Browse By

In-depth Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

One of the biggest worries I have as a published film critic is that perhaps I am being too soft: in my grand total of four film reviews I have given out one 4 star review to a film with a highly commendable 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. Do I stick by my rating? Yes, rest assured I have seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for a second time and still feel the same. With this in mind, I am now scribing a review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Here is a lesson in reviewing for free, never believe the hype. I have never seen a film that is  so overrated by the public and critics – and I doubt that I will another in my lifetime! I have watched the film twice, once in cinemas and once in the comfort in my own home. Now the film is on Blu-ray and an in-depth review for the biggest film of last year is necessary.

To justify the ‘In-depth’ that I have put in the title of this review, I am going to assume if you are reading this you have seen The Force Awakens since it has been out, and if not you have either forgotten you have seen it (in which case, I don’t blame you) or you are not planning on watching it (again, I don’t blame you). With this assumption in mind, I am going to go into various plot spoilers and this is your only warning.

Han Solo dies. You were warned, alas let us get on with the review.

The film begins with the opening scroll that has become synonymous with the star wars franchise. Having loved all six films in my early youth my face lit up with glee hearing the soaring trumpets and seeing the familiar font documenting what has happened regarding the resistance and Luke’s whereabouts and the daunting First order.

John Boyega promoting the film at San Diego Comic-con.

The film then takes us to Jakku, where ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is talking to some old guy, who we are only told is an old ally, about Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, when all of a sudden the first order decide they want his whereabouts too, and think they will get it by massacring an entire village. During this time we see who we will come to know as Finn (John Boyega) starting to doubt his life as a stormtrooper. This defection of a stormtrooper takes place over a grand total of twenty minutes, during which we only see another stormtrooper wipe blood on his helmet as said stormtrooper dies (in a moment which does not seem natural, and as if the stormtrooper was told by the first order to do that if he was to die) and Finn deciding not to partake in killing civilians that have been rounded up. This would have been so much more effective if these events happened in separate missions, showing an escalation of both the horrors of war and Finn’s doubts, however this sub-plot, which at its core is a nice idea, instead feels rushed and unfulfilling.

We then see the ominous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), appearing in his big spaceship and arranging the capture of Poe. I actually enjoy Kylo Ren as a villain for the most part, and I think he is more compelling than Darth Vader. Darth Vader is a symbol of evil, Kylo Ren is a character with flaws and morals and an inner battle of good and evil that makes him far more engaging to watch. His rages seem weird though, as I do not understand if they are for comic effect, in which case it does not work, or for dramatic effect, again, not working. I do not like the stupid dialogue that transpires between him and Poe, consisting of ‘Do you start talking, do I?” In an incredibly unfunny and tension-killing joke that became the first sign for me that this film was going to be annoying to watch, for as much as I like some of the Marvel cinematic universe’s outings the endless drama-killing jokes are not as funny or effective as the writers think they are, I dislike them as I think they are not realistic as to what someone would really say in that situation; but in a universe where you have people with light sticks and laser blasters and space wizards what is the point of me complaining about realism here? Through this scene the much-loved droid ‘BB8’ is given a map and is told to run with it, the first plot point that the film copies from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, among many others.

By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41575649
Daisy Ridley promoting the film at San Diego Comic-con.

The next scene takes us to the inside of a destroyed star destroyer (in English, a big space ship), where Rey (Daisy Ridley) is hunting for parts in order to obtain portions of food, and afterwards she finds BB8 in the desert. I thought that the way the portion became a loaf of bread was pretty cool. That is about everything good I have to say though. Ridley’s performance is unrealistic, and it feels like an amateur theatre student’s idea of what the emotions she is portraying are like. This is worse in the moments she has to interact with BB8, as charismatic as that droid might be, Ridley needs a human to interact with in order to become slightly bearable.

