Thirty two years after Darth Vader’s funeral pyre was lit, we get to find out what follows ‘Happily Ever After’ as we return to a galaxy, far, far away.
It was with a slight sense of trepidation that I sat down to watch the long awaited Episode VII. There’s something slightly unsettling about characters you love coming back for more adventures; especially after so long. It’s like watching a beloved wrestler or MMA fighter come out of retirement for one last bout. Is it going to be an embarrassing shamble that will tarnish a legacy you’ve held dear for many years? And that, more than anything, is the bizarre thing about watching The Force Awakens. For the first time since Return of the Jedi hit cinemas, we don’t know where Star Wars is going. Even if we didn’t like what we saw in the prequels, we still knew where events were headed.
Faced with this great unknown, there were so many pitfalls that VII could have stumbled into. I am thankful to report that Disney brand Star Wars avoids any of significance. With a fan base that has a borderline religious reverence for the franchise, the inclusion of familiar elements is a smart move. This means that there is indeed a space battle, a Lightsaber duel and all other things that people expect of a Star Wars instalment. The returning characters from the original trilogy feel like the same characters, even taking into account the changes they’ve undergone in the three decades that happened off screen. George Lucas’s clunky dialogue and direction have been replaced by competent versions. Watching this film gave me the same feeling I got back when I watched the original trilogy for the first time.
However, the second, less obvious pitfall the film could have fallen into was to try and coast on the glory of the original trilogy. They have Mark Hamill and co back; they could have made the mistake of relying on this.
They didn’t. The film focuses on the new main characters; Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren and is all the stronger for it. And while it is possible to match them up to their counterparts from the original trilogy (Rey is Luke, Finn is Han, Poe is Leia and, obviously, Kylo Ren is Vader), you do them a disservice by doing so. While they share the same narrative role as their predecessors, they are unique, relatable characters in their own right. For example, while Kylo Ren styles himself after Darth Vader the two couldn’t be more different. While Ren is strong in the Force, he isn’t fully trained, throws tantrums rather than Vader’s clinically focused rage and his efforts to emulate Vader show that he doesn’t understand his idol’s motivations at all.
The film’s ending left a lot of questions unanswered, which bothered me until I realised that this was entirely the point. As mentioned above, it takes some getting used to, not knowing where Star Wars is going. But of course, with Episode VIII coming along in a few years, we’ll simply have to wait and see.
The Force Awakens manages to hit that sweet spot where it has plenty of elements of the original films while still moving into new and exciting territory. It’s not perfect; R2 D2 conveniently reactivating at just the moment it was needed was a bit contrived. Also, after an entire film revolving around finding him, Luke’s appearance amounts to nothing more than a cameo. Still, these are minor grumbles about a film that ranks comfortably amongst the greatest sci-fi films ever made.
Director: J.J Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow
Running Time: 136 minutes
Release date: 17th December 2015