Spoiler-Free Review: Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

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In 1977, a certain little film called Star Wars came out that would spawn one of the biggest movie franchises history has ever seen. After three hugely successful entries culminating in 1983, the world would then have to wait until 1999 for a brand new trilogy of prequels telling the story of Darth Vader’s rise to the dark side. The Phantom Menace cleaned up at the box office but ultimately left fans hollow, and unfortunately Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith didn’t do much to aid the cause either, despite having some fleeting glimmers of promise. To say the franchise had ended its cinematic journey on a bit of an anti-climax would be an understatement, and as a result the series lay dormant for 10 long years…

However, against all of the odds, there has been an awakening. The question on everybody’s lips though: is the Force finally strong again with this one?

Before we begin, let me just say this – blimey, trying to write a spoiler-free review for The Force Awakens isn’t easy! There’s so much to talk about, but sadly saying too much would ruin the experience for those of you who haven’t seen it yet – and trust me when I say this is a film you want to go into as blindly as possible. I promise to tread very carefully in what I discuss, though if you want to be completely safe, you’re probably best just to stop reading this now and get yourself to a cinema instead…

Where to start then? Well, of all the Star Wars films I’ve seen, this is most definitely the seventh. The trailers and the posters may omit it but, yes, the words “Episode VII” do indeed pop up in the opening title crawl… and gosh, even saying that feels like a spoiler. Not that it should – you all knew there’d be one, right? Wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without it. Nor without John Williams’ exhilarating theme tune. It hits you with nostalgia right from the word go, and it’s one of the best opening title crawls from any of the saga, too. From the first four words alone, you know exactly what the film is going to be about and where it’s heading. No bumf, no messing. Excellent stuff.

Let’s talk about the new characters a bit, shall we? They’re on the poster, so I think that’s fair game. First up is John Boyega as Finn, a Stormtrooper who doesn’t want to be a Stormtrooper any more so he legs it in search of a new, more peaceful life. He’s a pretty likeable character and he gets all of the funniest lines – which is another point worth making about The Force Awakens, actually. It’s a genuinely witty film, with plenty of moments that will have you chuckling in your seat. And not in a stupid Jar Jar Binks sort of way, either.

It’s not long until Finn bumps into another new character, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley (what a name!). A scavenger from the desert planet Jakku, she spends her days swapping scrap for sustenance. She’s definitely one of the film’s most intriguing protagonists, acted brilliantly and blessed with an arc that develops in exciting and unexpected ways as the story goes on. For various reasons explained at the beginning of the film, Rey is also accompanied on her travels by this year’s best-selling toy, I mean, droid – that’s right, BB-8 himself, in all his spherical glory. Despite his design, BB-8 is anything but a load of balls, instantly proving to be a hit and having as much charm as any other character despite only communicating through bleeps and bloops. Like Finn, he gets some of the biggest laughs, and you can’t help but be drawn to him whenever he rolls onto the screen. There’s also a third new guy, Poe Dameron – pilot extraordinaire! – who plays some vital, if slightly less significant roles in the ongoing plot.

That’s the light side covered, but what about the dark? Leading the rebellious First Order is masked menace Kylo Ren, aka “that bloke with the funny looking new lightsaber”. As with Finn and Rey, there’s plenty of discoveries to be made surrounding his character which may shock, horrify, or leave you apathetic in equal measure. He’s a major player in the events of the story, but unfortunately that means there’s not a lot that can be said without giving too much away. Let’s just say he’s very adept at using the Force and he’s a style of villain that we haven’t yet seen in the Star Wars universe. Alas, at least as it stands, he’s no Darth Vader. But maybe, just maybe, that’s kind of the point…

A few golden oldies from the original trilogy are back for the ride too – again, to say much more would be venturing deeply into spoiler territory – but Harrison Ford as Han Solo undoubtedly gets the most attention, and with good reason. He steps back into a role he hasn’t played for over 30 years as if he never left it, and he’s just as much of a scoundrel as he ever was. His banter with fuzzball Chewie remains a highlight, and to be honest it’s just nice seeing such an iconic character back on the big screen. In fact, that goes for pretty much all the nostalgic imagery in The Force Awakens. I may personally have grown up with the prequel trilogy but it is so much cooler seeing Stormtroopers and X-Wings updated for the modern day rather than anything that Episodes I-III ever gave us.

Okay, okay, enough stalling. Time to get to the nitty gritty and start giving a verdict. There are several memorable moments in the film that stand out, and for the first hour and a half I thought this was a good, if not very good return to form for the Star Wars franchise. And then the climax happened. Oh. My. Lord. The final half hour or so propels the film onto a whole other level – the adrenaline is pumping, the action is raw, and the fighting is just plain rough. It’s fantastic. The inevitable lightsaber battle is probably the most thrilling one we’ve seen so far and there’s some real fist-pumping moments. Believe me, you’ll definitely have made up your mind and emotions about certain characters by the time the fight is over…

There’s definitely some gripes though – as much as you will it to be, this is never going to stack up as a perfect film. While the throwbacks are nice enough in the visuals and the cinematography, the script maybe plays the nostalgia card a little too often in some of the bigger plot elements. I mean, it all feels very Star Wars and it’s by no means a bad story, there’ll just be an undeniable sense of déjà vu if you’ve ever seen Episodes IV-VI before. My other biggest concern is with the special effects – there’s a healthy mix of old-school practical effects and CGI, and for the most part it works well, but there are a couple of occasions where the latter really sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s nothing that totally derails the experience, but it does leave you wondering how much better it might have been with something that looked a little bit more… real.

So – on balance? The Force Awakens is good. Like, properly good. If you felt cheated by the prequels and have been yearning for a new Star Wars film to scratch that itch from over 30 years ago, this film will deliver in some of (even if not all of) the ways you might like. I’m still undecided about where it ranks in comparison to the original trilogy, but at the very least it’s the fourth best Star Wars film out there, and that’s all we really wanted from it, right? There’s still a lot more to see and a lot, lot more development to be done in the forthcoming Episodes VIII and IX, but for now it’s a welcome return back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

*cue Star Wars credits music*

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