The next sequence that warrants a mention is the moment when Finn decides that he want to get out, and decides that the best way to do this is break out Poe. Josh Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s performances are both fine, Isaac does the best he can with the script he is given. Poe continues to incessantly quip under unrealistic circumstances. I am not expecting Scorsese-esque dialogue, but what I would expect is a realistic depiction of someone in those situations so that they would be more likeable and relatable for the audience, making him a more endearing character. Poe is more a cartoon than a character. Finn turns from fear-riddled witness to the horrors of war to celebrating like a sports fan as soon as he destroys some turrets. How. Does. This. Make. Sense.

Finn and Poe crash-land on Jakku, Poe is now considered ‘dead’ and Finn is left to wander the deserts, only to find Rey and BB8, leading to a moment of fan service as the millennium falcon is shown on screen. The next chase between the millennium falcon and TIE fighters is alright, it’s fine, if anything fairly forgettable. It feels like it relies on the spectacle of seeing the spaceships fighting instead of the actually chase itself.

After the chase the film has a moment where both Rey and Finn start shouting at each other about how good they both were at the exact same time with their voices overlapping each others, with this sequence feeling like it came straight out of a bad musical with a man and a woman both telling each other how much they love each other. The next moment including the two getting to know each other is made endlessly more watchable with BB8’s interactions with Finn. BB8 is a great character and ironically has more character than most of the other cast members, with his gesture of a fire-lighter in the shape of a thumbs up is rather cute and funny.

After 40 minutes of this film it is made infinitely made more watchable once Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca enter, and finally there is some acting that is actually believable, as Ford effortlessly makes jokes and reminds us of what we have been missing from Star Wars, and even giving Ridley and Boyega something to actually play off of, and the resulting sequence involving the two groups Han owes money too is a fun watch.

By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41707833
Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) promoting the film at, you guessed it, San Diego Comic-con

The film proceeds to introduce us to Supreme leader Snoke, who is some big scary CGI guy played by Andy Serkis, the godfather of motion capture characters. Compared with all of his other performances, this one is forgettable at best, however I acknowledge that he does not get much screen time to make him memorable. This problem runs through all of the villains apart from Kylo Ren in this film, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) in all of her two scenes offers nothing to the plot or anything worth committing to memory, and General Hux (Domhall Gleeson), who I have heard dubbed as ginger Hitler- to be honest that is the most accurate description I can think of, just seems to shout a bit and not do much. He gives a speech of such ferocity that the only association in my head was the Nuremberg rally. I do not think it is a point in the film’s favour if, unless it is meant to evoke this thought, that I start to think about Nazism while watching the film.

The film picks up once the crew reach Maz Kanata’s (Lupita Nyong’o) castle, and they go into a bar not too dissimilar from Mos Eisley Cantina from A New Hope. I enjoy the small amount of espionage in this bit, as two people send messages asking whoever is at the other end to inform the First order or the Resistance about BB8’s presence. As a moment of fan service, Luke’s lightsaber is found by Rey and the voice of Ewan Mcgregor is heard. I still really enjoy Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith for all its flaws, and certainly more than I enjoy this; so hearing his voice, for me, was a nice moment.

The next sequence is my favourite in the film, in which the First order start to tear everything up in search for the droid and Poe, back from the ‘dead’, and his crew of X-wings come to get the droid back. The cinematography of the X-wings induced a small amount of joy within me. The cinematography stands out at this moment of the film, and the inner child within me watched in glee as next the next scene offered a few thrills with X-wings and TIE fighters shooting each other down.

The film moves on to show plots made by both the Resistance and the First Order, with both preparing to destroy the other by various means. A line comes up in the Resistance camp saying something along the lines of “It’s another death star”. This highlights my main problem with this film, it re-treads so many areas that the first Star Wars film did, making it rather dull and predictable.

