STAR WARS : THE FORCE AWAKENS
So.., it's been a long time. 32 years. My sons, aged 11 and 6, live in a world where Star Wars movies have always been historical. I remember a time before Star Wars... just. A time where there were no big sci fi movies. One of my first memories is my grandmother bringing me a Star Wars T-shirt from the local market on a summers day as a 3 year old. And, there our lives changed. I say ours, because Star Wars isn't yours or mine, it's everybody's collective mythology.
This is also the first 'genuine' new Star Wars film in 32 years. I say new because, the prequels always had a known conclusion. Here we are seeing a future. We're having new adventures. Seperated from the hands of creator George Lucas for the first time in 40 years, “The Force Awakens” is also the first sequel. The first view of the post Empire world. History doesn't stop the day the good guys win. It carries on much beyond that.
Your big question is, is this Star Wars? Yes, yes, yes.
Would you reasonably think, if you didn't know better, George Lucas has made this? Yes.
“The Force Awakens” is the best blockbuster movie of the year. It shows up 'Spectre', 'Jurassic World', and the competition for the lousily written tosh they are. It walks a delicate and insane tightrope between being faithful, and being its own version of “Star Wars”. There is fan service, and sometimes, it's slavish.. but also, it's not enthrall to respect. Big risks are taken – and they pay off. It's darker than much of Star Wars, but also, the deftness of touch, the human, personal comedy is there in spades.
Most of all, “The Force Awakens” gets it right.
Plot wise, it's a convincing and very plausable world. After all, the status at the end of the “Return Of The Jedi”, is that the Rebels has performed insurrection, toppled the government, and seem to have no plan what to put in it's place. Nature abhors a vaccuum, and where the Empire once was.. there is the First Order : a desire to impose upon chaos a structure, an order. Picking up as a belated sequel, benefiting from the passing of time, JJ Abrams has made easily the best film of his career : and if he has to fuck up a franchise, let it be “Star Trek.” It's telling that neither of the mitten-brained imbeciles Bob Orci or Damon Lindelof are anywhere near this – and that's why it's so damn good. The plot makes sense with no obvious holes ; there is a little bit of handwavey coincidence, but...
The Force moves in mysterious ways. If films didn't have coincidence and important events in them, they wouldn't be worth watching. There's plenty good in this, but..there's one rveal that, upon first viewing, seems utter nonsense - and here's the rub.
There's an implausible reveal, the kind that makes you wonder. Do you have to? Is it necessary? What does it do? On reflection, it makes sense... kind of. But at the time, it sent huge alarm bells ringing in me. The kind that indicated the films entire promise was going to be annihilated in a set of lazy, bullshit plotting and the kind of pointless homage that ruined “Spectre” and “Star Trek : Into Darkness” and “Prometheus.” It's not quite at the level of Benedict Cumberbatch telling us his name is “Khan”. This reveal has meaning and just because it isn't known to us, doesn't mean the rest of the universe doesn't know. The rest of that particular plotline is handled with a deftness of touch that is rare, and the final resolution of it comes with a tragedy higher than any previous Star Wars film. It still jolts you out of the moment, and whilst it makes sense, it still feels sort of... impossible. It's the only mis-step, as the rest of the film manages to play the events with a enthusiasm, humour, and depth modern film-makers need to study.
The new cast members, Oscar Isaacs, John Bodeyga, and Daisy Ridley all acquit themselves perfectly as fully-fledged characters. Each has their own personality, their own humour, and enough character touches to make them real. No longer ciphers acting out dialogue, they are excellent choices. And BB-8, the droid, manages to get just the right tone of smartness and irreverence. Thankfully, there's no ridiculous romance subplot shoehorned in, and each of the new leads behave as if they are more than just objects designed to propel the plot forward. Yeah, big deal. But this matters. Even the nameless extras – including three stormtroopers in small roles – have the exactly correct response that shows that this film has been thought about. A lot. Each segment is the product of an exhaustive analysis – something not enough films have – where the writers take the film and simply ask and question what it is happening and why, and does it make sense?
But it is. They feel right. The older actors from the previous movies all slot back into place perfectly. Harrison Ford gives a career best as Han Solo – proving as ever, the films he's a bad actor in are bad films with bad scripts. Give him good lines, and he's magnificent. He's never been so damn good as Han Solo – not even in the Indiana Jones film, or his subtle turn in 'Blade Runner'. He won't get an Oscar – because Star Wars only wins Oscars for spaceships – but to be honest, maybe he should.
The rest of the cast – Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew, Antony Daniels, and the returning characters (Admiral Ackbar, Nien Numb, R2D2) are all present, and correct. Carrie Fisher nails a world-weary older Princess who has been in wars for decades, whose life hasn't quite turned out the way we wanted it to... like lots of us. Mark Hamill's role indicates, with a very minimal performance, pretty much all you need to know. It's right.
On an action front, the film lacks the sense of incredible visual majesty from any of the Lucas films. But then again, we've seen so much since 1977, that that sense of visual majesty can't really be recaptured. JJ comes close, and there's some great shots in here, but it lacks the sense of breathtaking newness. Then again, it's been 35 years since I felt 7, and I doubt any film can do that for me again. But then again, it's been 32 years since there was a Star Wars film this good. “Revenge Of The Sith” is almost as good. Almost. It's a smart blockbuster, superior in every way to most major franchises current positions, with a deftness of touch, humour, and spectacle – as well as a high stakes sense of danger, and loss. The major characters are well enough sketched to be real.. even the smaller roles – nameless stormtroopers, for one – are given a reality, a humanity, that simply works.
But here's the test? Is it a Star Wars film. Oh yes. And you should love it. Imagine, if you will, seeing this film as a kid. The way many of us saw Star Wars as kids. You would fall in love again.
There's a sense of rediscovery of – the sense of a 'first time'. My children will have a world where they always make Star Wars films. He will never know a world where there were only ever three – and no new films in sight, ever. Suddenly, and again, Star Wars has a future, and it's magnificent.
“Chewie, we're home.”