Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (spoiler free)

The Force is strong once more…

Starring:  Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac

Directed by:  J.J. Abrams / Written by:  Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt / 135 minutes

What’s it about?

As the evil First Order rises, young defector ‘Finn’ crosses paths with Rey, a scavenger who comes into possession of a star map that will lead them to the mythical last Jedi, Luke Skywalker…

In review

Unarguably the most anticipated cinema release of this year, perhaps even this decade, The Force Awakens – Episode VII of the Star Wars saga – is unleashed upon global audiences on a wave of positive buzz and record breaking opening box office numbers.

The Force Awakens is an important film not only to entertainment goliath Disney, following their $4.5 billion purchase of Lucasfilm, but also legions of Star Wars fans eager to see the beloved science fiction film franchise return to its former glories.  Turning to director J.J. Abrams seemed a wise move, not only a great filmmaker whose reputation was solidified when he refreshed Star Trek for a new generation with epic big screen reboots Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), but more significantly a life-long fan of Star Wars himself.

With The Force Awakens, Abrams and his production team have delivered a pleasing new entry in the Star Wars saga that restores much of the magic diluted by George Lucas’ overly polished, CGI littered ‘Prequel Trilogy’.  Whilst it’s all a touch familiar with several plot elements repeated from earlier instalments (mainly A New Hope) and some heavy doses of fan service, The Force Awakens reigns triumphant thanks to a rich mix of engaging characters, edge of the seat drama (peppered with a smattering of humour) and thrilling battles, bound by Abrams’ skilled direction and the quality craftsmanship on display.

Set some 30 years or so after the events of Return of the Jedi (1983), The Force Awakens presents the heightening threat of the First Order which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire and seeks to continue its plans to dominate the galaxy, far, far away.  Luckily the Rebellion, which has now become known as the ‘Resistance’ survives to fight the forces of evil and it’s this conflict and the search for last Jedi Luke Skywalker that serves to reunite old heroes as well as introduce new ones.  Of the returning cast of the Original Star Wars Trilogy, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (together with pal Chewbecca, with Peter Mayhew once again donning the fur) that is given most prominence – it’s great to see him in action once more – yet The Force Awakens really belongs to its new cast of heroes – lead by Rey (Daisy Ridley) and defecting Stormtrooper ‘Finn’ (Attack the Block’s John Boyega) together with daring Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, villain of the forthcoming X-Men: Apocalypse) and his faithful (and adorable) droid BB8.  Feeling the draw of the mystical Force, the new generation are thrown into the path of the First Order and central villains Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has been seduced by the Force’s ‘Dark Side’, Stormtrooper commandant Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), their quest for galactic domination lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (a creepy CGI motion capture creation brought to life by Andy Serkis).

The new cast is great and it will be exciting to see their characters develop over the course of this ‘Sequel Trilogy’ much in the same vein as we saw the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia grow.  It’s true that some characters are given more time in the limelight than others but it’s obvious that The Force Awakens is merely the beginning and we’ll no doubt see more of them in the next instalment.

The Force Awakens is a well-crafted visual feast with J.J. Abrams leading the charge of melding CGI with practical filmmaking, the elaborate physical production design complemented by computer generated elements rather than overwhelming it.  With the era of practical miniatures largely surpassed by CGI, Abrams brings a real, weighty feeling to the requisite spaceship battles and stages some truly thrilling action sequences that will please and wow fans as well as casual viewers, from X-Wing dogfights to the Millennium Falcon’s hyperspace jumps to lightsabre duals – it’s all here and offset nicely against John Williams’ music score.  There’s also some beautiful imagery from director of photography Dan Mindel, enhanced by Abrams’ insistence on the use of physical 35 and 65mm film (the latter for the film’s IMAX sequences) with the blistering deserts of the planet Jakku being a particular highlight.

Overall, The Force Awakens is only hindered by that slight touch of familiarity (and to an extent it’s dangling threads reserved for Episode VIII), yet it was never intended to reinvent the wheel and J.J. Abrams and his cast and crew have delivered the Star Wars sequel many were hoping for, whilst not quite the masterpiece that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are, it’s at least as good as Return of the Jedi and superior to the controversial prequels and a great new start for an enduring franchise.

The bottom line:  The Force Awakens is a triumphant, if at times familiar, new entry in the Star Wars saga that will please and thrill both fans and novices alike.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in cinemas now.

Director J.J. Abrams stages some thrilling action in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'.

Director J.J. Abrams stages some thrilling action in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.

21 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ (spoiler free)

  1. Very well written! It’s already hard to imagine that we’re already getting a new Star Wars film next year (Rogue One) and Episode VIII the following year. I’d say that today’s generation of Star Wars fans are going to be spoiled soon! 🙂

    • Thanks very much! Star Wars fans certainly are being spoiled, I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Rogue One turns out as the premise sounds great and I have a lot of faith in Gareth Edwards as a director.

