After what seems like a long, long wait, it’s finally here – Star Wars: The Force Awakens has opened in cinemas across Singapore. Hype for the first Star Wars movie since Disney took over the reigns from George Lucas is at fever pitch, but with so much excitement surrounding it, does the movie hold up? Here’s our spoiler-free look.
I’m glad to say that for the most part, it does. As you’ve seen in our first spoiler-free review, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. As a new instalment in the series, it definitely does what it sets out to do (like make everyone forget Episodes 1-3 and fall in love with Star Wars again), and is worth watching. There’s enough in it to please most old-school fans, while setting up a whole new side of the galaxy for new fans to explore.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows a new generation in the Star Wars universe. The old guard – Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Luke – all make their presence (or absence) felt, but it’s the new guard – Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac); joined by the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – that are key in this new adventure. The paths of old and new characters collide in their quest for BB-8, the droid who holds part of a map that leads to something very important. The main thrust of the plot is pretty clear from the crawler text, but I’ll just leave that for you to figure out.
Part of the thrill is also seeing the new characters accept the mantle as heroes for our generation. Watching Rey, Finn and Poe interact is a joy – these are amazing, lovable characters that you will root for from the beginning, and the movie is much stronger for it. While I cheered when they introduced the old favourites, I also found myself rooting for the new ones very easily. Boyega, Ridley and Isaac fill each character with charm and nuance that it’s safe to say that the franchise is in good hands when it comes to the actors.
Driver himself manages to draw a sense of pathos in his depiction of Kylo Ren. While this new villain might not inspire the same awe as Star Wars’ legion of impressive bad guys, Driver summons up enough to make Kylo Ren something to look forward to in future instalments.
As for the dialogue, the banter in The Force Awakens can definitely hold its own against the original trilogy – Boyega’s Finn gets some especially good lines. While the actors definitely proved themselves, a good actor can only do so much with bad dialogue (as proven by Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman in Episodes 1 to 3). Thankfully, the lines in Episode 7 are definitely less heavy-handed than the prequels, and allow the actors a wide range of emotion. JJ Abrams is pretty great at snappy dialogue and character moments, and there were genuine laugh out loud moments, as well as nostalgic and emotional one-two punches.
Yes, those looking for a strong dose of nostalgia will get it in spades – director JJ Abrams throws in all sorts of callbacks to the original trilogy that any longtime fan will identify. For example, Han Solo’s back in all his scoundrel-ly goodness, and it looks like getting scriptwriter Lawrence Kasdan back to help with their voices has helped smoothen the handing over of the torch, they pretty much are the characters we know and love – it really feels like ‘We’re home’. However, the nostalgia that JJ Abrams weaves into the movie is a double-edged sword, and certain story beats end up seeming too familiar. Whether it’s the reluctant hero or how a droid needs to perform the task of delivering the message, on closer inspection it’s almost as if Abrams is trying to reboot the Star Wars universe by way of a continuation.
If you’re afraid that new director JJ Abrams is about to make new Star Wars into nu-Wars the same way he created nu-Trek, well … there is good news and bad news. Abrams is clearly such a fan of the original trilogy that he’s managed to imbue The Force Awakens with the same sense of Star Wars-iness as the originals. From the use of practical effects (absolutely amazing, yet jerky enough make you know it’s real) to the odd aliens (Lupita Nyong’o’s computer generated Maz Kanata is just lovely) and planet-scapes, it feels like we’re right back where we stopped at Episode 6.
However, while The Force Awakens shows off JJ Abrams’ strengths, it is also unable to hide his weaknesses. For all the flak we give George Lucas and his plots and dialogue, he was a masterful world builder. This movie stumbles most when Abrams, being Abrams, focuses more on getting things from point A to point B as excitingly as possible, hand waving in a reason without really spending time to carefully connect the dots. This results in a very shiny and attractive universe, but one which might turn out to be ultimately hollow, especially when put under the great scrutiny of long-time fans (something that the Star Wars Universe has a LOT of).
We’ve seen how JJ discards aspects of Star Trek quite happily (it being an alternate universe, after all), but The Force Awakens is a direct continuation of Episodes 4-6 (and 1-3), and it can be hard to reconcile the differences between the movies, even with the intervening decades. Whether it’s odd scientific inconsistencies (almost midichlorian-level bad) or weird deus ex machina, some plot points of Star Wars: The Force Awakens won’t hold up to any sort of serious scrutiny.
Good thing then that there’s just so much going on. From spacefights to gunbattles to high adventure, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has it in spades, and it’s a rollicking thrill ride from start to finish. Apart from a slight lull in the final third, Abrams shows great urgency in ushering us from point to point, while doing just enough to make sure we grasp what’s going on.
For better or for worse, this is Star Wars right now: Entertaining lines, great characters. A decent plot, and some logical inconsistencies and timey-wimey hand-waving. A place where both old and new meet, albeit a little uneasily. And let’s not forget that Rian Johnson of Looper fame will be both writing and directing the Episode VIII – it only looks like the Force will continue to get stronger.
All in, Star Wars: The Force Awakens might not be a classic, but it is a good film. You know, I’m okay with that – this is light-years ahead of Episodes I-III as a whole, and while the original series is a tough standard to beat, it’s clear that Abrams tried shooting for the stars.
He just lacked any sort of true star-killing power.