Star Wars: The Force Awakens is at its best when it looks forward. It shines when it’s focused on its new characters and plot dynamics.
This isn’t to say seeing Han Solo (Harrison Ford), General Leia (Carrie Fisher), or Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) on-screen again isn’t exciting, because it absolutely is, but it’s rewarding and promising when the slew of new characters shine in every scene they’re in. I think we’re in for an excellent ride with this new trilogy.
Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, this film sets up a new status quo in a galaxy far, far away. The Republic still exists and is supporting the Resistance, led by Leia, as they fight back against the First Order, a fanatical faction which has risen from the ashes of the Empire.
Their goal is to find the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) before the Resistance does, and destroy him. Now, let’s get Luke out of the way right at the start here – yes, you find out why he’s missing; yes, you find out where he is; no, this film isn’t really about him. That’s what future films are for. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue.
The tone for the film is set very early on as an adventure film, pitting bad guy against good guy, primarily thanks to our first introductions to Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, with massive stakes on the line. It feels very much like the original trilogy, and fans should love that. I know I did.
But if I would fault this film for anything, it would be that sometimes it feels too much like the original trilogy. There are moments and scenes that are nearly beat for beat with the original trilogy, and while not an outright detriment, they fall a little flat at times.
Nothing in this film is surprising. It’s one of the most straightforward and predictable films of the year. The first shot of the Millennium Falcon, the reveal of Luke’s lightsaber, the introductions to Han, Chewie, and Leia, all of these scenes are laid out for you before they actually happen. These aren’t necessarily bad things, merely observations, but the plot and certain throwbacks were clearly not the highest points of the film.
That’s where the characters come in – rich, lively, and interesting.
As I mentioned, seeing characters from the original trilogy is thrilling. It’s like catching up with old friends. Still, rightfully so, they are not the centerpieces of the film and while they are some highly rewarding moments with them (the last scene, wow), there are also some oddly unsatisfying arcs with them too (which, to discuss them, I would have to delve into spoiler territory).
As was also stated at the start of this review, the new characters are the ones who elevate this film from good to great.
Our three new heroes are instantly likable, easy to root for, and have natural, overflowing chemistry with one another. Poe is a hero through and through and I’ve been predicting he’d be my favorite of the new characters for a while, and now I can safely say he is. He’s witty, has an unwavering loyalty to and belief in the Resistance, and proves Oscar Isaac really can do anything. I look forward to delving deeper into his character with future films.
However, it’s relative newcomers John Boyega (Finn) and Daisy Ridley (Rey), who really steal away the film. They light up every scene they’re in – Ridley in particular. Finn and Rey’s instant chemistry is palpable and enjoyable. It’s easy to be excited to follow them for two more films.
Rey is the new hero of the franchise and she’s a revelation. In just one film, her arc is thrilling. She has all the potential to be the great new cinematic hero. Finn has a very different journey ahead of him, as a character who runs for most of the film, but one that is just as interesting.
BB-8, whose voice was created by Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz, is going to be a new star. He’s the perfected version of R2-D2, as wonderful as Artoo is, with loads of personality and human-like sound effects such as sighs and excited shouts. Plus, the boy and his dog story between him and Poe Dameron is really rather sweet.
On the flip side, we have our bad guys.
There’s a lot more to be discovered about them – let’s all be eternally grateful that Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is confirmed for Episode VIII. The same goes for Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who is intimidating and menacing, both in appearance and words, but still mostly shrouded in mystery.
I couldn’t put my finger of Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as General Hux at first but the more I think about it, the more I like it. He is fanatical at its finest and most terrifying and captivating. He craves order and ruling with an iron fist. And pitting him as a foil to Kylo Ren makes both of them infinitely more fascinating.
Speaking of Kylo Ren, he was the most surprising standout for me. I was expecting to be bored by him. Instead, Adam Driver delivered a performance that humanized Kylo in a believable way and made him one of the characters I’m most curious about going forward. He lashes out easily and is full of self-loathing. Already I think he’s shaping up to be far more interesting than Vader.
Word of advice to you though, Kylo. Lose the helmet. You’re way more interesting without it, even though I get why you have it.
But it’s not just great characters that make this film so good, although they’re the best part, but John Williams has once again put forward an excellent score. With both familiar tunes, and new ones that could also become classics, it set the film in a great way.
Lastly, let it not be said that director J.J. Abrams doesn’t know how to direct a visually thrilling and well-paced action film. The TIE Fighter and X-Wing dogfights in this film are the best in the Star Wars franchise yet.
This film is a superb start to this franchise’s new chapter. I look forward to the next several years and watching these characters carve out their spots in this world.
If you’ve seen The Force Awakens, what did you think of it? If you haven’t yet, what are you most looking forward to?