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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler Free Movie Review

17 December, 2015 — by Christopher Ratcliff2


This review will be spoiler free, unless you don’t even want to know whether it’s good or not, in which case, yeah there’ll be one big spoiler… and it’s coming up now… Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie.

I know, “phew” right?

About an hour into Star Wars: The Force Awakens it dawns on me that this is the easily the best Star Wars film ever made. Perhaps that says more about the quality of the original and prequel trilogies than it does about Episode VII, but there was a sudden, tangible realisation that I was watching a proper film, made for a sophisticated audience, with decent direction, acting, character development and dialogue. Things that – and I’m saying this as a genuine Star Wars fan – the previous six films only have in very limited degrees of quality.

Watching the original trilogy through modern eyes, unsullied by nostalgia and childhood trips to Woolworths to buy action figures, is a difficult approach. They’re hokey, weirdly paced, broadly performed, fairly boring in places… Common criticisms from newbies to the Force. But they also contain the most exhilarating action sequences and the most beautiful production design ever committed to film, as well as characters you’ll spend the next three decades of your life caring about.

millenium falcon force awakens

And these are the elements that the Disney/Bad Robot conglomerate has kept in mind when producing The Force Awakens. They’ve synthesised only the best parts of the original trilogy, ditched anything even tangentially related to do the prequels (bewildering political machinations, hollow CGI, patronising dialogue, appalling performances) and created everything that any beleaguered Star Wars fan would ever want to see from a brand new instalment… Something made by safe, assured hands that understands what a new Star Wars film ‘needs’ to do and delivers above and beyond those expectations. Although to be honest, between the overwhelming hype and withering cynicism there was really no doubt that this wasn’t going to be a positive experience. There’s just too much at stake. At worst it would deliver something as competently good as a middling Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure. At best… well… that’s what we have right here, thankfully.

Part of the brilliance of The Force Awakens’ marketing was that it was so tightly controlled. This means that we get to see the finished film with an almost wide-eyed naivety. Unless you’re specifically trawling the internet for spoilers, you can, perhaps for the first time ever, sit and watch an ‘event movie’ without knowing how the plot will develop, what the relationships are between characters and what twists have already been sign-posted well in advance of opening night.

It’s a joy to see something so fresh. But more than that, it’s a joy to see a film that’s so eager to delight its audience. The things you’re desperate to see (returning cast members, the identity of Kylo Ren, exquisitely choreographed dogfights and lightsaber battles) are delivered at expertly timed intervals; the delayed gratification keeps you hooked.

However The Force Awakens’ strongest ingredient is how it makes you care so quickly for the terrifically charming young cast and their expertly (and concisely) developed characters. To discuss Rey and Finn any further is to reveal too much, but they are wonderfully convincing, three-dimensional characters, equally flawed and heroic, and deserving of long-term place on your bedroom wall.

rey and BB-8 in the desert gif

Of course a Star Wars film wouldn’t be worth a damn if it wasn’t for the baddies, and holy hell, The Force Awakens has evil bastards to spare. The latest incarnation of the Empire, The First Order, feels like a genuine threat, with its endless legions of village-razing Stormtroopers and a super-weapon that makes the Death Star look like the Tellytubby sun.

The fascist iconography is made abundantly clear in a scene where Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux delivers a ‘motivational’ speech with a psychotic hysteria befitting the Nazis. The First Order is a telling example of how ‘stripped-back’ this new trilogy’s direction will be. Just nasty-ass bastards that need stopping. No trade-embargoes, no senates, no royalty. We’re in a galaxy far, far away from The Phantom Menace in every sense of tone and narrative.

In Kylo Ren, the Star Wars universe has possibly its most interesting, multi-layered character. For the most part he’s terrifying; his powers manifesting in a deeply unsettling manner. His voice behind the mask is an impressive work of sound design, sounding like an old modulated reel-to-reel, similar to HAL 9000 in its death throes. Behind the mask though, Adam Driver has a gawky, fractured vulnerability that could easily fool you into thinking he can be exploited. This provides some of the film’s more traumatic moments.

kylo ren draws his lightsaber

On the negative side, the devotion to pleasing the hardcore audience of classic Star Wars fans means there are moments where things feel all too familiar. Too often in the final third does it feel like it’s matching the same story-beats as Episode IV. We’ve seen a lot of this stuff before and many of the returning characters provide some of the weakest, slowest moments. But then who can really blame JJ Abrams for going back to the basic roots of Star Wars? If he presented something that took a totally different direction (*cough* gladiatorial battle arena scene *cough*) then his fate would be him thrown on the same funeral pyre as Darth Vader’s melty helmet.

Ultimately The Force Awakens does what you hoped it would: it rescues the legacy of Star Wars from those who sought to continuously bastardise it until it became a series of punchlines and turns it into something once again deserving of your long-term affection, where you can say with genuine conviction, “yeah Star Wars is awesome!” 5/5

Check out the rest of the latest cinema releases in our new movie reviews section, including the equally joyful Ant-Man.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


  • Chizzlewit

    17 December, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    Couldn’t disagree more with this review, apart from the idea that it is still a good movie.
    There are elements that should have produced drama between characters that were just brushed over; an entire character’s backstory brushed aside with a pen stroke, which should have played much more of a story arc; utterly crap actor direction in many parts, because Abrams can’t work with actors to save his life; and some extremely unbelievable, amateur dramatics style dialogue in some places.
    Plus a MASSIVE criticism I’ll only mention after everyone has watched it – and you’ll all agree with me.

    I’m not saying it was all shit. In fact, I thought on the whole it was amazing. I just don’t think this rosy tinted “everything was fucking fantastic and so much better than the rest” review is anywhere close to accurate.

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