Objectivity in any review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a hard thing to achieve when you have spent your life as an avowed admirer of George Lucas’s cinematic universe. This seventh instalment comes amid much anticipation and I, as a fan, certainly had some reservations about Disney taking control of the franchise. Thankfully, director J.J. Abrams has been able to produce something that is very much in keeping with the style and tone of the first three releases. As such, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a funny, action-adventure tale that effectively embraces the old whilst introducing a series of new characters more than capable of carrying the weight of future chapters. In fact, given the scale of the galactic world in which this story is set, the potential for future films is considerable. Thankfully for me, the fact that the film is such a terrific addition to the franchise certainly alleviates any concerns I may have had about my personal predilections unduly influencing any attempt to evaluate the film dispassionately.
Some 30 years after the defeat of Darth Vader and his evil Empire, a new malevolent legion has arisen in the form of First Order, led by the Vader wannabe (mask and all) Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). With First Order gaining power and threatening to unleash a weapon capable of destroying entire civilisations, along comes Rey (Daisy Ridley) a scavenger from the planet Jakku who finds a droid that seemingly knows the whereabouts long lost Jedi knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Joined in her quest by runaway Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a couple of familiar faces in wisecracking smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his loyal sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Rey sets forth to locate Skywalker and lure him back into the fold in an effort to bring down First Order. Also reprising her role is Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and it wouldn’t be Star Wars without the obnoxious C-3PO and fellow droid R2-D2, perhaps the two most recognisable characters in the entire Star Wars pantheon.
So much of Star Wars: The Force Awakens harks back to the first three movies (which, of course, are actually episodes four to six). There is plenty of humour and witty repartee amidst the action, something that was absent from the most recent trio of films, with Chewbacca obviously having many of the best lines, even though we have no idea what he is saying. The Stormtroopers still possess the worst aim of any military force ever known to man, there is a bar scene reminiscent of the Cantina in A New Hope and, of course, the trusty Millenium Falcon is resurrected as Rey’s vehicle of choice (albeit in somewhat desperate circumstances). It is hard to fathom that there have been criticisms about the fact that Rey is so good at everything she does because, after all, isn’t this what we expect from our heroes. In Rey we have a new central character around whose escapades future stories can revolve, but I guess the thought of a young woman possessing both competence and confidence is just too much for some to bear. Driver is the standout performer, although Ridley and Boyega do bring a nice chemistry to their on-screen relationship.
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Abrams has produced an action-packed space opera that is as much, perhaps more, than anybody could have hoped. It is difficult to recount a lot of what happens without giving too much away, but those who have invested in the series over the last 30+ years might be shocked with some of the narrative developments. However, Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt deserve credit for being prepared to cut some ties with the old guard to move the overall Star Wars narrative forward. Of course, the ending is about as blatant as can be in setting up for the sequel we already know is coming, but that is hardly a bad thing because, if this film is any indication at least, there are still plenty of potential characters and story ideas to come and I can’t wait to return once again to this fantastical far flung world.