Read, or read not – but there are no spoilers.
So, I got to go to a premiere screening of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens (hooked-up by a fantastic person, who knows another fantastic person, who works at the fantastic cinema that is Genesis!) I have to admit that while I was excited, I was also sceptical and a little worried that I’d leave feeling the same disappointment that filled me after each of the prequel series.
That was not the case! This film is Star Wars – you get the sense of awe at seeing spaceships do dazzling stunts, the excitement of seeing massive battles take place, and the swells of emotions as the music and visuals match seamlessly, making you forget that you’re in a cinema surrounded by other people. Instead, you’re in the galaxy far, far away.
As Michael Barryte said in his “What if Episode I was good?” YouTube video, the key to making a prequel or sequel is to have a feeling of old and new. Making things feel familiar to viewers, but with enough new stuff to get them to come see the latest instalment. The Force Awakens has nailed this, across characters, settings, costume design and theme. Now, in saying that, there were a few moments where I was thinking, ‘Well, this seems a bit too familiar’, but it was brief and is probably just because I watched the Original Trilogy (IV, V, and VI) waaay too much when I was a child. But we’ll move on.
The pacing of this film is nearly perfect. Straight off the bat we get some good action, while also being introduced to key characters in a dynamic setting. No sitting around tables talking nonsense and boring politics, and there are no points in the first three-quarters of the film where you are thinking about anything else other than, “Man, this is awesome!” Admittedly, the last 5 or so minutes do slow down a bit, but considering there’s been 130 minutes before that, you’ll be fine.
It’s also such a relief that the new characters are actually likeable and can show a wider emotional range than whiney or disinterested. While this is mostly good casting (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are great additions to the Star Wars line-up), I believe a portion of the credit must go to the use of actual sets. Yes, there are CGI elements – its space battles, robots, and aliens – but the cast get to react to the things (mostly) in the physical space around them. It must make getting into character a lot easier than standing in front of a blue screen being told “And now a big, intimidating beast is going to chase you.” Hats off to the set and costume team – excellent job!
There were elements that I felt a little dissatisfied with, things like the name of the film itself, the terms ‘First Order’, ‘the Resistance’, and the story’s general background. It seems a little odd that a galactic power is relying on a small group that it somewhat funds to hold off a gigantic threat. But maybe that’s just politics, and who wants politics in Star Wars, right? And like I said before – old and new. It feels like A New Hope (Episode IV), with a powerful enemy bearing down on a small group of freedom fighters. Some of dialogue feels a little clunky and forced, but nothing like what it was in the prequels. And lastly, the handling of Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey, is a little…odd. Some critics have said they weren’t convinced by her performance, but I don’t see that as the problem. She seems just a little too perfect, knowing how to fix things she’s never encountered before, fly things she’s only ever gazed on, and win fights she is in no way prepared for. However, I’m sure she’ll grow into the role, just like Luke did in A New Hope.
Without giving anything away for the die-hard Star Wars fans, this film will confirm a few things you think you know, disprove others theories you may have, surprise you with things you didn’t see coming , AND (most importantly in my mind) leave you with questions. Questions you want answered. And it has a hefty amount of nods to the Original Trilogy. You’ll like those.
Best of all, this film is accessible. You don’t need to have seen the others to come into this to enjoy it. It would help, but there is enough character introduction and explanation (of both the old and the new faces) that you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy the film. And not in the ‘let’s sit down and get to know each other’ kind of way. You’ll get it in the dialogue or the way they handle themselves in the action.
As for its reception – I have but one word. Epic. The audience at the screening I was in loved it. There were woops and applause when the old cast members showed up, a torrent of clapping at the beginning and end, and a lot of laughs at the decent jokes made throughout the film. It may have helped these were all fans willing to go to a film’s opening midnight launch, but I think it was more that they just really enjoyed it.
If you love Star Wars, go see it! If you like Star Wars, go see it. If you’re unsure about Star Wars, this may be the film to get you into it. If you don’t like Star Wars…well, you’re missing out.