Just How Good Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
Firstly then, the question on everybody's lips: why is Londonist covering a film set in a galaxy far far away? Well, it stars two very talented Londoners in Daisy Ridley (from Westminster) and John Boyega (from Peckham), and it was made right here in the capital (at Pinewood), so we're claiming this one as our own.
Second question: is it any good? Well, as you might expect from a film costing around £130 million (not including Disney’s multi-billion dollar buyout to get the rights from George Lucas), Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an immaculately polished bit of product.
With Lucas locked out, in comes director JJ Abrams, who is acclimatised to super-scale sci-fi having made the two recent Star Trek films (the first of which was fun, the second not so much). It might seem a weird choice to get the same man to helm these two competing mega-franchises — what if he gets them in a muddle and forgets he can’t beam Han Solo up or tries to have the Klingons team up with Jabba the Hutt? There’s an awful lot riding on this one after the execrable last Star Wars trilogy: not just more movies, but a lot of lunchboxes and Lego too.
It’s pretty cocky then that Abrams commences this new chapter with a sly wink to the worried, crossing the streams for a split second as the great triangular shadow of a star destroyer eclipses a planet to momentarily form the logo worn by Captain Kirk. And so, as they say, the circle is complete...
And if this is already getting too geeky for you — sorry but there’s more coming — the new film is littered with in-jokes, references and cute cameos for the nerds to pull apart over Christmas and beyond (does Daniel Craig really play one of the stormtroopers?). We’ll keep the trivia to a minimum here though and skip straight to the important stuff.
Is it fun? Yes, very. Does it have soul? Just enough. Is there a good story? So-so, it’s solid but a bit too similar to the 1977 original. Are the old stars good? Harrison Ford is great. Are the new stars good? They steal the film. Now let’s expand again…
At the heart of the film, Daisy Ridley is excellent as Rey, a tomboyish scrap collector who comes to learn that she might just be more than “scavenger scum” stuck on a distant desert planet. She’s a thoroughly more engaging incarnation of the yearning kid than Mark Hamill was the first time he played Luke Skywalker. Though perhaps for a closer measure — we’d suggest that Ridley gives Jennifer Lawrence in blockbuster mode a run for her money. Yep, she's that good.
John Boyega is a revelation too. There’s nothing in his breakthrough performance as a gnarly teen in Attack The Block that would suggest the sheer breadth of his character work here. He plays renegade stormtrooper Finn, who is wrestling with his conscience one minute then taking himself by surprise with his survival instincts the next. Boyega has charm by the bucket and great comic timing too.
The third leg of the table is Adam Driver, playing the film’s main villain Kylo Ren. You’ve probably already seen his masked snout and cruciform red lightsaber on the poster: a far cry from his role as Lena Dunham’s squeeze in Girls. He's exactly what Hayden Christian was not as young Darth in the prequels: menacing, magnetic and complex. And when Driver unmasks for the film’s biggest scene (which we won’t spoil but will say it comes as a real punch in the guts), he does not disappoint.
Overall, Lucas’s imagined universe has been re-created here with a rare richness and believability thanks to the emphasis on practical effects and the beautifully-made models of machines and space monsters. In fact, the detail is such that you really want a bit more time to see everything. Things move so fast however that it’s often hard to soak up the efforts of all those designers and prop-makers and puppeteers. A sequence in a crowded alien bar that’s meant to mirror the famous cantina scene from the first film is just one of many that whiz by in a blur.
This is the film’s biggest flaw — the sense of needing to keep putting stuff up on the screen, which can get tiring (just as it did in Star Trek: Into Darkness). The film is constructed from a dozen or so action set-pieces with only a few real moments of respite. For all Abrams’ talk of being influenced by arthouse favourites Terrence Malick and Akira Kurosawa, he hasn’t learnt much from them about pacing. We've come to expect modern blockbusters to be wall-to-wall action, but at times the energy here feels a tad too desperate. A slightly more relaxed approach would have made the vision and the dramatic moments more immersive and make this a film to want to see over and over again, which it just isn't quite.
There aren’t many other missteps — the audience at yesterday’s screening came out satisfied, relieved that it wasn’t another Phantom Menace and ready for another one. Job done then JJ, what’s next: Dune?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is at every cinema everywhere.
Last Updated 18 December 2015