Star Wars: The Force Awakens, review: ‘Fun but frivolous’
17:24 17 December 2015
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J. J. Abrams’ reboot of the iconic series will sate the fans’ desires, but ultimately plays it safe, says Michael Joyce.
Struggles for control have always been the foundation of Star Wars, battles between the light and the dark side for a character’s soul. Now the fans have wrested control from its creator George Lucas and have made almost exactly the Star Wars movie they have been waiting for since The Empire Strikes Back, 35 years ago. The missing ingredient turned out to be fun, the element that was squeezed out of the films when Lucas turned to the dark side. Force Awakens is unrelentingly jolly; the hope is that everybody will have such a good time they won’t notice that it is basically a remake of the first two films.
The film opens on a desert planet, just like the original did, and has a seemingly ordinary young person Rey (Ridley) stumbling upon a droid that contains vital information, just like Luke did in the first film. Before the screening Disney were very insistent about people not giving away spoilers, but it is kind of redundant because in the Star Wars universe the options are so limited that no surprise ever really comes as a surprise: people will be tempted to cross to the dark side; people in tin helmets will be evil; ordinary people will quickly reveal themselves to be bold and heroic; and there will be a climatic lightsabre fight. The Force Awakens has one genuine surprise but because it is so bluntly set up (and because the whole film suddenly comes to a stop to look on as it happens) the shock of it is thrown away.
Our new heroes are unknown Brits Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, and I think audiences will warm to them and be happy to follow them through Episodes VIII and IX. Boyega has acquired a very nice mid Atlantic accent, though Ridley is so thoroughly English that you’d half expect the big surprise to be one of the film’s many Darth Vader substitutes lifting off their helmet to reveal Keira Knightley underneath, giggling, “Hey Rey, I’m your big sister!”
The Force Awakens is a great film for right now: it will sate the fans’ desire to see proper Star Wars again, engage a wider audience and it won’t leave a giant Phantom Menace pong in cinemas. But, if you are not a die hard fan, it isn’t really any great leap beyond the top level action movie blockbuster of the last few years and I wonder if, a few years from now, people will look back on it as a funny, busy but essentially frivolous film that doesn’t really get to grips with its dramatic potential. It’s a lot like a group of friends having great fun playing at being Star Wars, an epic exercise in playing it safe.