Review: The Force Awakens

Words by: Jack Dawson

Alright, for those who are sensitive to spoilers, here’s the short review: It’s great, one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the cinema, and easily the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. Not without flaws, but so enjoyable that I’m reluctant to come down from the high that this film as sent me on.

And now for the more in depth review…

It’s been a few decades since the Death Star and Luke Skywalker is nowhere to be found. The remnants of the Empire have united under the banner of the First Order, while the remnants of the rebellion endure in the Resistance. A Masked Warrior named Kylo Ren is hunting down one of the Reistance’s ace pilots to secure essential information that he has, which spurs said Ace Pilot to hide the information in a droid, which soon finds some helpful allies in the form of Scavenger Rey and renegade Stormtrooper Finn.
Adventure, heartbreak, and more fanservice than you could dream of, ensue.

It’s not hard to pin down what makes The Force Awakens good, it’s a technically polished film with engaging characters and a Director who isn’t nearly untalented enough to make something like The Phantom Menace. But after watching the Prequels, it’s a fresh of breath air to see a Director with a good idea of what he’s doing tackle the material and it’s almost electrifying to see actors extend beyond ‘Large Ham’ and ‘Block of Wood’.

Even if the story is a retelling of A New Hope, it’s not a bad story to try and tell again with a better idea of what the following films will introduce and expand upon. It’s nice to see a Star Wars film in cinemas whose special effects don’t look immediately dated; it’s impossible to separate the practical effects from the cgi characters, and even characters like Maz Kanada, who are motion captured, have a life of their own that helps me to believe that they’re really there.

If I had my way, I’d spend the rest of the review talking about all the positives of this film, exceeding my usual word limit and coming across as a rather breathless fan who won’t stop telling you about how you should be watching this movie. But I’ll limit myself to praising the action scenes and the characters. The action is some of the best in the series, living up to the original trilogies highest points, and utterly surpassing the prequel trilogy in every respect. Leaving aside the polished effects, the emotional investment that I had in the characters elevated every action beat.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have incredible chemistry as Rey and Finn, and it’s an absolute joy to see the original cast return, if only for fan-satisfaction. Also, I feel compelled to mention that BB-8 is the most adorable character to ever exist. Seriously, it’s cuteness has the same effect on cynicism as a flamethrower does on an ice-cube.

Of course no film is without flaw, so let’s talk about the problems here. The effectiveness of the film may depend on your personal taste, being a sci-fi/fantasy nerd myself, I was pretty well sold. But there are some clumsy moments here and there, particularly when it comes to exposition and tragic backstories. And I felt like not enough time was spent on characters such as Captain Phasma and Supreme Leader Snoke (yes that’s really his name, just go with it).

Plus, if astronomical coincidences irritate you, then… well this might not be the series for you. And while I can appreciate the desire to leave some questions unanswered, I think they could have afforded a few more concrete answers to several burning questions and mysteries throughout the film, if only for the sake of some closure.

I was going to claim that Kylo Ren doesn’t look menacing enough when unmasked, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. He’s supposed to look unconvincing as a Sith Lord, and the inevitable comparisons to Darth Vader are instead utilised by the Film-Makers, with Kylo Ren uncertain that he’s worthy enough to be compared to the mighty Sith.

In my Star Wars Retrospective, I talked about how the Star Wars films were useful lessons in how to handle disappointment. Fortunately, fans of Star Wars don’t need to prepare for disappointment today. Maybe it’s my own low expectations after viewing the prequels, maybe it’s just enchantment with the many strengths of the film, maybe it’s the charm of watching small children dressed as characters from the films play-fighting in the halls outside the theatre.

But today, I can confidently say that Star Wars is once again a byword for quality.