Wallowing in a sea of four and five star reviews more or less right across the board, The Force Awakens certainly appears to have caught the imagination of critics and the film going public alike.
In fairness, it didn’t have much of an act to live up to when you consider the three most recent outings of this long running franchise.
My particular screening was ‘enhanced’ somewhat – if indeed that is the correct term – by a three year old kid sat behind me along with his Dad, inquiring every couple of minutes as to what everything and everyone was and what it all meant.
Irritating? Surprisingly not.
How much of his Dad’s impressive Star Wars knowledge actually stuck with the kid is hard to say, but it’s also fairly irrelevant, for this little lad’s excited innocence reminded me that The Force Awakens‘ director J.J. Abrams here had the potentially precarious job of making a much loved film concept tick enough boxes to not only appeal to its traditional core fan base, but simultaneously appeal to a whole new audience, and in fairness, Abrams has made a decent fist of it.
The introduction of new characters that don’t physically enrage the general public is always a good sign and in Rey (the excellent Daisy Ridley), Finn (the equally excellent John Boyega) and BB-8 (a bleeping R2-D2 for a new generation), Abrams has got it spot on. Rey is clearly going to develop into the next great hope for the resistance and the concept of Finn’s storm trooper character developing a conscience, reneging upon his dark duties in favour of joining the good guys, is a particularly nice touch. It’s also good to see Oscar Isaac landing a plum role as ace pilot Poe Dameron; just desserts for what has been an exceptional recent past for this most adaptable of actors following excellent work in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year.
Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3-PO, R2-D2 and latterly Luke Skywalker all also join the party, as do a number of familiar looking ‘creatures’ that if I was a more committed anorak, I could probably name for you, but I’m not, so I can’t – and I’m actually quite relieved about that.
The effects are predictably dazzling but whereas previous Star Wars outings were rather too reliant upon these at the expense of proper character development and narrative, The Force Awakens feels like an altogether different beast; a film that’s altogether more in touch with its human side. It’s grittier and far more engaging than any of its three most recent predecessors, combining a strong sense of characterisation with its obligatory CGi elements reassuringly well.
If there is a criticism, the portrayal of the ‘dark side’ is on balance a little underwhelming, jumping from the convincing: Significant Third Reich-inspired imagery and Storm Trooper death squads, to the less so: the rather pale and unconvincing Darth Vader-lite – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who, as far as I could tell, possessed little of the ominous presence and intimidating nature of his be-masked predecessor.
Perhaps that’s the point though? Kylo Ren’s an emotionally torn character, wrestling with his conscience and his heart’s not properly in it? But then again, wasn’t Vader similarly conflicted?
I’m probably reading too much into all of this. We’ll move on…
Much like the original Star Wars – and I could well be hunted down and dispatched accordingly for suggesting this – The Force Awakens is not perfect, but far from considering this as just a bit of throw-away sci-fi nonsense, it’s actually left me looking forward to watching the new trilogy develop, and with a little luck that will be with Abrams at the helm for its entirety.
He deserves that chance and the opportunity, like George Lucas before him, to build his own Star Wars dynasty.
The building blocks with which to do so, certainly appear to be in place.