  2. Triumphant, I like that word and in many ways it is a good way to describe Abrams first foray (first of many I’m sure) into the SW universe. It’s so hard to please fans who are so passionate about it and so I think it’s a feat that he manages to please them, as well as casual moviegoers like me. I’m not blown away by it, but it was entertaining, and I am curious to see where the films will go from here.

  3. Well first let me say I thoroughly enjoyed your review, especially keeping it all spoiler free. I will aim to do they same with my comments.

    I agree that this film is a true triumph for its director, Mindel’s stunning visuals and as an introduction to a new series of characters. It is also one of the best Star Wars films to exist in the saga and I can not stop thinking about it. However, this is also a problem as it means the reservations I have stand out.

    To keep it brief… I suppose I have three, non-spoiler allowable, reservations about the film. They are all here because they brought me out of the film that should have me engrossed.
    To start the music. John Williams is indeed back to bring us a his iconic, fluidic score that weaves around the scene and emotions of the characters. However, weaving around is not always what you want, you sometimes need music to dive into the heart of the matter making it stand out. In SW:TFA we are shortchanged as the bombastic character themes and iconic nuances are overlooked. No scene makes you walk out of the film with the music (minus the main theme) humming, unlike the original trilogy. Even the prequels had Duel of the Fates and the final trailer had more emotion per beat.

    Next, the editing. This is something I wouldn’t normally focus on, but then again if it’s done right you don’t have to. To keep in short there are a few scenes that went on for far too long, or cut away between events at the wrong time. This resulted in a drop in action, tension and eventually in spoiling a key moment.

    Finally, and this is a tricky one, the characters. Let me say I agree with yourself that all the cast put in a stellar performance, especially the new additions. My main issue comes from a more common occurrence in cinema franchises, the lack of detail. We all know that this is the opening of a new trilogy and more depth will appear as the series continues. We also know the key to a good mystery is not revealing too much. Yet at the moment there are a few core characters that needed a bit more revealed to make them engaging. In fact, there is one main figure that is repeating some of the mistakes that appeared in Lucas’s prequel trilogy.

    Overall, I don’t want you to get me wrong this is a great film, but far from the perfect film that many say it is. But as it is the film is still stuck in my head and I believe that some of these issues might not be as important on a second viewing.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Many thanks for sharing your thoughts Sam, and taking the time to read my review (thanks also for the kind words in that regard).

      You make some good points, you’re right that John Williams’ score for TFA doesn’t quite leap out and grab you as with his previous scores (especially for the orginal trilogy) but I guess it’s just great that it’s John Williams and giving continuity to the music for the saga.

      I totally agree that this is not the perfect film some are claiming and there were niggles. Unfortunately TFA can only really be seen as a start of a story (and in some ways that’s a hinderance, I’ve always found that you can watch A New Hope and get a more or less complete self contained experience) and we will have to say how things develop in Episodes VIII and IX.

      • As an avid fan of film scores I have to say it’s not good enough that John Williams is back. He is a legend, but that should never give him a free pass to produce something half realised.

        I agree it is the start of the story and it will keep getting better.

  4. Awesome review, quite remarkable how you manage to write out a spoiler-free review with so much depth. I’ve only just recently watched SW Episode 4 and plan on watching through each one of them based on release date. Can’t wait to finally watch Episode 7 and see for myself what the hype is all about ! 😀 Such an intriguing universe that George Lucas has created, that’s for sure. Although, I have to say that Episode 4 doesn’t really survive the test of time on acting and cinematography. But I definitely understand how crazy it must have been back in the days when it hit the big screen.

    – Lashaan

    • Thanks man, it’s always hard to put together reviews that are spoiler free yet still give an overall picture. Funnily enough I re-watched the original trilogy over Chistmas and even plan to check out the prequels again. True, they’re not great but there’s still some entertainment value in there.

      Hope you enjoy Ep 7!

  5. Great Review! Star Wars The Force Awakens was brilliant. I really enjoyed it, great to see the new cast and the original cast work so well together. JJ certainly did the saga proud and set everything up for the new trilogy, a brilliant film!

    • Thanks Paul! JJ Abrams was the right man for the job and set up the trilogy nicely. I’m enthused to hear comments from JJ and the crew about the script for Ep 8, at least we’ll have Rogue One to put is through until then!

      • It was a really good film to start the new Trilogy, enjoyed The Force Awakens so much, really glad they got JJ to make this film. Looking forward to Episode 8 even more now, and of course Rogue One as well!

  6. I’m amazed at how many ways J.J. Abrams could have messed this up and he never does. In some ways it’s the “familiarity” that sells it. No it’s not an innovative story, but it’s pure escapism…and I loved it. 😀

    • Agreed, I always have faith in J.J. Abrams delivering. He was the right man to bring Star Trek back and he was the right man to bring Star Wars back. Thanks for your thoughts Mark!

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