‘Damn Near Perfect’

at

THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (136 minutes, 12A) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the most anticipated movie of the year. Nearly 40 years after John Williams’ majestic fanfare first blasted out over that iconic logo, and Star Wars has become so much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s not just a movie franchise, but an intrinsic part of popular culture. Friendships have been built and broken on the strength of minor plot points. We thought that we wanted more movies, but then we got the prequel trilogy. After getting it so wrong before, director J.J.Abrams has just one more chance of getting it right.

There’s an indefinable quality in that opening crawl of yellow text disappearing into the blackness of space that transports us back to a seminal moment from childhood. But we’ve been here before and things didn’t turn out so well.

Thankfully, this time taxation and trade disputes are out, and old-fashioned “good vs. evil” simplicity is back in. During the 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone AWOL.

The rebellion is now the resistance, and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is a general, not a princess. The New Order has stepped in to take up where the Empire left off, but the bad guys are still reassuringly British (and, it seems, obscenely wealthy). The adventure begins with yet another little droid carrying vital information. And Han Solo (HarrisonFord) is still a scoundrel.

With the exception of Ford, the returning cast play second fiddle to the younger newcomers. The fact that Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac can actually act eases the transition immeasurably. Boyega is particularly impressive, and Ridley will be of vital importance to future instalments.

The dialogue is free from any of the blatant clangers that characterised George Lucas’ tenure. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Empire, Jedi) have crafted a story around character rather than spectacle.

One sequence moves organically into the next with a cause-and-effect rationale rather than the sense of moving pieces around a board through lumpen exposition. There is more than one revelation on a par with “I am your father” along the way, and Abrams doesn’t hold back from shaping events of enormous consequence. The finale points to a nicely dark Episode VIII for incoming director Rian Johnson.

The stark difference between Abrams and Lucas is no more apparent than in the action sequences. A Lightsaber duel is brutally primitive instead of a hyper choreographed blur, and even during epic battle sequences, shots are at least twice as long as the norm for a mainstream blockbuster. This has a rather unfamiliar effect of, you know, actually being able to follow what is happening to whom and where.

There had been a degree of apprehension that Abrams might dip into the same box of tricks he used for the hyperactive Star Trek reboot, but to his credit he makes no attempt to leave his own stamp.

Abrams has made a Star Wars movie that treats the prehistory with a level of respect that Lucas would find incomprehensible. Forget the prequels; you only have to look at his treatment of the original trilogy since its release to see how much he misunderstands what made those movies work. $4bn could wipe out the national debt of Luxembourg, but it was a small price to pay to keep Lucas out of the room.

One of the many problems with the prequels was that they were (horrendously poor) movies intended for children, but scrutinised by resentful grown-ups. The greatest success of The Force Awakens is that it makes you feel like you’re eight again.

No doubt in the coming days and weeks a growing chorus of naysayers will start nit-picking over minute details and voicing their disappointment. But I won’t be one of them.

It’s difficult to overstate just how right Abrams has managed to get this. There is more energy, integrity and heart in 20 minutes’ worth of The Force Awakens than there was in the entire prequel trilogy. It’s damn-near perfect.

TLDR: Believe the hype.

34 thoughts on “‘Damn Near Perfect’

  1. Nikkeboentje

    Speaking of Luxembourg, I’m bunking off work to go and see the 12:00 screening here. So excited!

  2. Joni2015

    Why do adults get so excited about this? It’s essentially a film for kids. I’ll probably watch it and enjoy it but I find the level of excitement baffling.

  3. Nialler

    Joni, I personally was 8 years old when I seen the first one back in 77 it was christmas, it was magical and I sat through it twice with my older brother in the Savoy, that memory and the subsequent 2 movies have stayed with me, I’ve bought the DVDs etc, not a rabid fan but one with very fond memories and so excited to see this back with a bang, and it’s not a film for kids, it’s a space opera, The Good Dinosaur is a film for kids

        1. rory

          Well to be honest I don’t think they’re the same thing. I don’t think you’d see many adults obsessed with Lego building the same way some adults are obsessed with Star Wars. And if they were, there is a significant chance that I would be concerned.
          Saying that, there is also a chance that I would find it less problematic than an obsession with Star Wars, because the act of constructing an object with Lego doesn’t necessarily have to inhabit a child-centric universe of specific signs and signifiers. You can build anything with lego, whereas with Star Wars you are stuck within a specific universe whose signs and signifiers cater specifically to children.

          Sorry for the repetitive use of certain words/phrases. I couldn’t think of better ones.

      1. Nialler

        Well it’s PG13 Rory so minimum age recommended is 13 with guidance, these ratings weren’t around for the original but I’m sure millions of young and old adults admired the movies, wouldn’t be one of the most successful movie franchises in history if it didn’t. It’s aimed at all audiences not specifically tailored for kids it would then have a G rating I’m sure.

  4. rotide

    Not read the article, or any comment before this

    but for gods sake , for a site that uses clever headlines every day could you assume there are people looking forward to making their own mind up about the film and not have the reviewers opinion in the headline?

    thanks.

      1. ReproBertie

        Empire magazine gives everything 4 stars. It’s worse than Heat for the glowing reviews out of desperation to remain friends with the industry.

        1. ivan

          Same with the Telegraph back in 1999.

          Phantom Menace was Be Here Now for celluloid. I hope Force Awakens isn’t, but I’ll bide my time.

        2. rory

          Started reading Empire back in 97. Don’t know if it’s nostalgia, but it seemed like a pretty solid magazine back then.

Comments are closed.