Have you seen the new “Star Wars” yet? No. Go see it. Go see it now. Have you seen it yet? GO!
Ahem. Now that I’ve got the enthusiastic part of the review out of the way, let me tell you more calmly as to why you should go and see this film. And most importantly, let me do this without giving away any crucial plot points whatsoever. There are a few details included below which aren’t in the trailers, but they’re only minor ones and shouldn’t give away any of the thrills or surprises of the film itself.
A spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Like many Ginger Nutters, I grew up with Star Wars, whether watching the films or reading the books. Like many of you I’m sure, I was bitterly disappointed with “The Phantom Menace”. Episodes two and three were a little better, but nowhere near the standard I was hoping for from Mr Lucas.
And yet, episode seven fulfilled almost every criteria I had for the film, the main one being: it didn’t suck. Let me break it down into two elements: new things that Abrams got right, and old things that he didn’t mess up.
New things he got right
First off, let’s look at the main characters. The two (new) main protagonists are a black man and a woman. Only the whole film goes by without anyone mentioning these two facts. The black man isn’t a token character and, while he has some comedy moments, nor is he the light relief. He has depth and purpose. In addition, his background (can’t say – spoilers!) focuses on a group that has been generally overlooked in the Star Wars mythology. The woman is very competent and never once has to justify her ability to do anything (I’m thinking Abram’s previous leading lady, Uhura in “Star Trek: Into Darkness” who pretty much had to argue with Spock to be allowed to do her own job). It might be a mild spoiler to say that she does get captured at one point (although who didn’t see that coming for at least one of the protagonists?) and I drew a breath to prepare myself for the inevitable rescue scene. Nope: she pretty much gets out of it herself, and no one is surprised at this or complements her on being a woman able to look after herself.
The story kicks off several years after the end of episode six, “Return of the Jedi”, and it’s both beautiful and subtle to watch how Abrams deals with the fall out. People making their homes in abandoned spaceships and crashed war vehicles was just a genius touch. But that’s what is at the heart of this film: the technology and the politics may have moved on, but the people and the things that matter are still going.
Personally, I always think that the best CGI is the type you don’t notice. It blended in so well in episode seven that particularly in the fast-paced action scenes, I couldn’t tell CGI from hand-built model. Maybe greater film buffs than I could comment further on this subject, but I certainly found that Lucas’ prequels overused CGI to the point where it spoilt the films and detracted from the audience’s absorption into the story. To my mind, Abrams struck a good balance between spectacle and realism in this film. When he did a crowd scene, it looked like a crowd, not like a computer’s representation of what a crowd would look like.
Old things he didn’t get wrong
Han. Chewie. Leia. They were spot on. The banter was still there, as was the chemistry. They looked like characters who have known each other for ages, had their ups and downs. Their timelines corresponded with their ages and I could easily imagine how they’d ended up where they were. Their characters formed a natural part of the story without feeling like they’d been wedged in there just for the sake of it.
There are also a lot of little nods to the old films in episode seven that don’t feel like they’ve been shoe-horned in. For example, the display on the goggles that Rey looks through and the chess set from “A New Hope”. Going back to the idea of CGI versus hand-built props, in one crowd scene I saw some creatures that looked like they had walked out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. It gave the characters in those scenes a screen presence that would have been lacking if they were completely CGI, and for me that counted for a lot.
Abrams also managed to get the balance of good and evil right. I won’t say how (no spoilers!) but the story has it so that Leia and those who follow her are once again the ones being the attacked, they are the underdogs, despite their huge triumph at the end of episode six. The two sides also had a very similar look to the previous films, but somehow updated. The stormtroopers looked the same, but the command uniforms had changed. It was all the same, and yet somehow different and fresh.
Sure there are some niggles though, right?
Well, sure. I’m certain there is stuff in the new film that will annoy people. For me, I’m pretty sure that people learning about the Force shouldn’t get so good so quickly without any training whatsoever, given that it took Luke three films to master it with the help of Obi Wan and Yoda. But then, this film is called “The Force Awakens” and maybe it’s a plot point for a later film. I’m willing to cut Abrams some slack given how well he’s done otherwise, and it’s certainly not enough of a flaw to put me off seeing future films.
I’d also say that I could see the main plot twists and revelations coming a mile off, but then Star Wars was always meant to be assessable to a younger audience. It wasn’t supposed to be a thinking film; it’s a good, old fashioned, good versus evil, family action film, and that’s as true with episode seven as it was with the other films.
This film doesn’t have anything groundbreaking in it in relation to either plot or in special effects, but in fairness that’s not what we’re looking for in this movie. We just want to spend time with old friends and make new ones. And that’s what we get, in abundance.
Well done, Abrams. You’ve done us proud.
Felt like a reboot but not – all characters still there but reset and catch up without reintroduction.