- 16 Dec 15
Hot Press' Roe McDermott has had a chance to run the rule over the latest chapter in the epic franchise - and she was more than a little impressed.
Do you feel that pressure in your chest, that triumphant swell of iconic music and adrenaline and nostalgia mixed with something else, something rare and intangible and almost forgotten?
It’s hope. Hopes of generations, of unabashed fans, of dizzying enthusiasm in an era of cynicism, of dreams built long ago in an era of the new and flashy. It’s hope so pure, and real. And now realised.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was always going to be the movie event of the year. It was the film that was to reignite memories and childhoods and first crushes and first heroes in old fans; it was to create all this and more for newcomers. It was always going to be big, and expensive, and bold.
But it didn’t have to be the movie event of the decade. It didn’t have to live up to the hype, and hope. It didn’t have to be good.
It isn’t. It’s great.
Great in the awe-inspiring, tear-provoking way that only films built on generations of dreams can be great. It’s legacy and nostalgia and iconography. It’s innovation and freshness and daring. It taps not into what the original films were, but what they meant to audiences, how they made us feel. That desire for adventure, and inspiration, that hunger to be heroic. It’s all here, and then some.
J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan have perfectly balanced the old and new, the humour and heartbreak, and have updated the white, male-dominated universe to one filled with equals, not merely in the reductive sense of physical strength and skill with a lightsaber, but equal in vulnerability, in ambition, in need for love and deep reservoirs of courage. The characters in The Force Awakens are equals in their humanity.
Yes, even when they’re just humanoids.
The old and new cast form a beautiful mash-up; a modern remix of a classic tune. Slightly wizened but with no less of a twinkle in his eye, Ford’s Han Solo becomes a supporting player alongside Leia (Carrie Fischer), now a resistance general whose feistiness has not been quenched, merely refined over time. These iconic characters have taken a step back, not because they are weaker, but because their aims and means are different now. Becoming a hero is a young person’s game. They’ve paid their dues. They’re on hero status maintenance now; the action load is lighter.
They can also see themselves being born anew, as the trio of Luke, Han and Leia have been replaced with figures that embody the progression of this world. As Poe, Finn and Rey, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley bring an irresistible fluidity and variance to their roles that extends so far beyond the rare and so hugely important representation of racial diversity of their trinity. These are not mere reincarnations of the original cast, but complex and nuanced characters in their own right.
Isaac brings a determination and charm to resistance pilot Poe, but Isaac’s ever-simmering intensity brings a completely different energy than Ford’s glib rogue. As deserter storm trooper turned rebel Finn, Boyega’s role brims with the trauma of cruelties suffered and inflicted, but with a strengthened resolve for the world to be better for it. And it is Rey (Ridley), and not her male peers, that embodies so much of a young Luke Skywalker, but her past as a desert scavenger and loner have left her suspicious, cynical, and her path to trusting her new comrades and finding a new form of family is all the more meaningful for it.
But our new heroes are faced with new enemies, who are just as compelling. As new villain Kylo Ren, Adam Driver brings is terrifying and mercurial – steely-eyed and merciless one moment, a tantrum throwing teenager the next. His intentions evokes the terror Darth Vader, but he’s a new, modern villain, one that taps into the millennial trope of entitlement and immaturity but combined with deadly power.
With all these evocations of old and new, parent material and newborn reboot, it’s no surprise that some of the original Star Wars’ Freudian themes also emerge – but to say more would be a slip all its own. What can be revealed is that this wonderful characterisation never comes at the expense of action – but nor does the action eclipse all. Though still prone to dumps of exposition and a visual shine that’s just a little too slick, J.J. Abrams’ directing is assured, maintaining a sense of visceral excitement while never veering into mania. Perfectly paced through heart-stopping flights, X-Wing attacks and TIE Fighter battles, the action has clarity and flair, the emotional stakes of each dramatic sequence elevating seat-clutchingly thrilling scenes into experiences fraught with emotion as well as sheer, giddy excitement.
It’s not just the action sequences that prove an embodied rollercoaster of feeling. Abrams and Kasdan maintain blend of levity and longing throughout the entire film. Bringing levity and playfulness to the script, Kasdan understands that real humour respects its audience. There are earnest throwbacks and merry winks to the film’s predecessors, and also an irony and contemporary wit that feels like an uproarious, dynamic dialogue between generations. But there’s also a slow unfurling of real relationships and deep emotion, which Abrams thankfully allows to linger in moments of meaningful quiet.
There was a universe, and it was filled with beloved characters and classic adventures and the countless fantasies of fans and audiences everywhere.
The Force Awakens has not only perfectly presented one of these fantasies and reignited our minds to the other infinite possibilities. It also makes these dreams seems tangible, like each unique and personal and heart-filled imagining could also be realized, could also be portrayed on screen, become this almost-true. It gives us hope.