No plot will be shared here. No spoilers.
Your correspondent was two years old when the original Star Wars was released. My dad was a cinema manager who worked nights; on occasion my mother took my sister and me to the movies and the two of us would invariably be asleep. But I remember Star Wars. Specifically, the shot where the X-Wing flew into the Death Star trench in the final act. It’s a great shot. I got the film on VHS for my seventh birthday. I watched it to death, memorising each line of dialogue. I had Star Wars wallpaper. I had an Empire Strikes Back backpack for my first year at school. A bedroom festooned with action figures. I was the perfect age for this franchise. I am biased.
By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around I was eight years old, and was the envy of my class at school because I saw this thing a solid six months before they did. There was no such thing as a global release back then. The prequels? I was at the midnight screening of The Phantom Menace, which I thought oddly disappointing and looked a bit rough around the edges. And the kiddie was rubbish, as was the Goofy character (it took a number of viewings; the thing isn’t quite as bad as you recall). Then there was Attack of the Clones, and well, fine, just so long as you yank the romance from it, which sadly was the whole point of the film. By the time 2005 rolls around and we get Revenge of the Sith, it’s on the up-and-up, starts in action, has some great, complex, dense scenes throughout and is the ‘least-worst’ of those movies. That was really supposed to be it. The animated Clone Wars and Rebels series have passed me by.
The biggest kick out of Disney’s 2012 Lucasfilm acquisition was that there were to be more films as part of the deal. J.J. Abrams getting to be at the helm was excellent news. A director of note, a fan, gets to take the reins from someone who had no creative checks and balances. There’s an entire industry looking closely at Abrams’ end product, so rather than being surrounded by employees who only say yes, he’s got a universe of stakeholders who are as likely to say No. There are billions of dollars at stake, and a new film (either episodic or standalone), every year until at least 2019.
How does the film itself survive this level of anticipation and hype? They didn’t show it to critics before its release to keep the spoilers in check. Besides, the thing is critic-proof, so any naysayer contrarian who makes a living and a constant point of not liking what the masses like (for the simple fact that the masses like it) is going to have to line up with the rest of us just to say it’s crap, just like they told you it would be. Bravo, you’re earning your dollar.
The facts are these:
The film is extraordinary. You can’t fault it. Go in without reading any plot points or anything. Learn my valuable lesson from having waited too long and been hungry for details to realise that the best thing you can do is go into this thing without a single frame of reference for what’s going on. I actually gasped when I read the first line of the title crawl. You need that kind of experience, it’s breathtaking.
The performances are very solid. Harrison Ford is great in this, slipping into his Han Solo role like it was an old shoe (his jacket gets mentioned). I also like Carrie Fisher in this; so very far removed from her off-screen persona; so very much of the character – it’s exactly how you’d want someone to take on a part like this, 32 years after the fact. The trio of new ‘hero’ leads – especially Daisy Ridley (what a find!) are fantastic. Adam Driver as the villain Kylo Ren adds a level of depth and vulnerability to a part you would not expect from a film of this kind.
Its narrative – co-authored by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan from Michael Arndt’s treatment – is dense, and surprising. It really does work as the first chapter of a three-parter (and who knows, perhaps a six-parter – they could go to Episode XII for all I know). Abrams fuels this thing with telling, brilliant references to the original trilogy while infusing his own stylistic DNA into it. Time has passed since Return of the Jedi, and this is not George Lucas’ thing any more. It’s about generations, in front of and behind the scenes. What he’s done here is make a film of the Star Wars universe, but made it with his own style. It’s basically the best cover you ever listened to of a sacred classic rock track.
Technically, the film is beyond compare. Stunning visuals, and John Williams has composed a score that riffs on old themes and propels things forward with new ones. The Industrial Light and Magic visual effects are incredible, and the blend between CGI and practical effects is seamless.
From an emotional perspective, it had me from the opening sentence of the title crawl. It has, without doubt, the most astonishing final two shots… I was speechless. Mark Hamill. Kudos.
The naysayer’s opinion will have no effect on anyone’s desire to see this film. Nor with an enthusiast have any impact on the willingness of someone outside the Star Wars tent to queue up. Take it from me, though: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is phenomenal. I’m loquacious, I spout superlatives all the time, but I don’t have enough of them for this. It is everything you could ever hope for in a new Star Wars film. Hooray for Hollywood.