Whenever someone approaches a franchise and tries to reboot it for a new era it is safe to say everyone gets a bit nervous. It is a bit like when an estranged uncle rocks up at a family gathering and insists on picking up a new born child. Will he screw this up? Who does he think he is? Can’t he leave it alone? Is someone going to get hurt?! These are all questions I found myself asking J. J. Abrams (not to his knowledge) when he was appointed director of the latest film in what has to be one of the most renowned film franchises of all time.
But, as it turns out, Uncle J.J is… awesome.
The new Star Wars film could have easily gone very badly – there was the huge expectation to live up to, conflicting needs to satisfy both old fans and new crowds who had never seen the previous ones plus the potentially ruinously large budget and the awkward attempts to ‘bring back’ the exact characters and actors from the previous films. I, like many others, trudged out to the 00:01 showing with a fizzling level of cynicism: how could they casually drop 73-year-old Harrison Ford in as an aging Han Solo without it seeming forced (excuse the pun)? How could the two relatively unknown new actors possibly recreate the magic of the original trilogy when it was out before they were even born? Would there be incest-y bits again?! (Just to be clear – that isn’t a hopeful tone).
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, however, was everything it needed to be and more. It managed to work the perfect balance between bringing Star Wars into a new age and to a new audience, whilst steeping the film in the traditional themes of the franchise. The script was sharp and, perhaps most surprisingly, seriously funny. Moreover, there were plenty of jokes for those who aren’t well-acquainted with Star Wars and are being dragged along by small children or hardcore fans.
The plot was well continued from the previous films and the reintroduction of Han Solo, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) wasn’t only pulled off – but it actually made sense. Ford’s performance was exceptionally good, proving time has only sharpened his talent and seeing him charging around with Chewbacca brought some warm feelings of nostalgia. Fisher was also decent – although her inability to move 90% of her face did slightly hinder her deliverance of emotions other than ‘slightly pouty and shocked’.
The new characters of Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) were paramount to the success of bringing new elements to the film. Rey made an epic heroine as a young girl who is primarily strong, intelligent and, at least for this first film, prioritising heroic ambitions over romance. Meanwhile, the character of Finn presents some noticeably fresh concepts: a self-conscious hero who is filled with concerns around his moments of cowardice, whilst simultaneously struggling against his raising as a Storm Trooper. That’s right – a Storm Trooper with feelings. Boyega did an excellent job of delivering funny lines and keeping his character one of the most likeable, despite his moments of weakness. Sadly, Ridley was more of a slow burner and some gags were delivered quite poorly. She definitely warmed up as the film went on though and makes an undeniably great heroine. The dynamic between these two was pretty perfect.
I came to the conclusion that Adam Driver, meanwhile, has wasted any part of his career where he hasn’t been playing a bad guy. If there is one thing that puts me off a film it is a one-dimensional villain, but Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren was mesmerising. He was evil and powerful and yet simultaneously conflicted. He successfully manages to portray what the struggle between the light and the dark side looks like and it is actually highly emotional – particularly for Star Wars fans who will be seeing the overt echoes of Anakin/Darth Vader. I found myself in the awkward situation of simultaneously wanting him to commit to being evil and yet not wanting him to die. Does this mean I’ve also been seduced by the dark side?!
Overshadowing all these performances, however, was one character in particular: BB8 (the new droid). Who seemed to be the result of a scientific experiment where they found the essence of cuteness with babies cuddling puppies and kittens and painted Wall-E with it. If someone starts a kick-starter to fund a fully functioning, life-size one of these then I will sell most of my organs to contribute, because BB8 is so adorable he makes R2-D2 look like The Terminator.
I’m sure some will complain about how many elements The Force Awakens has in common with the other films. It might as well have been called A New Hope 2. We also find ourselves on what feels like Death Star number 9, with the same family tree continuing to make the same mistakes. But is this not what Star Wars has always been about? This is how the tradition of the films lives on in The Force Awakens and why I feel even super-fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed. These echoing themes remind us that The Force Awakens is most definitely a continuation of the original films and it pays an honourable homage to the work that has paved the way.