The Force Awakens – maybe the best Star Wars ever (Wired UK)


Very mild spoilers follow. If you don’t want to read any, the first paragraph is spoiler-free.

This is the Star Wars film you’ve been looking for. That’s not just a flippant pun: it’s a profound and unshakable feeling that hits as the credits roll at the end of The Force Awakens, a literal cliff-hanger that blasts open the treasured sci-fi universe for an no-doubt never-ending future of stories. The Force Awakens is everything you ever loved about Star Wars: it’s thrilling, beautiful, and evocative. It has timeless characters, lightsabers, comic robots, dashing rogues and dark lords. It has lightspeed jumps and Jedi mind-tricks; spaceship battles and a masterful John Williams score. It is concentrated kerosene for a child’s imagination (pause to take in the looks on kids’ faces as they leave the cinema). It is also a curious thing: a film so slavish to the original, that its only real constraint is the weight of fan expectations. The Force Awakens might have been the best Star Wars film ever, if it wasn’t so devoted to being exactly what we want it to be.


It turns out that much the pre-release rumour-mill was right all along: #WhereIsLuke turns out not just to be an amusing poster-inspired hashtag but the central premise of The Force Awakens. 30 years after Return Of The Jedi, Luke Skywalker has gone rogue – for reasons I won’t go into – with the Rebellion, now under threat from a post-Empire junta by the name of the First Order, desperate to track him down. So (because it’s Star Wars) Leia has sent the Rebellion’s best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to the desert planet Jakku to track him down, only for the secret message to be encased in the memory of a certain sphere-shaped droid.

There we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger; and Finn, a Stormtrooper who turns good when he first witnesses the First Order’s genocidal tendencies. The latter is ordered at the hands of a whole glut of new bad guys, led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and a Darth Vader-worshipping dark sider, Kylo Ren.

The first third of The Force Awakens is a marvel, so finely it balances the feel of Star Wars with a new verve and energy. It makes it impossible not to get swept up in the adventure. The film’s greatest strengths in fact are not in the old guard, but in its new generation. Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are easily the best characters ever introduced in a Star Wars film, and bring a surge of energy and chemistry that even the original trilogy never had. (Ridley and Boyega’s performances, buoyed by a strong script and fizzing chemistry, are a joy to behold.)

Then there’s Kylo Ren (he’s not yet a Darth), a villain overflowing with emotion and rage and yet more human than any Star Wars bad guys to date. His is a tragedy more concentrated in one film than Vader’s arc – and when his rage culminates in the film’s third act, it doesn’t matter that the nostalgia signposts mean that you’ll have seen it coming an hour away. It still hits hurts like losing a hand.


It’s only once we are introduced to our old favourites, led by a reinvigorated Han Solo (Harrison Ford), that the plot starts to hew closely to a those carved out by the original trilogy that for much of the film The Force Awakens feels more like a remake of A New Hope than a standalone story. You get the impression that Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt distilled down the original trilogy and wrote a formula for the perfect Star Wars film (take one orphan on a desert planet with an unknown backstory, add some familial drama, a few space battles, and a planet-sized weapon, repeat). The nostalgia isn’t just strong with this one, it’s overpowering.


There are real merits in this approach. One of the greatest strengths of the original trilogy was its sense of taught, personal drama within an epic, overarching myth. A New Hope asked more questions than it answered; so too does The Force Awakens. It is also inherent to a franchise that was so derailed by the Prequel trilogy – the value of which we won’t debate here – that it feels necessary, almost as an exercise in restoration as in creativity.

But it’s also the film’s only real drawback. J.J. Abrams is Hollywood’s premiere practitioner of the director-as-tribute-band, whether it’s remixing Star Trek or paying Spielberg homage in Super 8. (That’s not a slight: as shown by Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys, it can go very wrong.) It makes sense that here he sticks to what is beloved, what’s dependable, what works. But it also does him a discredit, because the original aspects of The Force Awakens are what feels exciting. The cinematography is at times breathtaking, particularly in the early quieter scenes on Jakku and later, in a snow-laden forest. The music by John Williams’ is as wonderful as we have come to expect – even if there is no immediate new piece to rival the original trilogy like “Duel Of The Fates” did in The Phantom Menace. The practical effects, again a tribute to the original trilogy, are charmingly retro but have a real physical impact.  

And the new characters’ plot lines are so good – Ridley’s Rey in particular has her fair share of holy s*** moments – that you want more of them, and less of the fan service. When the predictable final battle winds up, you’re just waiting for the camera to cut back to her and Finn.

All this is understandable. This is the Star Wars we all expected, and in many ways it is the Star Wars that is needed right now. It lays the groundwork for the many, many new films and spin-offs to come. Let’s hope that they are in as fine hands as Abrams’.

There has been an awakening. What comes next, we can’t wait to see. The Force Awakens gives Star Wars fans exactly what they’ve been waiting for since 1983: new hope.

Star Wars – The Force Awakens is out now

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17 December 2015 | 12:20 pm – Source:


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