I recently asked the question, a rather popular question I might add, to friends, family, film peers, as to whether or not taking my 3 year-old daughter to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the right thing to do. The appropriate thing. I know it is a good idea, but was I a responsible parent? Here in the UK the film was given a 12a rating, which basically means it is suitable for a 12 year-old but they have to be accompanied by an adult. Fair enough, but my daughter won’t be that age for another 9 years. The classification board clearly deemed the seventh Star Wars venture to have certain moments or themes perhaps not accessible to a pre-teen audience. Whatever happen, I was definitely seeing it, that was never in question. The responses I got from those I openly asked were positive, you know, there’s a couple of parts here and there, but generally there was a go-for-it vibe. It was what I wanted to hear shall we say.
I sat with my daughter in the last couple of months to watch the original three Star Wars films, which barring some natural attention span jitters went well and she managed to sit through them in their entirety. I grew up with the original Star Wars films, like them I was born in 1977. My wife will disagree somewhat, but the Star Wars phenomenon was not necessarily forced upon the girl, as I had hoped she was entertained by the whole trilogy’s good vs evil platform. At least, that’s what I am rolling with. I held back on the prequels that began in 1999, admittedly a forced decision on my part, which I deemed unnecessary in preparation for The Force Awakens. Perhaps a tiny bit unfair to omit them, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, are still part of the Star Wars franchise, and to an untainted 3 year-old merely more of the same. I found the prequels were heavy-handed and disrespectfully sloppy in their approach (and casting), not to mention over-the-top with frightful sound effects and distractedly bad creatures. Let’s not sidetrack though. George Lucas got a lot of stick for that, by me included, but we shall not forget it was he that brought us the first Star Wars movie.
Lucas had creative input on The Force Awakens then, even following Disney acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012. J. J. Abrams (of Lost) is our director here, producing with Kathleen Kennedy and Bryan Burk, and screenwriting with Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt. We know this, as well as the eagerly awaited acting returns of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. My daughter has no idea who those people are, but with the astounding hype everywhere you turn it was no wonder she was perhaps as excited as I was to see the new Star Wars. My main worry though, beyond the scenes of mild horror, fighting, deaths, was the running time of over 2 hours. With strategic snacks, segments of knee-sitting, and some dazzling big screen entertainment, we got through it. And well worth the personal apprehensions and hype.
There’s not a lot more that can be said on the surface about The Force Awakens that hasn’t already been said via the previews, the reviews, the endless conversations. The story is mercifully simple, progressive and easy to follow, an accessible good and bad space story. Audience expectations will have been vast and varied, it has been a long, long time, so a huge task for the film-makers and story-tellers awaited them. Characters with names like Rey, Finn, Poe, a droid called BB-8, the Resistance, are forced to fight against the First Order (baddies formerly known as the Empire) including a masked Kylo Ren, whose grandfather’s dark side is clearly a huge influence and source of torment here. Favorites like Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, and Luke (but where is he?) also return. The old timers give us, the audience, brief coverage of their rather segregated backstory, which is a blessing that may have been aggrieved by missing out on 30 plus years of adventures and excitement. One melodically warm welcome falls with John Williams, who composes the music, like all of the above, with a seamless blend of old and new.
The Force Awakens signposts many of the components of the original trilogy (we all wanted that), Abrams and co have given much thought to the whole iconic measure of those first films. There’s a beautiful horizon shot with orange lit sky and structural silhouettes, almost like you are watching the 1977 gem all over again. Filmed here and there in the likes of Ireland, Abu Dhabi, and Iceland, the photography and editing do the old Star Wars format justice. It also familiarizes us with the kind of character moulds that made the originals so fresh and appealing – the Obi-Wan-esque wise man, the cocky, cool pilot, the young guardianless hero/heroine, the maskless stormtrooper performing a rescue, the battle station orb, the tiny droid with vital information, father and son on the opposite spectrum of good and evil. I could go on. Rather than just copying the blueprints, the seventh Star Wars simply recycles efficiently. Merging the nostalgia of the old generation while effectively luring in or maintaining the new. Just as the first Star Wars vitalized the big budget blockbuster, this new chapter invigorates the modern day box office motion picture. We’ve been waiting for this.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, sweeping picture, both light-footed and captivating in its execution. Touches a part of you with it’s jolts in action and character reaction, the story comes together before your wide eyes, you are seldom left longing for a alternative outcome. There are some moments of potential doom though, communities are destroyed and we are introduced to a new, again bigger, evil lord, Snoke. There’s also a traumatic demise just when you think all is well. We don’t question the coincidences and small worldliness of the plot, we accept it and embrace it with adrenaline. There’s an emotional edge too, glimmers of the originals once again (music, heroics etc.), but also with the new batch there is a real dynamic of humanity and warmth. Even some of the humor and one-lines work in their updated comedy modern-day discourse.
The fresh faces then all play their part. John Boyega as Finn encapsulates the stormtrooper with a crisis of conscience, we know he comes from a good place early on. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are everywhere it seems this year, showing us perhaps why as they both add further diversity strings to their impressive bows. Then there is Adam Driver, surely his casting not hindered by that voice, his Kylo Ren is such a glazed-eyed, rough-around-the edges soul, an incomplete villain but with enough evil to cause irreversible damage. And the exceptional Daisy Ridley as Rey, the film’s true heroine, with her clenched teeth grit, independence, and sheer drive, may be Star Wars’ most important character in 30 years. The force is strong with this one. In fact, just 20 minutes into The Force Awakens I was well aware this was already greater that the prequels that we had to endure over 10 years ago. It is a relaunching of a cinematic revolution. Another successful venture to the cinema for my daughter. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, amidst everything else, waves the flag for prospering actresses, and prominent, important female characters, as well as young, black leads, and, of course, for the Star Wars franchise itself, this is indeed a new hope.