With over $2 billion in the bank, the seventh episode in the Star Wars saga has exceeded expectations. In one film, Disney recouped half of what they paid for LucasFilm, breaking several box office records in the process. For fans it was the experience they were looking for in the wake of the prequels.
Despite that, four months on and there's a feeling (at least with this reviewer) that while The Force Awakens is a welcome return, it could have been better.
Now here comes an unfashionable opinion. The prequels weren't that bad. Sure, they didn't invoke the joy of the originals, and while it's become fashionable to tear them apart for their faults and inconsistencies - and they have many - they're not disasters. Like Darth Vader, they still have some good in them too.
From the off it's clear The Force Awakens understands the appeal of the Originals – it’s a simple adventure that pits good against evil (in a galaxy far, far away…).
Taking place thirty years after Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is AWOL as the First Order rises to prominence. Its aim is to wipe out the New Republic and the Resistance army led by General (formerly princess) Leia Organa. Central to the plot is a map that leads to Skywalker, hidden in a BB-8 droid that Daisy Ridley's Rey finds on the planet of Jakku. Sound familiar?
The new cast members are engaging and far removed from the stiffness of the prequels, though some characters are paper-thin. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron could do with more time, while Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma is under-utilised and Domhall Gleeson’s General Hux mostly sneers when he’s on screen.
Adam Driver's Kylo Ren is interesting. It's the light side seducing him not the dark. His tantrums – played for laughs – tend to make him less intimidating though.
Rey and Finn (John Boyega) fare better. Their friendship is an endearing one and each has a moment to shine. You're willing to forgive them any dud moments (especially with some of the dialogue). Their youthful enthusiasm gives the film an energy and a humour that's not been felt since Return of the Jedi.
But the real star of the show is Harrison Ford's Han Solo. When he arrives the film really gets going. Hearing him correct Rey about the Falcon or refer to someone as 'some moofmilker' is a delight, as are his interactions with Chewbacca. Less so Carrie Fisher's Leia who’s underserved by a largely expository role and Mark Hamill, well, he has a great beard.
There’s much to like about The Force Awakens but it’s not perfect. Director J.J Abrams pays his respects without moving the dial much, relying on the iconography and audience’s relationship to the originals for much of the plot.
It is overwhelmingly familiar with a few too many nods to past films. Want another Death Star? Well this one is 10 times as big. BB-8 is another cute droid like R2-D2. The First Order equals the Empire; the Resistance is The Rebel Alliance etc. It plays it a little safe when it could have been a bit more daring. Hopefully Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII will pick up the mantle.
Visually Force Awakens looks terrific. Shot on film, the image is clean and pristine. It’s an aesthetic helped by a return to practical locations and sets. You can spot all the nicks and scratches on Ren’s helmet, while you can feel the energy that crackles off his lightsaber. This is a quality release from Disney.
It’s much the same on the audio side. What impresses most is how well mixed and how much depth there is to the soundtrack. It’s very faithful in retaining that Star Wars sound and you'll never tire of that tell-tale Tie-Fighter tone. There’s real weight and force and even when the action gets busy, there's no confusion as to what you’re hearing.
It’s a shame there’s not a Dolby Atmos version. It would have been worth it to hear John Williams score. It's seamlessly integrated here, rising and falling as the action dictates. Rey's Theme in particular develops and grows each time you hear it.
For many The Force Awakens will serve as a course correction for those who felt the prequels were too serious, had too much CGI and lacked the original trilogy’s charm. In that context what J.J. Abrams has done should be seen as a success but with a few caveats.
The story and the characters fit easily into the patterns established by A New Hope. The conflict is essentially the same, and how the film plays out is very similar.
But while the prequel trilogy was uneven, The Force Awakens is more consistent. It's a stunning-looking, superb-sounding Blu-ray release, that sets the stall out for more time in this hugely enjoyable galaxy.
- Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey
- The Story Awakens: The Table Read
- Crafting Creatures
- Building BB-8
- Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight
- ILM: The Vosual Magic of the Force
- John Williams: The Seventh Symphony
- Deleted Scenes
- Force for Change