Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The day had arrived. I still couldn't believe it had come. My ticket, bought weeks ago, the worry building with each trailer, the spectre of the broken heart of twenty years ago, all combined into one moment sat in the lounge of the BFI IMAX at Waterloo when I wondered if I should just walk out and move on. Sat opposite was a family, both boys decked out in costumes, one as a Jedi the other as Captain Phasma (Game of Thrones own Gwendoline Christie, who has ball in her scenes). Their joy gave me hope. I take my usual seat, towards the back, left hand aisle and suffer the trailers. The screen goes black, the projectors switch, the BBFC certificate appears to a cheer, as does the Lucasfilm logo. The words appear:
It begins, the wait is over. I grip my seat and give in.
Two and bit hours later, I've let go of my seat. I'm smiling, I have tears rolling down my face. It is everything I had hoped for.
I walk out, hands shaking, ring work and say I'm taking the afternoon off, look at my phone and book a ticket at the Odeon Leicester Square and jump on the tube. There are Stormtroopers and X-Wing pilots guarding the doors, there is a massive crowd waiting to go in. I join the queue, grab a beer and bottle of water, take my seat and watch it again, with a mood to be critical, find the flaws, see if it was just emotion before. It is not. It is still everything I had hoped for. J.J. Abrams has given us our Star Wars back.
The story is paper thin. It is silly, has a few quite whopping plot holes and a number of "who the hell/what the hell is that" moments, but, frankly, it doesn't matter. As in A New Hope, the group assembled to take the journey feel familiar from the moment we see them. We meet Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron first and he is the X-Wing pilot we all pretended to be growing up. When the Stromtroopers arrive, they have real menace. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren has a presence that is insidious. John Boyega, clearly loving every second on screen, proving as he did in Attack the Block, that he is a star in waiting. But in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is Daisy Ridley that is the heart of the film. Being forced to grow up as well as grow as a character, it is an arc that could very easily not have worked in lesser hands, but she is an engaging presence, someone who, much like Driver, acts with their eyes. Ridley is cast very much in the Mark Hamill role from A New Hope. The twist being that she doesn't really want to leave her desert planet. It is around Boyega and Ridley, and wonderful droid BB-8, that all the action takes place. We are clearly being shown that this is the group we will be following going forward. While I've read that the old characters are a tad short changed, I disagree. Han and Chewie have one of the great cinematic re-introductions and all the returning actors seem to be having a ball, bantering with the new group in some brilliant back and forths. The script is witty enough to keep things moving and the action is as great as anything in the Original Trilogy, with something added.
The action sequences all have a physical heft to them. The weaponry packs a punch. No longer do people fall over when hit by the bigger weapons, they are blown across the screen. Fights have impact and most impressively to me, the space craft actually look like they are physical creations. Not in the CGI sense, which is very good, but as most of the action takes in atmosphere, the ships, Tie Fighters, X-Wings and The Falcon, actually seem to be fighting the pull of gravity. They turn and slip and slide, vortices spill off of control surfaces and when they are hit, the ships actually seem sturdy as each hit causes more damage. It adds a level of supposed realism to the battles and they look all the more wonderful for it. But the film is Daisy's. There is a wonderful scene where Rey is having dinner. The camera pans through her "home", on the shelf is a home-made doll of an X-Wing pilot. She licks her plate, looks to the horizon and pops on a battered rebel pilot's helmet, a size or two too big. It is wonderfully shot and beautifully played by Ridley. Mark my words, Daisy Ridley is going to be huge. Her's is the role Natalie Portman thought she was getting. Ridley is the heart of the film, with Boyega taking the Han role from the earlier ones. They are going to be wonderful to watch going forward. Rian Johnson has a strong base to kick Episode VIII off with.
The Force Awakens has issues and is far from the perfect movie but my goodness does it make you feel good. A less ardent Star Wars fan may be able to pick it apart and I think I shall the next time I see it but, taken as a whole, it is wonderful. How wonderful, I hear you ask? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is even better the second time round. I can't wait for the third viewing.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out now.