Back when I was a young kid, now and then my family would fix me something rather amazing for lunch: they’d make up some standard just-add-boiling-water ready noodles, but with ham or sausage or something awesome like that mixed in. They’d go all out too, season it, add herbs, turn a 19p noodle packet into a gourmet meal. That stuff was always delicious, and I always devoured it.
And that’s exactly what Star Wars: The Force Awakens is – JJ Abrams took the basic formula of the very first episode, A New Hope, sprinkled on his trademark fast-paced storytelling and engaging characters, and served us up a movie that, while it seems familiar and doesn’t redefine anything, is a damn enjoyable experience.
The extent to which TFA follows ANH is almost ridiculous in places, plot included: Desert-dwelling hero who dreams of salvation from an unfulfilling life comes across a droid keeping hold of a plot-integral secret, meanwhile the evil Nazi-esque bad guys have a large circular base/super-weapon, patrolled and defended by a black, hooded figure with a red lightsaber.
This slavish devotion to the original trilogy isn’t just laziness though – the reverence for the events and characters that the audience and film makers both share is also adhered to by the characters – our protagonist Rey is a wide-eyed child at the mention of Luke Skywalker, and the story of the destruction of the Empire has become a myth. The same is true on the other side – Kylo Ren is a total Darth Vader devotee, addressing introspective monologues to Vader’s crumpled helmet like Hamlet with Yorick’s skull. He also wears a black mask, but doesn’t seem to need it – you almost get the idea that he just WANTED to wear a mask, to better mimic the look of his idol.
All this stuff of placing the OT characters and things on a pedestal works for the most part, filling the key moments between the returning characters of Han Solo, Leia, C3PO, Chewbacca etc with humour and pathos. But it does have the side effect of kinda making the film a checklist of tributes. Its great to pick up with these characters and see where they are, and seeing how they bounce off the new additions to the world and go through a classic Star Wars plot is a tonne of fun. But all the way through I was itching for the film to start moving into new territory and forge its own identity, which doesn’t really happen until the final 30 mins. The prequel trilogy was lambasted because it was a betrayal of everything that makes Star Wars fun and engaging. TFA, in contrast, sometimes feels like it’s playing it too safe, sticking to the stuff it knows we like in order to make sure no one leaves disappointed.
It’s not all nostalgic wheel-spinning though – the new characters are absolutely AMAZING. I won’t say a single thing about their backstories or character arcs, because the less you know going in the better, but suffice to say I cannot wait to see how each of their journeys pans out across the whole trilogy. Finn is great, at times he’s incompetent, cocky, hilarious, terrified, or heroic, and John Boyega sells all of it. When I watched Attack the Block I knew he was going places, and here he is, stepping up to a blockbuster franchise with only his second major role and he’s kicking ass.
I’m a huge Oscar Isaac fan so I was excited for Poe Dameron, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him play a completely different character to usual. Poe is a straight edge hero, a totally awesome X-Wing pilot, who radiates kindness and bravery, with none of the usual contrariness or straight up assholeness of a lot of Isaac’s other roles.
Kylo Ren is the franchises best villain – messed up, angry, conflicted, foolhardy, terrifying, powerful, amazing. You never know where you are with him, one minute he’s coolly dispatching foes and using his powers to terrify his subordinates, and the next he’s wracked with indecision and insecurity, and when it comes to the final conflict you might find it hard to pick a side to root for. He’s everything prequel Anakin should have been and more, and Adam Driver kills it, only removing the helmet for two pivotal scenes.
Oh god Rey.
Rey is a revelation. I love Rey.
Rey is the beating heart of this new trilogy, and you couldn’t want a more likeable, charming, funny, kick-ass protagonist. Daisy Ridley was a newcomer before TFA, but now she deserves to take Hollywood by storm. The marketing for the film seemed to point to John Boyega as the main character, but it’s Rey all the way. She gets the biggest cheer moment in the final battle, the best character arc, and is propelled into the sequel in a fantastic way. I can’t wait to follow her journey.
It’s possible that she goes from desert scavenger to badass a little too quickly, but it’s testament to the films strong storytelling that you just don’t care.
And I haven’t really spoken at all about the returning characters – suffice to say they all get their moments, especially Han Solo. I just hope General Leia gets even more screen time in Episode VIII.
And that’s all I’m going to say. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a film that leaves you impatient for the next one. It’s thrilling, funny, emotional and will most likely have you leaving the cinema on a high.
Star Wars is good again. Very, very good.