As a nine year old Star Wars loving child, I still have a vivid memory of sitting in the cinema and crying at the awfulness of what I had just witnessed in The Phantom Menace. It’s no cinematic secret that the prequels were a huge dissapointment and a severe dent in the reputation of the franchise, but when Disney removed the influence, by then misguided, of George Lucas from the operation, there was a slight glimmer of hope that something might be able to be salvaged and that one of my favourite film series of all time could be restored to its former glory. For over a year now, I have been anxiously awaiting the release of Episode VII, salivating over the different trailers and cautiously hiding from any potential spoilers. Finally, the day had come, and at 10:40am, I was ready to reignite my childhood feelings of wonder and become reacquainted with the force.
And fully reacquainted I most certainly was! Whilst inevitably not matching up to A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, from a personal point of view I can truly say that I loved The Force Awakens just as much as I loved Return Of The Jedi. There is no doubt that J.J. Abrams has packaged this first episode of the new era as a love letter to the fans, and while some cynical critics have accused him of over doing it with references to the original trilogy, I lapped each and every in-joke up like a puppy sitting patiently for treats. Along with their overly complicated storylines, the one thing that upset me the most about the prequels was their utter lack of effective humour, and this is something that is back in abundance in The Force Awakens. With true wit, heart and authentic feeling sets and fight choreography, the best thing I can say to sum it up is that this really feels like Star Wars again, finally, after years and years in the wilderness.We all know that our old heroes are included in the narrative, but one of the biggest joys of the film is the introduction and instant connection to the core group of new characters in the franchise, each of every one perfectly cast and absolutely endearing from the get go, even the villains who at this early stage already have more presence and nuance than the likes of General Grievous or Count Dooku. You’ll notice that I have barely spoken of the actual plot, and I will continue to do so because I feel like one of her biggest pleasures on a nostalgia inducing romp like this is seeing the different elements, old and new, falling in to place in real time to create something special. What I will say is that in terms of narrative structure, The Force Awakens very much resembles A New Hope in the sense that it lays down all of the ground work for a fuller, broader trilogy arc to come. It’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s touching and sentimental in all the right places, and like any great franchise instalment should, it wraps up enough plot for individual closure and satisfaction whilst also leaving many juicy questions unanswered to make the audience wish away the months until 2017’s Episode VIII.
In terms of cast, I can quite confidently say that there isn’t a single bad, or even half bad, performance in the entire picture. A star truly is born in Daisy Ridley as Rey. In a single character, Ridley embodies all of the optimism of a young Luke Skywalker, the technical savvy of Han Solo and the inner strength and resistance of Princess Leia, making here essentially the perfect protagonist with which to continue to the saga in the true fashion. John Boyega as Finn provides contrasting yet perfectly suiting company for Rey, with the pair of them striking up an immediate on screen chemistry that I cannot wait to delve further in to as the episodes go by. Perhaps slightly underused was Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, who completes what I see as the ‘new Star Wars trio’. As Poe, Isaac is the epitome of galactic coolness, a skilled pilot and an equally skilled talker, though he takes somewhat of a back seat in this opening instalment, I have no doubt that he will come to the fore when the time is right. Of course, much of the movie’s anticipation factor rested on the shoulders of the film’s original three stars, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, and though they have varying screen time and impact on the story, I can say that there will not be a single audience member with any complaints about their involvement when the credits begin to roll. What is important to remember is that this episode, this entire trilogy, in fact, is going to be a transition period between the old and the new eras, and so far, the filmmakers have done a fantastic and perfectly balanced job of giving the audience the old favourites that they so love whilst at the same time encouraging new and long lasting attachments to the future figureheads of the series.
Overall, all I really need or want to say about The Force Awakens at this point is that I absolutely, unreservedly loved it. After ten long years of waiting since Revenge Of The Sith, I am still very much on a post-screening high and will continue to be so for a while yet. No doubt as my film critic goggles become less clouded I will have a few small things to say about the picture, but when it comes to Star Wars, and good Star Wars at that, it really does feel as though there is something different, something that refuses to be nit-picked and doesn’t warrant a level of scrutiny that I perhaps give to other films. Sure, that might be biased, but hey, I remember Jar-Jar Binx, I remember Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker, after these atrocities, I and all the other Star Wars fans around the world deserve to revel in a return to form. And a return to form it most definitely is. Star Wars is back, people, it’s back and I have a feeling it’s here to stay.