that The Force Awakens plays too much like a Star Wars Greatest Hits reel. The action zips along, the writing is good, but somehow, the story just never gets out of being less of a movie in its own right than an homage to the phenomenon of Star Wars. I say this as someone who favours trying to be as original as possible in the writing of these giant blockbusters. Though really, my main criticism of the movie is that the “emperor” type character in this movie is so poor in terms of character and CGI rendering (looks like Gollum!) that I wonder what the hell the production crew were thinking.
Overall, though, the movie seen as the sum of its parts is hugely satisfying. It won’t turn me into a Star Wars fan, but it did provide for a terrific theatrical experience. Highly recommended. 4.0/5.0
© Andrew Hope, 2017