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Spoiler-Free ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review: Exceeds Expectations

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Note: This review is committed to being entirely spoiler-free.

My biggest fear about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that it would finish what the prequels started, and run a beautiful, haunting, epic story to the graveyard with over-the-top CG effects, and no real story. That, thankfully, did not happen. If anything, Star Wars VII tries its utmost to get into the spirit of the original series. At times, so much so that it looks as if the scenes could have been directly taken from the original series. Is that bad? Actually, no. While ideally a good film should leave us with new eyes, and any Star Wars movie should really be a good film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives its die-hard fans plenty to chew on, discuss, and watch over and over again.

*****

From the moment the theatre darkens, and the film starts playing; from the moment the green and black LucasFilm logo appears with a bang; from the moment the all-too-familiar black-and-gold text (no spoilers, see?) scrolls up the screen, we are happily submerged into the Star Wars universe. Return of the Jedi released 30 years ago, and the fictional timeline picks up in this post-Vader, post-Palpatine era.

There are four extremely promising brand-new characters: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac). The star-billing deservedly goes to Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, who reprise their iconic roles as Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, and Luke Skywalker. So much could have misfired in this mix of old and new. The old could have made it too much of the same, the new could have made it too different. That, thankfully, does not happen.

*****

The standout actor in this film is Daisy Ridley. If anyone exudes everything the Light stands for, it’s her. She faintly resembles a hero in the mould of Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), and then she steals the show. In a multi-cast film, the protagonist’s story arc had to be carefully layered over other story arcs. Her struggle doesn’t always form the fulcrum of everything else, and at times, she seems to be in a separate world of her own. But, it’s the first of the sequels, and there’s plenty of time to work her back in.

The screenplay is brilliant, without being masterful. Entire novels could be (and probably will be) written around the perfectly balanced tension and sparring in certain key scenes. The dialogues and comedy work exceptionally well. Jokes simultaneously reference the internal universe of Star Wars, and its real-life cult status. The film used a number of writers to work on the script, and while there are no really bad dialogues, it’s clear that some scenes do not come anywhere close to the brilliance of the others.

*****

Where the script really suffers is with its overall lack of cohesion. The theme of temptation and fall is Star Wars‘ greatest strength. The Force Awakens, while excellent at setting up micro stories, doesn’t handle this well at all. It had to be told in a new way. It had to surprise audiences even if they already knew the ending. This film doesn’t do that. It simply repeats what we already know.

Fans won’t complain though, because the prequels had set the bar so low. And fans won’t complain, because The Force Awakens could easily be re-titled The Star Awakens – Denise Ridley is Luke, Han, and Leia all in one. In every frame, she’s quintessential Star Wars. If the cast and crew ever forgot, for even a moment, that this was the universe of Star Wars, they only had to look at her restrained, intense, and ‘hopeful’ (as she called it) expression.

Adam Driver, on the other hand, isn’t exactly the menacing stuff of Star Wars antagonists, though he tries. If anything, his characterisation takes us back to that ‘mistake’ scene in A New Hope, when Commander Tarkin speaks disparagingly to Darth Vader, and gets away with it.

But this characterisation of Kylo Ren is probably deliberate. And it makes logical sense. After all, this is an era which comes after the grand epic victory of the light side in the sixth movie . So why should we suddenly have a hyper-menacing villain? Adam Driver does what he was sent to do – set up an intriguing, troubling, confusing, and ultimately, highly-engaging villain who can have his own journey in the next two films.

Star Wars is best when it’s tracking two contrasting heroes, and John Boyega is exemplary as this second hero. Rey steals the show, but Finn isn’t far behind. The dynamic between Rey and Finn may not ooze with the humour, charm and nearly 40 years of cult-worship that fuels the dynamic between Rey and Han Solo. But there is something raw, poignant and beautiful between Rey and Finn.

It transcends cinematic romance, and eludes categories like ‘brother-sisterly’. And it silently makes an emphatic comment on the fact that a woman and a black man are starring in Hollywood’s biggest film series of all-time. Ridley and Boyega had a lot to live up to on both fronts. Star Wars is big. Displacing white heroes is big. These two are stellar.

*****

That said, The Force Awakens really needed more women and more people of colour in its cast. Rey and Finn seem like isolated heroes from that perspective. One of the sequences that really showed Padme as a complex character in The Phantom Menace, was her interaction, concern and bonding with her female bodyguards. Despite being loners of sorts, Luke and Anakin on Tatooine had sidekicks. No such luck for Rey. Meanwhile, Finn is at the risk of being another lone Mace Windu character. The background story also needs a lot of fleshing out, and the next two films will have to do some work to explain why we’re looking at this particular power balance after Return of the Jedi.

Some parts (especially, the most obvious and utterly important sequence) are unforgivably rushed. In some parts, while events of monumental importance happen, main characters stand around doing nothing. But we can always hope. The next two films could plot a reason for all this. Ultimately, this is a far more enjoyable film than any of the prequel films.

*****

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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