How I fell in love with The Force Awakens: a big blockbuster, with an even bigger personality.
“Well, you tell him that Han Solo just stole back the Millennium Falcon for good.”
Where do I even begin with this?
I guess I want to strip it back – block out all the noise, all the buzz, all the box office success and the fanboy furore – and just look at it as a single entity. A fantasy adventure set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That’s what Star Wars was all about, wasn’t it? Originally, I mean. Much like George Lucas in ’77, JJ Abrams could hardly hope to capture the hearts of an entire generation without a truly enchanting story at the heart of his epic blockbuster production. And sure enough, he does that. It’s just taken me a while to realise how well he does it.
A film like The Force Awakens was always going to come with strings attached. There’s the build-up, the lofty expectations, the exposure of its inevitable flaws and the months of discussion & analysis that follows. In the midst of all the hype and negativity, it’s easy to overlook just how much it gets right.
The entire first act is blockbuster cinema at its finest. It weaves in and out of multiple intertwining tales, efficiently introducing audiences to a host of new faces – each one as endearing as the last – without letting the momentum slip. There’s the cocky fighter pilot with a heart of gold, and his adorable spherical sidekick. There’s the petulant and occasionally-intimidating villainous threat and a foot-soldier just looking for a way out. And finally, we have our formidable, scavenging protagonist, marooned by her family and left to fend for herself.
These aren’t just archetypes, they’re living, breathing people in a vast, expansive universe. They each carry their own little quirks and nuances that offer the same brand of small-scale character depth that made Han Solo a pop culture icon. Forget dogfights in space and lightsaber duels, it’s moments like Rey wearing a Resistance helmet like a dork, or Finn calling himself a “big deal” that make The Force Awakens so uniquely captivating. Those little moments are what separate it away from the recent crop of largely soulless studio blockbusters.
Boy is this film beautiful to look at. The lifelike practical sets, subtle visual effects and glorious cinematography all complement each other perfectly to create a captivating visual marvel. JJ’s technical team transport you from one distinct ecosystem to the next – each one populated by all manner of creatures and characters – while never losing the iconic aesthetic of the original trilogy. Dan Mindel’s decision to shoot on film bathes the movie in deep shadows & blacks, and vibrant, saturated colours – imbuing each shot with a touch of nostalgia too.
The film’s second half struggles to match up to its ambitious opening. It stops pushing the boundaries of the Star Wars universe, and settles for a more stale, derivative affair. We’re no longer investigating downed Star Destroyers or exploring the psyche of an ex-Stormtrooper. Instead, we get a bunch of expository ‘chosen one’ dialogue from Maz Kanata and the arrival of a third (bigger n’ better) Death Star. Such missteps almost undermine the fine groundwork Abrams and his team laid during the first hour of the movie.
Fortunately, it’s dragged back-on-track by a surprisingly emotional finale – defined by an intense father-son confrontation and the saga’s most ferocious and raw lightsaber battle to date. The third act is still by no means perfect – and is weighed down by a number of rushed, unfocused plot mechanics – but the entire thing builds to a deliciously suspenseful climax that’ll leave you desperate for details about Rian Johnson’s impending sequel.
It’s taken me four viewings to appreciate The Force Awakens for the creative piece of entertainment it is – rather than the peerless, sweeping masterpiece I’d have liked it to be. In an era defined by corporate, manufactured blockbusters, the fact this film has so much ambition and personality feels like a minor miracle in itself.
Almost straight after completing my aforementioned fourth viewing of this film, I put on the Secrets Of The Force Awakens behind-the-scenes documentary – which in itself is a pretty rare feat. What struck me is just how many people ended up contributing to this thing – and how much hard work and phenomenal talent went into its creation. This really is a special film – in so many ways.