Absolutely guaranteed not to ruin your enjoyment of any of the surprises.
This is the first of two articles I’ll be writing about The Force Awakens. This is the spoiler-free review, with scores and everything. The second article will be absolutely crammed full of spoilers and absolutely shouldn’t be read if you haven’t seen the film yet.
Writing a spoiler-free review turns out to be really rather difficult. I can’t actually even post a full cast list in case it gives something away. So if you want, you can find that information elsewhere, or watch the credits at the end of this movie.
Because when you get right down to it, watching this movie is what you should be doing.
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt
Approximately thirty years after the Battle of Endor (as depicted in Return of the Jedi), the landscape of the galaxy has changed. The Empire no longer exists, but a new power has arisen to oppose the reconstituted Republic – the First Order. Clues have led to the planet Jakku, scene of the final climactic battle between the Empire and the New Republic, where there may be information that could help restore peace to the galaxy.
It’s not very original. Let’s be honest about this. Arguably it doesn’t need to be – half the function of this film is a nostalgia trip for those of us who grew up with the original trilogy’s dialogue running through our veins. It also very consciously and very deliberately adopts elements from A New Hope, both to give us a sense of familiarity and to allow the new lead characters to take their place as heroes in their own right. 4/6, because while it’s not using anything startlingly innovative it manages to avoid any sense of feeling stale.
The effects are superb. Utterly superb. Now we know this was going to be the case to some extent, but it’s difficult to really explain just how good it feels. It looks flawless, obviously, but there’s a physicality and realness to the effects due to there being so much physical work. When there is CGI material it’s worked in extremely well. I know some reviewers have called out the (very few) computer-generated characters as a bit jarring and out of place. I have to disagree with them. Certainly they weren’t completely perfect, and one of them was significantly less brilliant than the others, but they fitted into their scenes exceptionally well and I can’t mark the film down for it. The most brilliant practical effect of course is the startlingly spherical droid BB-8, who’s already won over a lot of people just from the trailers. Remarkably expressive, incredibly mobile and basically just awesome in every respect. 6/6.
The story is the thing I can’t talk about much here. Let’s just say it takes a good premise for what’s happened in the last thirty years and thrown in some new characters to shake things up in a satisfying and yet familiar way. 5/6.
The acting is great. We see a lot of characters in this film, and a lot of actors of varying experience portraying them. Any specific actors I mention here have been shown in these roles in the trailers, so this won’t spoil anything: Daisy Ridley comes out of nowhere to nail Rey. She’s a bit awkward in places, but by the time I’d finished watching the film for the second time I decided that it works because of her character. Rey has to go through a lot of bad stuff in a short space of time (never volunteer to be a protagonist), and the effects this has on her are well-portrayed. John Boyega delivered from his first scene through to his last, showing the conflict he has to overcome and how he overcomes it in a very straightforward way – because ultimately his reasons are pretty straightforward. More on that elsewhere. We also have to nod in the direction of Lupita Nyong’o, delivering a motion capture and voice performance of superb quality; and Adam Driver, who provides us with an effecting portrayal of a more complex villain than one might have expected. I can’t go down the entire cast, but I will also call out Domhnall Gleeson for a completely chilling speech laden with historical analogies which I will also discuss elsewhere; and Gwendoline Christie for playing the creepiest boss you could ever hope you never have. 6/6.
Emotional response was always going to be strong. It’s a new Star Wars film, how could it not be? But was it going to be celebration or disgust? Were we going to be caring about these characters or hoping that they’d trip and fall down a conveniently-placed garbage chute? It’s the latter. Remarkably, there were some moments which still really struck me the second time, even though I’d seen exactly the same film the day before. 5/6.
The production is almost uniformly excellent. It has a lot of the atmosphere of the original trilogy – randomly placed desert settlements which survive by no readily apparent method (where do people in this galaxy get their food from), forest planets, dark and crowded bars full of aliens, menacing enemy bases… yes. This is all great, and John Williams has delivered yet another completely brilliant score with some new themes which I’m sure will become as familiar and beloved as the themes we all know from the original films – some of which also reappear. The problems are mostly with editing and direction. There are a few shots, particularly right near the beginning of the film, where I was starting to get worried about whether the rest was going to be like that. One completely unnecessary cutaway shot which made me wonder if Abrams thinks we’ve fallen asleep already, and one scene which probably should’ve started a bit earlier and therefore wouldn’t have needed the awkward exposition in the latter part. A shame, but one soon forgets these things as the rest of the film improves significantly. And a call out for the fight choreography, which is just brilliant. 5/6.
Overall, stop reading and go see it. 6/6.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens receives a total of 37/42. It’s not perfect, but it’s Star Wars and that’s enough for me.