Movie Review | Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Why this order? In the build-up to The Last Jedi, I'll be working my through the films in what I believe is the best order to experience them: namely, Machete Order. There are two differences: 1) Rogue One has to fit in there, and 2) I'll also include The Phantom Menace for completeness.
Discussing Machete Order is a little irrelevant now we've reached this point in the story as, unless Lucasfilm decide to make their own set of prequels to fill in the events of the thirty-year gap between Return of the Jedi and this film, the story will almost certainly continue in a linear manner going forward.
I'm not counting the Solo: A Star Wars Story film as, while that is set before the events of A New Hope, it hopefully won't have anything to do with the larger narrative of the rise and fall of the Empire.
The decades-long gap between Jedi and this movie does mean there is a lot of freedom to introduce new characters and concepts without having to tie into any future events like the prequels had to. It's a shame then that so much of this film is spent looking backwards: there are so many things repeated from earlier instalments that it can feel a little repetitive when watching these films so close together.
It also dampens the happy ending of Return of the Jedi as we discover that the heroes of that film were essentially failures and their efforts were effectively in vain, merely swapping the Rebel Alliance taking on the Empire for the Resistance facing the First Order.
Movie Summary: Three decades after the Empire's defeat, a new threat arises in the militant First Order. Stormtrooper defector Finn and spare parts scavenger Rey are caught up in the Resistance's search for the missing Luke Skywalker. (IMDb)
The central issue with The Force Awakens is the same that plagues most things from JJ Abrams: he doesn’t seem to really understand on anything more than a surface level what makes certain franchises popular. It happened with 2009's Star Trek and it’s happened again here.
Namely, this really looks like you would a modern-day Star Wars film would. Visually, it’s fantastic and a perfect update even if the design work is highly derivative of the original trilogy. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – right?
The same can be said for the score from John Williams, which is excellent mainly due to using and re-working a large number of pieces from the original trilogy. There are a couple of new pieces that stand out (including Rey’s theme), but there’s nothing truly iconic for this new set of films like Duel of the Fates was for the prequels.
These references in comparison to the original trilogy are no accident either, with the plot being lifted almost wholesale from A New Hope with an abandoned orphan secretly strong in the Force being taken from a desert world by Han Solo and ending with a battle to eliminate a planet-destroying super-weapon.
Yep, it’s the Death Star again – even the characters acknowledge this in-story – and the First Order are just The Empire 2. It’s really disappointing how much of this film seems to be a copy-paste job from the original trilogy. Say whatever you like about the quality of the prequel trilogy and their execution (not great), but at least Lucas kept trying to add to the material.
One area where The Force Awakens cannot be criticised though is in the casting. John Boyega was fantastic in Attack the Block, is great in Detroit, and is equally good here. For me, he serves the same role as Han in the original films: the regular guy caught up in events way bigger than him, and Boyega performs that role to perfection.
Then there’s Oscar Isaac, who was so good that his character, Poe Dameron, was supposed to be killed off and ended up being written back into the story even if his presence in the third act doesn’t really add up and is never explained. To be honest, I don’t really care because Isaac is such fun to watch it doesn’t really matter to me.
The returning cast from the earlier films are also great in their roles too, although Luke is only seen briefly and never speaks. Ford is pretty good as Han once again, but he still feels in Return of the Jedi mode and his performance never reaches the level he does revisiting another old character in Blade Runner 2049.
Carrie Fisher is always great and continues to be so here, still a force of nature especially now Leia has the title of General rather than Princess. Like the other returning cast members, age has taken its natural toll, but Fisher is still perfect as Leia and the performance as true as ever.
I’ve left Daisy Ridley until a reason: she’s f***ing incredible. Seriously, I’m not fanboying over her role or performance – she genuinely is that good. Maybe the real life experience of going from obscurity to instant world fame helped, but Ridley is so incredibly good as Rey that it makes you wonder why it’s taken so long for her to be given such a role.
I’ll admit that I have a preference for women as protagonists: give me Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Buffy Summers, or – obviously – Princess Leia as the central character any day.
Despite this personal preference, Ridley’s performance stands out anyway. She’s asked to convey a wide range of emotions in this movie and, while there are moments where her inexperience shows, she more often than not performs as well as anyone could have hoped.
There are some who complain about Rey’s arc in the film and I have to say that I just can’t see what the problem is. Almost everything she does has at least one moment of foreshadowing, she still screws up more than once and is still unsure of herself at the end of the film, seeking out a certain Jedi master for guidance. Hardly a perfect hero as some might claim.
Or, to put it another way: Rey has almost the exact same skillset as the amnesiac protagonist of the videogame Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – often held up as one of the best Star Wars stories ever even when compared to the movies (and yes, I’m still protecting spoilers for a game almost 15 years old).
Both characters are good in a fight, can speak – or at least understand – any number of alien languages, can pilot a ship, and are also extremely strong in the Force. Maybe it’s because I always played that game with a female character that Rey doesn’t really stand out as strange to me!
The Force Awakens is a decent film with impeccable casting and great performances that still aren’t quite enough to hide how uninspired the plot is. The character stuff works well, with Adam Driver also providing an intriguing antagonist in Kylo Ren, and the movie works as a good baseline for future movies to hopefully exceed.