“It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.”
I thought I was immune to the buzz that has preceded this movie for months. I love the original trilogy, I’m not a fan of the prequels and I had tried to keep my hopes down about this latest entry. But as the iconic Star Wars logo appeared on the screen to the familiar sounds of John William’s instantly recognisable theme, I felt butterflies in my stomach and my face went flush. As the opening text scrawl disappeared into the distance, I realised just how excited I was for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And it spent the next two hours totally justifying that excitement.
Several decades after destroying the Empire and saving the galaxy, the last Jedi knight in the universe, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill), has disappeared. Believing he’s the key to winning a war against the evil First Order, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) sends her best pilot (Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron) to the desert planet of Jakku to find a clue that could lead to Luke’s whereabouts. With the clue in hand, Poe is about to leave when the First Order attacks and slaughters an entire village on the order masked bad guy and broadsword lightsaber wielder, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Moments before he’s captured, Poe hides the info about Luke in his BB-8 droid and sends the little robot away to hide.
Once a prisoner aboard the First Order’s star destroyer, Poe is able to escape with the help of Finn (John Boyega), a storm trooper who overcomes the First Order’s brain washing and discovers a conscience. When their escape doesn’t quite go to plan, Finn crash lands back on Jakku where he soon meets junk scavenger, Rey (Daisey Ridley), who also happens to be in possession of BB-8. When the First Order puts word out that they’re looking for the droid and Finn, it’s not long before Rey is dragged into the drama and all three are on the run.
The new characters immediately establish themselves as worthy additions to the universe. Rey already feels like she’s going to go down as one of the greatest characters in the history of the franchise. She’s tough, smart and never for one second anything close a damsel in distress. Boyega and Ridley have an immediate chemistry that’s funny, sweet and seems so genuine. With his dry quips, Oscar Isaac first came off as an attempt at a Han Solo replacement, but the more screen time his character got, the more he distinguished himself as someone totally unique. And it’s impossible to describe how humanly engaging BB-8 is. This metal ball conveys humor, fear, sadness and more in a way that no special effect should be able to.
And while all of these new characters are giving performances that could have easily stolen the movie, the old guys pop up and nail it so perfectly that the 6 year old me who watched the original trilogy over and over and over was satisfied too. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Leia, R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) all slip effortlessly back into the characters they haven’t inhabited in over 30 years. And the way the movie reveals every single old character or familiar sight for the first time is funny, or emotional, or just generally satisfying in a way that I never thought this movie would ever be able to achieve.
Director JJ Abrams has spent the last year or so banging on about his intention to use practical effects whenever possible and rely a whole lot less on computers than the prequels. And it’s an effort that was so clearly worth it. There are plenty of CGI characters and green screen moments, but there’s also something so tangible about the world of this movie. It feels like real people in real locations, which then makes the stakes seem so much more important and palpable.
Plot wise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a little too beat for beat similar to the 1977 original, but I really didn’t care. I was having way too much fun.