Prequels? What prequels? Like some kind of Jedi mind trick, it doesn’t take long for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to wipe the much maligned Episodes I-III from your memory. In fact, considering the amount of anticipation that surrounds the latest chapter in what is the biggest franchise of all time, it took all but ten minutes into the film for me to breath a massive sigh of relief and get comfortable; knowing full well that I would be in more than capable hands for the next two hours or so.
The truth is that the best thing George Lucas has ever done for Star Wars, is let it go. Having recently revisited the films for Buzz Magazine, it’s abundantly clear that whilst Lucas will always be held in such high esteem for creating this beloved universe, the films themselves work best when he has the least involvement.
Take The Empire Strikes Back for example, which is usually cited not just as one of the best Star Wars movies of all time, but one of the best movies of all time, period. When you consider that this was one of the two films in the series which wasn’t written and directed by Lucas, it’s obvious that his ideas can only take him so far. After all, in the past he has admitted himself that he can’t write.
It’s no coincidence then that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first film in the franchise to be released since Lucas sold it to Disney, is of the same high standard of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a redemptive return to form that absolutely nails it, thanks to the extraordinary talents of those in front of and behind the camera.
J.J. Abrams takes to the director’s chair this time around, having already proven his immense talent with blockbusters such as Mission: Impossibe III and, controversially, the recent Star Trek films. He’s shown us, as well as film-makers and studio executives alike, that not only can he do action really, really well, but that he can reinvent and rejuvenate big-budget franchises with confidence.
The same applies here, with Abrams – supported by one of the best writers to have ever graced the film industry, Lawrence Kasdan – taking everything we love about Star Wars, and repackaging it for a modern day audience. It’s a perfect meeting of the old and new, that feels equally nostalgic and fresh at the same time.
This is never more apparent than when the cast of the original trilogy are brought together with the fresh-faced stars of this new one. When we’re introduced to Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron for the first time, within the film’s first few moments, it’s immediately clear that the casting department on The Force Awakens deserve countless awards and medals.
Isaac oozes an old-school charisma, instantly setting him up as a potential new fan favourite – and it only gets better from there. The other heroes from the film, John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey, are introduced in short succession of each other. Through their likeability and chemistry, both actors, who are still relativley unknown, prove to be instant stars.
However, it’s arguably Adam Driver who steals the show, as the franchise’s new villain, Kylo Ren. Playing one of the most interesting characters of the story, Driver delivers a performance I would have previously thought him incapable of. Kylo Ren is a character filled with doubt, fear, sadness and anger; Driver manages to convey all this in a single stare.
When the new cast are thrown to together with the likes of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, the film fizzes with energy and excitement. Ford in particularly seems to be enjoying himself, more so than in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and it’s his Han Solo who takes centre stage. Seeing him act opposite the new generation of stars is an absolute thrill, and there’s certainly a sense of ‘torch passing’ that runs throughout the film.
The fact that J.J. Abrams is himself a fan of Star Wars, has helped him deliver what is one of the best films in the franchise to date, by giving his fellow fans exactly what they want. For example, by primarily returning to the use of practical effects, it’s as if he is trying to right the wrongs of the CGI-heavy prequels – a sequence at a cantina, which draws to mind the infamous scene from A New Hope, will leave you grinning ear to ear.
More than anything though, Abrams and Kasdan have a keen understanding of the Star Wars mythology and its storytelling. Now, there’s been a big deal made about spoilers concerning The Force Awakens – rightly so – and I wont be going into plot specifics at all. But what I can say is that all fundamental themes that make Star Wars such an iconic story, are all here in a big way; namely the battle between good and evil, and the relationships between fathers and sons.
There’s a symmetry within The Force Awakens that is in keeping with the previous two trilogies, and the film is firmly rooted in its space-opera origins. Yet, there’s a sense that this new series of films may just delve deeper into the mysticism of the Star Wars universe than we’ve ever seen before. There’s a feeling of an ever expanding mythology, especially in the way in which the film ends, which is incredibly exciting looking ahead.
As far as comebacks go, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumph. It has all the elements of what made the first film so successful nearly forty-years ago, whilst feeling fresh at the the same time. From the moment that the opening titles appear on the screen – accompanied by that infamous John Williams score – the goosebumps will appear, and they’ll stay with you right through to the end.
I laughed and I smiled from beginning to end, to the point where my face hurt long afterwards – I may have even shed a tear too, but I’m still trying to figure out whether that was from joy or sadness.
Seeing all the familiar characters and classic iconography is tingle-inducing, nostalgic euphoria quite unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced on the big screen. It isn’t just a film, it’s a piece of film history.
Star Wars is back and the force is strong with this one…