I just got home from seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (gonna call it TFA from here on) and I’m absolutely buzzing so it’s review time!
SPOILERS AFTER THE BREAK! DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT!
Nano-review: this film is fucking awesome! GO AND SEE IT NOW!
Years ago, I wrote a fanfic that continued the SW saga after Return Of The Jedi. It involved an estranged Han and Leia, their errant Jedi progeny and a brooding, isolated Luke. It really wasn’t very good. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams didn’t base TFA on my fanfic. OR DID HE? (He didnt.)
Instead, TFA chronicles a series of parallel journeys. One of these is of a Stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega) who gains a conscience just before his rocking new first name and runs off from the new baddies, The First Order.
In a series of highly unlikely coincidences (which probably aren’t of course, since The Force works in mysterious ways) he meets dashing resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), his cute droid BB-8 (BB-8) and action woman Rey (Daisy Ridley).
We quickly lose Poe so the journey is really Rey and Finn. He “rescues” her, she rescues him, he assumes she is a damsel in distress, she is most definitely not. Here, there’s some lovely chemistry between the characters and it’s expertly explored by Abram’s deft emotional touch. Yes, he retains Lucas’ original pulpy, Flash Gordon roots, there’s plenty of pure swashbuckling and blaster rounds. But Abrams has a lighter touch with emotions than Lucas and so we witness a believable start to what is surely going to be a pivotal friendship/romance.
If TFA was a Trek film, it would be Generations. What we are getting is a handover from the old to the new, from the characters we loved thirty-eight years ago to new, shiny younglings with the youth required of what are, in essence, action films.
This handover left me torn. Sometimes, the old associations were too much and the history of it all just made me cry. The first time we see Han and Chewie was one of those times. They’ve just scooped up the Millennium Falcon which contains Rey, Finn and BB-8 and when they step onboard and Han says, “Chewie, we’re home,” well… something popped in my chest. For that second, I was transported back to being eleven years old, sitting in the ABC Cinema on East Street, Derby. It was magical and brutal.
Other times… well, I kind of wished this was more First Contact than Generations. The new cast is so wonderful, the writing and narrative so beautifully tight that I sometimes didn’t want there to be a weight of old Star Wars characters around. And as soon as I type that, I regret it and it looks like I’m being mean. I LOVE those characters. Really, I do. But I did sometimes want this to be un-related stories set in the same universe.
Or do I? I don’t fucking know. Because my current fave character is Kylo Ren, the new big bad and Han and Leia’s prodigal son (and then some). How would he be so evil if we didn’t have his history, his lineage to reference? And the final confrontation, between him and his Dad on the bridge… When that light saber exploded through Han’s back, a little part of me died. It means so much precisely because of the weight Solo has as a character and Abrams, motherfucker that he is, knows that; uses that against us, shredding our hearts. I also have to say, in a stellar (heh) cast, with zero zeroes, Adam Driver is creepily brilliant as Ren. The interrogation scene with Rey is as close to Marathon Man as you can get with a 12A certificate. Driver is compulsively, horribly fascinating, particularly when he’s struggling against Rey’s emerging Force powers.
As the film drew to its action climax, I was actually gripped. There were X Wings and Tie Fighters zooming around the target and I cared. There was a huge amount of whizz-bangery CGI explosion stuff going on and I cared. I don’t know why but Abrams can pull this off, as he did with his Trek reboots, whereas Whedon can’t. When his big action climaxes start, I get bored. TFA never had me switching off.
Then, after the big action set-piece, Abrams treats us to the small action showdown; Ren versus Finn and then Rey. (Yes, I know the whole planet is blowing up, but that just makes it more exciting, shhh, you spoilsports!) Both Boyega and Ridley perform grandly in the fight scenes, the choreography is spot on: raw, brutal and genuinely nasty. Gouge away! Their effort, contrasted with Driver’s initially smug response makes for a fight with actual tension and development.
AND THEN when we’re wrung out and on the fucking ropes… there’s more. There’s the coda. Rey takes the MFing MF to find Luke and, apparently, he’s hiding away in the Hebrides in some ancient Gnostic chapel. This moment is startling because it’s real and true and reverse-true. Bear in mind, Rey is holding out Luke’s old saber. She’s literally passing him the baton, getting him back in the fight. But in terms of the story universe, this scene is when Luke acknowledges Rey in the story and hands over to her. So, that light saber… it’s being handed both ways simultaneously. The perfect ending.
TFA doesn’t tie everything down. It lays out clues and red-herrings with Christie-like glee. How is Finn so good with a light saber? I mean, he holds his own against a strong, adept Sith! Could he be related to some old-school, bald-headed black Jedi? Where does all of Rey’s knowledge come from? Is it just The Force or… maybe… What happened to Poe Dameron for most of the film? Just who is Snoke? And is he really a giant or actually snack-sized like baby Groot?
I want to see this film again. I need to see this film again. With TFA, Abrams has now got TWO, that’s TWO massively-successful SF reboots under his belt. And that’s both creatively and financially. Who could have predicted that both Star Trek and Star Wars would both find fresh, new life with the same director. Perhaps we should bung him Doctor Who next, eh?