(This review is spoiler-free, I promise.)
So it finally happened. Over 30 years since ‘Return of the Jedi’, the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy gets another sequel. The wait was long but was it worth it? Well, I’m glad to say the answer is a resounding yes, it was damn well worth the wait.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ isn’t just a great ‘Star Wars’ movie, it’s a great movie, one that balances great character, great action and great story against the backdrop of a world that feels as real as it did in 1977. While I won’t provide even the most brief of plot outlines, I will say that the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams is energetic, economic and, above all, human. Character is the strongest aspect of ‘The Force Awakens’, as it should be for any movie and it’s a credit to the writers that its cast of characters, especially the old favourites, work organically into the narrative and interact meaningfully with each other. Relationships feel real, the villain is actually menacing, and the heroes are fallible. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are the true stars though as Rey and Finn, respectively, and their acting is sublime for a blockbuster of this nature. I absolutely adored their characters by the time the credits rolled and this was ‘The Force Awakens’ greatest strength: crafting so many characters and relationships that I cared about in what was a briskly, well-paced two-hour film. BB-8 is also adorable as the film’s new droid and steals many scenes, often as comic relief, but also as a key player in the narrative. I could go on but there is so much more to talk about…
Returning to J.J., this is easily his best work ever. Looking back it’s as though films like ‘Super 8’ and ‘Star Trek’ were merely preparation so that he could get this right. I can’t imagine ‘The Force Awakens’ without the guiding voice of consistency that is Abrams’ direction. Practical effects are abundant; nearly everything we see is constructed for the film with real nuts and bolts (side note: one of the film’s few flaws is how obvious some CGI elements are when we are so accustomed to puppetry and makeup). The cinematography is as good here as in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’; pause any frame and you will find art. John Williams’ score brings the nostalgia flowing like rapids but it also emphasises important character beats and highlights the epic scale of ‘Star Wars’ just as it always has.
So how does it fare as a ‘Star Wars’ movie? As a matter of fact, rather well. It does rely on many of the original trilogy’s tropes but rather than feel like a copy of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Empire’, it pays homage in a way that is organic to the story of Rey and Finn. The Force, the Dark Side, the evil dictatorial regime, the space battles, the lightsaber duels, so many of these moments gave me shivers throughout, and it should be mentioned that I’m not even a ‘Star Wars’ mega fan…or I wasn’t. Until now. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ was my first ‘Star Wars’ movie in theatres and having done so, I think I finally ‘get it’ now. I understand the fervour that surrounded the first film back in 1977 and its two sequels.
I realize why this franchise is such a one-of-a-kind cultural phenomenon. It’s ‘Star Wars’. It’s epic in the true meaning of the word. But it’s also surprisingly human at its heart. And ‘The Force Awakens’ is exactly the type of ‘Star Wars’ movie we’ve been looking for.
Nic’s Grade: A+
Average Grade: A