Last night, the Force and my childhood awoke. JJ Abrams’ long-awaited first installment of Star Wars‘ sequel trilogy hit the silver screen this week and, spoiler alert – it was epic.
I have been fanatical about Star Wars ever since I was four years old. Having been first introduced to the galaxy far far away in 1999 with the release of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. From then, I began a love affair that has lasted throughout my developing years and now in to my early adulthood. Now at the ripened age of 20, I can appreciate that, though they were tantalising to me as a child, the prequels were, cinematically speaking, kind of dire.
It took all of fifteen minutes for The Force Awakens to teach the prequels a lesson, the start was brooding, intriguing, exciting and fresh. It perfectly introduced the new era of Star Wars and set up what fans would be facing for the next three installments.
The film’s greatest triumph was that it managed to marry the familiarity of the original trilogy with a new direction for the franchise in almost perfect balance. The new characters, notably Rey, Finn and BB8 are instant fan favourites – they are interesting, likable and just as worthy of a place in Star Wars folklore as the rebellion’s original gang. But, importantly, whilst the new blood provide the potential for an exciting trilogy, the old guard were still put to good use. There is still a need for Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. C-3PO and R2-D2 are still the ever-present faces in the saga’s long run – but Abrams’ didn’t make this all about them and it wouldn’t have worked if he did.
The plot itself was a nostalgic throwback to the bygone years of the Empire. The bad guy, who was linked to a good guy, and is ruled over by a seemingly old, evil yet sentient being. Then the baddies build a big old weapon and the goodies have to blow it up. Hey, it worked in half of the previous six films and it’s a formula that makes sense as a device to reboot the series – as long as we don’t have two more films of it.
I was also really pleased to see a female given the prominent Jedi role in this trilogy. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley is enthralling, exciting and a positive step for a franchise which has a healthy section of female fans, as well as male ones. Whilst John Boyega’s character, Finn did shine in the new film, Rey is the real stand-out debutant.
Kylo Ren, as a villain, was inconsistent. The fanaticism he holds for Darth Vader, his grandfather is a good motivation for his First Order links, and whilst his parentage to Leia and Han was all too obvious, it’s a neat plot dynamic to keep revisting – and again, it serves to promote the nostalgic links of the film’s famous predecessors. However, it was confusing how a Dark Jedi so powerful in the force, as we saw in the film’s opening, was so easily overpowered by Rey, a newly discovered force-sensitive being with no training whatsoever. Let’s remember, Ren is the direct descendant of Anakin Skywalker, the most powerful jedi of all time – but was bested by a scavenger.
Of course, this gets even muddier when we consider the implication that Rey could be a descendant of Anakin herself. Why else would Luke’s (and previously Anakin’s) old lightsaber call to her? If that is the case, then it makes sense how she was able to defeat him in combat. Although, I hope it’s not the case, given the fact that rehashing every old theme from the old films will delegitimise the saga.
Now, let’s address that big Elephant in the room. Han Solo is dead. Yes, it’s terrible and we are all devastated. As a plot point, I don’t really have an issue with Solo being killed off. It cemented the villain status of Kylo Ren, who, for Han’s death to make any sense, must survive the explosion of the Starkiller Base and torment the new Resistance for the remainder of the trilogy. Harrison Ford was a big fan of being bumped off, and given there’s a spin-off for his character planned, we should have seen it coming. I disagree that his death didn’t fit with the character. In fact, his death showed us the desperate father he’d become behind his bravado, and it was a welcome new dimension to the one of the franchise’s greatest characters. The only thing wrong with his death was the timing. We didn’t get to see enough of Han and Leia, we saw none of Han and Luke and Chewbacca will just look absurd for the rest of the trilogy.
These are very small criticisms for a film that blew the prequels out of the water. The Force Awakens is a cinematic triumph with the perfect balance of new age and nostalgia – the second greatest film of the franchise, behind the legendary Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, my opinion may change the more I watch the film but for now, I am seriously, seriously impressed. The Force Awakens is the epitome of the cinematic space epic, a film that relaunched the greatest film saga of all-time and covered it in glory, and a film that showed George Lucas exactly how to make a follow-up trilogy. May he never touch his franchise ever again.
What TFA got right
- The perfect balance between old Star Wars and new.
- Very little Luke Skywalker.
- Exciting new characters and worlds.
- Impressive and more realistic battle sequences.
- A more polished cinematic experience.
- Han’s emotional death scene.
- The prevailing formulas and themes (as long as this is the last we see of them).
What TFA got wrong
- The inconsistency of Kylo Ren.
- The lack of explanation of who Snoke is.
- The pointlessness of Captain Phasma.
- Giving John Boyega an American accent for no apparent reason whatsoever…