Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Star Wars. For me, it’s more than a mere movie franchise. It’s a story of which I never tire and one that I adore in ways incomparable to any other medium of entertainment about which I am passionate. First as a trilogy, then as a six episode epic. And now it begins its evolution into an ennead. Yes, The Force Awakens is finally upon us and this is the introduction to a review which a few short years ago I never would have imagined I’d be writing.
Rest assured, I will not ruin the events of this film for those of you who have yet to see it. I think it’s important to experience its specifics for the first time as they unfold in front of you on the screen. I’ll draft a more detailed discussion at a later date, but for now I’m going to steer clear of spoilers and try to keep things as succinct as possible.
A lot of my criticisms may be vague because I can’t get into the particular plot points to which they pertain without revealing too much. Right now, I’m still digesting what I saw, which means that these are all still very much my initial thoughts and are subject to change, but I’m afraid I did have a number of issues with the narrative. The Force Awakens is far from perfect, but let’s look at its positives first.
This film is gorgeous. From a purely aesthetical standpoint, it’s flawless. The cinematography and special effects are simply superb. Everything from aerial dogfights to alien landscapes to travelling though hyperspace looks absolutely amazing. Abrams has also delivered on his promise of relying heavily on practical sets and effects, which definitely helps with the realism of the environments. There’s obviously a lot of CGI thrown in too, but if it can be built rather than artificially rendered, then it probably is.
Just as impressive are the characters, both old and new. With one significant exception, I found the performances of all of the main cast members to be impeccable. Harrison Ford slips back into Han’s shoes seamlessly, delivering the perfect balance of seasoned savant and old-school scoundrel. This definitely feels like the same smuggler-turned-hero who’s been my very favourite fictional character since childhood and Ford is an absolute delight from the moment he makes his debut.
The same is true of Chewie. It seems strange to say about someone whose only means of communication is Shyriiwook, but there appears to be a wiser aura surrounding the lovable walking carpet this time around. He’s still as fun and fearless as ever though and his affectionate friendship with Han is a highlight once again.
Carrie Fisher also impresses when she reappears as Leia. This eccentric actress often leaves me laughing with her quirky characteristics in interviews, but she still has what it takes to excel on the big screen too. There’s a sense of gravitas to the Alderaanian princess that suits her status here. She may be a little mellower and more mature, but it feels like a very natural evolution of the Leia we remember and Fisher is on fine form throughout.
As great as all of the returning characters are though, it’s newcomer Daisy Ridley that steals the show. For all of my issues with this film, I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved Rey. Again, it’s difficult to go into too much detail as to why without veering into spoiler territory, but she is an exceptionally strong and charismatic character for whom it is surely impossible not to feel affection. Ridley is an outstanding actress and Rey is without a doubt a protagonist I can get behind going forward.
She has great chemistry with John Boyega’s Finn as well, which is a relief, because this entire movie may have fallen flat if the dynamic between these two didn’t work. Boyega is another impressive addition to the universe, endowing Finn with a marvellous amount of valour and wit which works well. He’s certainly the most unique hero the series has ever seen and enjoys some brilliant banter with Poe Dameron.
Oscar Isaac is an incredible actor. That was true long before he arrived in a galaxy far, far away, his work here only accentuates the fact. X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron is instantly likable and has the potential to become one of the best characters Star Wars has ever seen. It’s only a pity that his part isn’t as pronounced as it could have been, but I’m more than happy to have him on board all the same.
Surprisingly enough, maybe the most entertaining new fixture is the already well-renowned rollerball, BB-8. In all honesty, I was expecting to be annoyed by this droid. I had dismissed it as nothing more than a childish mascot unnecessarily added to shift merchandise. I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. BB-8 is an absolute blast. Anyone who claims that they weren’t won over by the little spherical astromech unit is either lying or illogical.
With all of the above working so well, you might be wondering what it is about this film with which I have a problem. Well, while we’re on the topic of characters, one of my greatest gripes with The Force Awakens is its antagonist, Kylo Ren. I did not like him as a villain. At all. He starts out fine, being afforded a terrific introduction that makes him seem extremely unnerving. But as the mystery surrounding him unravels, so does his air of intimidation. By the end, I felt he came across as nothing more than an angst-ridden, inelegant individual prone to throwing tantrums when things don’t go his way and I don’t think Adam Driver was very well cast in the role.
So where else did the film fall short? Well, most significantly with its story, which I won’t get into here. However, it’s all very familiar. Star Wars “rhymes”, I get that. It comes from the mouth of George Lucas himself, a man who – despite popular public opinion – I respect for creating this universe in the first place. So I take my hat off to J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy for attempting to honour his assertions. But, as Abrams has shown us in the recent past, there is a thin line between homage and rehash and I still can’t decide how finely this film toes it.
That’s all I dare say on the matter for the moment, but another problem I had with the plot was its predictability. I found that the most surprising thing about the story was how unsurprising it was. I knew little to nothing about it going in, other than whatever was incorporated into the promo material, but I didn’t find it difficult to foresee its outcome as it unfolded. The fact that it didn’t subvert my expectations in any significant way was disappointing.
And maybe it wouldn’t have been were it not for a couple of very specific narrative decisions that didn’t sit well with me. Even a few tiny amendments to the moments in question might have won me around, but as they are, I don’t know if I can ever be satisfied with them, which is something that really bothers me.
The pacing wasn’t the best either. This movie moves fast. Perhaps faster than any of its predecessors and that is not always a good thing. There could’ve been some more quiet moments to better build suspense. The intense speed at which things develop also has an adverse impact on the action at times, particularly in the final act. The climactic battle begins before you even realise the movie has reached its peak and that takes away from the tension. Although, Rey’s role in the climax was riveting, so thankfully that added some extra weight to the proceedings.
I don’t think “disappointing” is the word I would use to describe The Force Awakens as a whole. Disheartening may be better. I wasn’t necessarily expecting more from it, just hoping for something different. It’s nowhere near as good as the original trilogy and that’s fine. Was there ever really any chance that it could be? But I won’t say that it’s better than the prequels either. Not yet.
The prequels were in the unique position of being missing parts of the puzzle and, as such, couldn’t affect the outcome of Return of the Jedi. Whereas this obviously does and I’m not yet inclined to say that it was a smart move. I need more time and a few more viewings before I can decide where this ranks in relation to its peers. I might even have to wait until Episode IX arrives to make an informed decision as to whether I think things should have ended on Endor.
Right now though, I’m too conflicted to declare The Force Awakens a win. It’s beautiful to look at and does well by bringing in the tremendous talents of Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. It might excite you, it will make you laugh and if you’re as invested in Star Wars as profoundly as I am, then it could even make you cry. But as of this moment, I can neither state that I loved nor hated it due to the nature of its narrative. I’m dying to delve into more specific details, but I’ll save that for later and end by saying may the Force be with the franchise going forward.
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