By Gage Skidmore - https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/19681472365/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41611892
The director JJ Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy

The way that JJ Abrams markets his films is by deliberately making the trailers very vague, not giving us much of an idea what is going on. I think this works when someone watches this film for the first time, as any viewer will be interested to see what is going on in the new Star Wars universe; however upon a repeat viewing I found that most the film’s opening was rather dull, with the ridiculous acting of the younger cast not helping. The fact that this film re-treads so much of the first Star Wars makes me feel like this film is also very unnecessary, without a new story to tell. The film is also incredibly safe, taking no risks in its story whatsoever. Say what you want about the prequels, I prefer them due to the fact that they took risks and George Lucas himself, the father of Star Wars, wrote them, and for all their failures they had some fantastic moments in them as well. The fact that Lucas wrote and directed the prequels show that he felt he had a story worth telling within the Star Wars universe, instead of wanting to make another trip to the bank like the Disney executives did. To me there seems to be no real passion for the project at all among returning cast members, and no real effort seems to have been put in by the writers to make this a worthy continuation of the Star Wars lore. To me it feels like the only real reason this was made was to take the money off of nostalgia-blinded fans.

The third act of the film, beginning with this sequence mentioned above, is where the film completely falls apart in my eyes, not least for the reasons above. One nit-pick I had was with the fact that Han Solo and Finn manage to get onto Death Star 3.0 by traveling into it at light speed and survive hurts my head. Again though, that is a massive nit-pick and if I wrote about more of those in the film I could potentially double the length of this review. This act has no tension or stakes in it whatsoever as it is so predictable. Seeing Poe do through the exact same tunnel run that Luke did in A New Hope made me stop caring about any characters as I knew no one would die, except Han, as the film was re-doing A New Hope completely. On the subject of Han’s death, if you thought he had any chance of survival as soon as he stepped onto that bridge with Kylo Ren then you are either incredibly optimistic or you have never watched a film before. The death itself is meaningless, as it only tries to have weight by making it a son killing a father, however we have never seen or heard anything about Han trying to save his son from the dark side before. Therefore, the death only plays on nostalgia, and the fact that it is Han Solo who dies. The lightsaber fight feels fairly fierce, as if it is just two people in a forest really going at each other, however I found myself being bored by it. Probably because by that time I knew how the film would end, like A New Hope except with Luke appearing at the end.

Something else that somewhat enrages me about the film is the defences that people use for it, especially when it can be seen that they are only trying to protect the beloved Star Wars name. For example, I have heard the argument that we do not know where this franchise is going, and so we should judge it once the other films in the trilogy are out! However not once has that been said in Batman Vs Superman’s defence, not least by the same people defending Star Wars with that excuse. Another defence I hear often is that the film had to play safe! It had to get the fans back on board for them to develop the universe in Star Wars: Episode VIII! I cannot accept that at all, as the film would have made money through the name alone, allowing the film to take a few creative risks. Lucas knew this before making Episode I and he took risks with the story, and that film made enough for him to retire and his grandchildren to retire before ever working.

The Force Awakens has a few good moments, floating in a sea of mediocrity, and I want to leave this review with one last question. The question is why? Why is this film necessary? With Lucas not writing it the best it can ever hope to be is a fan fiction. Fan fiction is how this film seems to be written like when assessing Rey’s character arc, as she magically learns to use the force without training, using it to trick stormtroopers and pull lightsabers into her hands. This arc is most infuriating when she defeats Kylo Ren in a lightsaber battle. She has had NO TRAINING with it and still Kylo loses to her. The film may have become interesting if she had lost the fight, but instead her arc remains poorly written.

When it comes to giving this film a rating I struggle between 1 or 2 stars. The more I think about the film the more it annoys me because of how creatively bankrupt it seems and how poorly its new characters are written and directed. Any of the good moments, or lack thereof, in this film you can find in another Star Wars film done better. I understand that a lot of people enjoy this film, and reading this you may disagree with what I say, and that is fine, it would be a bit boring if I just wrote in favour of popular opinion all the time wouldn’t it? If you love this film, good for you, don’t let my words change that, however at least see where I am coming from with these points.

★☆☆☆☆