First off let me tell you the kind of Star Wars fan I am (because I know for some people that will have a bearing on how much they trust my opinion). I’m not a super-fan. I care enough to be angry at the prequels (the blood of which we’ll never wash off our hands), but I’m not so much of an aficionado that I can tell you the serial number on the underside of every individual Storm Troopers’ groin plate. They’re films I grew up on and loved, but they’re not on my all-time Top 20 list.
Let’s start with the best news: JJ Abrams has nailed this film. It may not be the Star Wars every fan wants, but it’s the one they needed.
From the off it feels like a return to an older style of blockbuster filmmaking: The linear story, the use of practical effects, the music of John Williams and crucially, the focus on meaningful character arcs make this feel of a bygone period, and that’s just what a Star Wars film should feel like.
I suppose you could almost call it a soft reboot. Though it’s obviously a sequel, there are so many familiar elements (a Death Star like weapon, returning character cameos, a familial reveal, a secret hidden within a droid, a Jedi turned to the dark side, a new hero learning their true power) that it’s as if Disney decided to start this new phase in the franchise with something safe for the fans, before going off in new and exciting directions, and honestly that’s a smart move.
What sets this film apart are its new characters; a set of unique heroes and villains who take these recognisable plot points and turn them into a fresh experience. John Boyega is wonderfully charismatic as Finn, the Storm Trooper gone rogue who lets his conscience lead his decisions to act, even if he knows he is hopelessly outmatched. The fact that he fails more times than he succeeds in battle gives him a Jack Burton quality that makes him all the more endearing. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is a 1950s comic hero brought to life; moralistic and virtuous to the end, with a fierce loyalty that makes him a particularly dangerous foe. Daisy Ridley’s Rey will be a role model to young girls for years to come: The new true hero of the Star Wars universe, independent, clever, strong, strong-willed. She embodies everything a force for good should be, and JJ Abrams has paved the way for Hollywood to take note and give us more female leads in the future.
The best character, however, is the villain. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is the most complex villain of recent memory. He is tortured by his want for the dark powers and his unchangeable draw to the light. Upon having plans not work out he fires up his lightsaber and hacks a computer console to pieces, all-the-while screaming the place down. He is anguished and you feel it. It’s not petulance that drives his erratic behaviour, but a soul being torn apart from the inside. Even more impressive are the scenes in which he removes his mask, and we clearly read equal parts menace, fear, power and confusion. It’s a truly amazing performance from Driver and makes for a foe worthy of a story this big.
The choreography is Abrams at his most accomplished. His action sequences are clearly plotted to wring as much emotion as excitement, and though the aerial battles are stunning, this is none more evident than during the lightsaber battle in the snow as seen in the trailers. This is a fight which has stakes and consequences that we all feel. Each swing of a blade means something, or tells something about what would happen should either side get the upper hand. It’s this sequence where Abrams comes into his own and starts veering away from the familiar Star Wars elements into something the future films will hopefully build on.
As a final note I would recommend, if you can, to seek out an IMAX screen to watch the film on. There’s something magical about the format, something so huge that makes you feel tiny by comparison; that you are a kid again, wide-eyed and excited for adventure. At the end of the day, isn’t that what Star Wars should be to us all?