STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, the movie event of the decade, is every bit as sensational as you’d hoped for.
Wow. It is so rare that a movie that’s been as hyped as much as this one has, lives up to expectations but STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS completely does and as a cinematic experience, it’s just something you can’t miss. Thanks to superstar director J.J. Abrams, our return to that galaxy, far, far away results in 135 minutes of utter joy.
In the time it’s taken me to write this post, since seeing the movie on the first day of its UK release (and again five days later), it has also already grossed enough to get inside the top 10 movies of all time with $1 billion and counting. But more than that, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS seems to have turned back the clock for many people (including me) to remember just how glorious it was when we first saw George Lucas’s original film and the two brilliant sequels that followed.
Abrams, along with his fellow screenwriters Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire are among his credits) and Lawrence Kasdan (where do you start?! Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and The Big Chill to name 3, as well as The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) have deftly mixed the iconic past, in the form of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, with the spirited new kids on the block – Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
Right from the opening scenes on the desert planet Jakku, when we’re introduced to Max von Sydow’s wise elder Lor San Tekka and Oscar Isaac’s dashing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, you just know it’s going to be great – there’s a daring mission being undertaken, a cute little droid called BB-8 entrusted with a vital piece of the puzzle and all that’s at stake is the freedom of the galaxy. OK! We also hear the word that’s always been at the very heart of all these stories to date, family. That’s the main drive of this new chapter too, as we’re taken on an ultimately heartbreaking journey to discover the connections between the old characters and the new.
Abrams, working with pals of old including director of photography Dan Mindel, costume designer Michael Kaplan and editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, has managed to create a niftily-paced, emotional adventure that signals a rapturous return to the glory days of the original three movies (otherwise known as episodes 4, 5 & 6), rather than the effects-laden prequels. He’s very much a film-maker that likes to work ‘in camera’ (like the superb Christopher Nolan) and so here we see real explosions, animatronic puppets, and rough n’ ready environments. It’s delightful, old-school cinema.
Of course, I can’t say anything about the story beyond that setup, because STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is so brilliant if you get to witness it without too much foreknowledge. How Abrams and Disney quite managed to keep some of the plot points of the film secret really is a testament to not only them but the love of Star Wars fans around the world who wanted to experience this new chapter afresh.
What I can talk about are the performances of the newcomers – the absolute stand-out for me is Adam Driver. I’ve admired his work for a while now in movies like Inside Llewyn Davis, This is Where I Leave You and While We’re Young. He’s sort of cast as the villain here but there is so much more to his character Kylo Ren than that; it’s deeper, darker and more complex than him just being the baddie and Driver, an immensely subtle, focused actor is quite outstanding. I also thought complete unknown Daisy Ridley as Rey, the film’s lead was wonderfully sparky and spirited. As someone who you imagine will be locked in a battle with Driver’s Ren in the next two movies, this is a tantalising prospect from the buzz that comes off their scenes together.
And then, of course, there’s Harrison Ford, whose return to the role of Han Solo (surely vying with Indiana Jones as one of the most enjoyable and iconic screen characters ever) is just fantastic. His dynamic with both Ridley and particularly John Boyega, who plays disillusioned stormtrooper termed by Solo as ‘Big Deal’, is a delight. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill make their presence felt too but it’s Ford, along with the ever-dependable Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, who provides genuine heart to the proceedings.
Elsewhere, the estimable John Williams provides another cracking score, Domhnall Gleeson is a great, slicked-back, malevolent General Hux and Lupita Nyong’o delivers a nice line in sassy with space pirate Maz Kanata. With Abrams staying on as executive producer for episodes VIII and IX, directed by Rian Johnson (the awesome Brick and pretty funky Looper) and Colin Trevorrow (two words – Jurassic World!) respectively, we can certainly look forward to what’s coming next after this instalment.
All in all it’s a sensational way to finish off this – or any other – movie-going year so get yourself down to the nearest cinema and “May the Force be with you”!