With The Force Awakens, Star Wars is finally back
By Thomas Simpson
Star Wars The Force Awakens may very well have been the most anticipated film release in cinematic history. From a story that started in a galaxy far far away back in 1977, the space opera became a franchise and solidified itself as a lucrative brand. The much-anticipated prequel trilogy may have left fans underwhelmed but that didn’t prevent billion dollar box office returns.
In the 10 years that have passed, Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced they would be producing new films, starting with Episode VII. Some were optimistic, others skeptical, however when J. J. Abrams was announced to direct and more and more footage was released of the newly named The Force Awakens, the dissenting voices began to quiet. Still, a trailer is just that. It evoked feelings of nostalgia but so did marketing for The Phantom Menace. Would the finished product really be the Star Wars film that everyone was hoping it could be?
Set roughly 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, most of the heroes and stories of that time have been confined to myth. What is very real is the new enemy that threatens the galaxy. The Jedi are all but gone, but the Dark Side is as powerful as ever with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wielding the iconic red lightsaber. Clad in black with a distorted voice, the comparisons to Darth Vader aren’t exactly subtle but Ren is more than a carbon copy of the previous villain. Driver is brilliant in the role, adding a depth and mystery to the character that surpasses the notion he’s simply evil. Not that he’s very nice.
Also new to the series is Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who despite her conditions is incredibly upbeat and enthusiastic. Her adventure begins when she meets Finn (John Boyega) and they embark on an exciting quest. Both Ridley and Boyega are excellent and slot into the cast like they’ve always belonged. The chemistry between the pair is undeniable and it isn’t shoved down our throats.
What is overplayed though is the homages. Abrams peppers them throughout the film; some are subtle while others are right in your face. There are shots that will remind you of the original trilogy but more interestingly the script, by Lawrence Kasdan, echoes these films by way of the plot. This has received the most criticism from detractors but it was something I loved. At times I felt events were a little too over familiar, however from a story point of view the nuances made sense with Abrams ensuring that every beat was hit to the right rhythm.
The set pieces are fantastic as we are treated to space battles and the obligatory lightsaber duel. It does more than aim for sentimentality, it provides thrilling and stimulating action that appeals to newer audiences while keeping older ones interested.
The Force Awakens serves as a bridge between the new and the old. It’s too early to know what Rian Johnson has in store for Episode VIII, but Episode VII feels like a transition between the original trilogy and the Disney era. Some may argue that the twists in The Force Awakens are predictable and the plot is tired but the story is engaging and the characters intriguing. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun.
J. J. Abrams clearly has a lot of love and respect for Star Wars and has delivered the film that we all needed. Although not perfect (what is?), it’s difficult to find fault without nit-picking when so much of the film works. It may make you feel like you did as a child but if not, your son or daughter will come away with that same feeling you once had. Roll on Episode VIII.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.