This is a SPOILER review, there are SPOILERS from the very start, do not read it if you have not watched the film yet. If you would like to read our none spoiler review please click here. This article is an in-depth analysis into the plot and will therefore contain many SPOILERS. If you do not want to see SPOILERS do not read this piece. If you have watched the movie and want to know what we thought of Star Wars from start to finish then please go ahead and read this.
And if you haven’t watched the film yet, don’t forget to save this for later.
Did I mention that SPOILERS are contained within?
Seriously this is your last chance to turn back, SPOILERS from the very start.
From the very moment that famous yellow writing scrolls up the screen, it’s already better than Episode I. It teases that Princess Leia is now General Leia. It’s a really effective tease because it’s not until near the climax of the film that Leia, in her new role, is revealed to us. More on that later.
It also shows us that the battle of good and evil is no longer Rebels vs Empire; The Force Awakens follows the battle between the First Order and the Resistance. With the backing of the New Republic that helped shatter the final pieces of the Galactic Empire, remnants of which we see throughout. The Resistance are fighting to bring down a new evil organisation, a military junta if you will; the First Order.
We open to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the resistance’s best pilot being handed a map of Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts by Max von Sydow’s character Lor San Tekka. Finding Luke is a key part of both sides plan. Poe hides it in his droid, BB-8, and sends it to run free as an invasion of Stormtroopers led by an evil Jedi Kylo Ren destroy the village on Jakku. The BB-8 is in the same vain of cheeky droids we’ve seen before, mirroring RD-D2 in the task set for him. It’s been hailed as a problem that the plot of Force Awakens is similar to A New Hope but this is something that Star Wars loves to do events reoccurring with slight differences. It works as a way to bridge the gap, the audience is now comfortable with the tone of the new episodes of the saga, allowing it be developed. The similar plot reminds us this is still Star War but a whole new one.
Poe fires his blaster at Kylo Ren, as he has all the villagers rounded up, after staying hidden from the onslaught. He breaks it with a This is when we see a great development of the powers the dark side of the force brings as Ren stops it in mid-air. It’s further developed when Ren extracts the details of the whereabouts of the map from the captured Poe’s mind. While Ren has Poe restrained by Stormtroopers and has the villagers rounded up ready to be fired on, in one of the darkest moments Poe feeds some funny lines. That moment right at the start settles you in, this is going to be amazing and the tone is so well judged. Almost Whedonesque.
A Stormtrooper: FN-2187 (John Boyega) helps Poe escape from the Star Destroyer in a TIE fighter. As the First Order has spawned from the scraps of the Galactic Empire they can no longer rely on clones, so stormtroopers are raised from babies, snatched from their parents, bred to do one thing, kill for and serve the First Order, a smart idea. In his first deployment FN-2187, branded Finn by Poe, decided he was not going to do that and wants to escape with the help of Poe. The introduction of Finn is when we get the first glimmers of the laughs that are delivered solidly throughout, non of that sloppy lacklustre excuse for comedy we saw in the prequels.
Meanwhile the BB-8 has come across Rey a scavenger who trades metal for little scraps of food from Unkar Plutt a hidden Simon Pegg character. She’s determined to survive on Jakku no matter how hard it is for her. Until she meets up with Finn and the First Order come chasing for the droid. When they escape on the Millennium Falcon. Right after she’s referred to it as a heap of junk, which had any fan screaming: “That’s the fastest ship in the galaxy! It made the Kessel Run in less that 12 parsecs biatch!” Which in a nostalgia nod is brought up later. Their escape from the TIE fighters is so exciting an action set-piece the kind we expect from J.J. Abrams he just knows how to do it, but the difference here is he’s doing it with the Millennium Falcon which makes it so much better. Her prowess as a pilot was the first sign that she’s strong with the force.
As they escape from Jakku they get captured on the Falcon by a mysterious ship which just so happens to be owned by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Harrison Ford is still brilliant as Han Solo, any worries that he;d be crowbarred in and ultimately useless were assuaged very quickly. Seeing those 2 together with Finn and Rey drove home how much of a character film this was. While Han is much the same character we’ve seen before; reluctant to help the Resistance, his belligerence has alleviated over the years as have his views on the force. He tells us about events after the Battle of Endor, a short and excusable exposition dump, Luke had a group of Padawans until one of them turned to the dark side and killed the rest; Kylo Ren. The group escapes two gangs aggrieved by Han Solo, and it’s here we start seeing more and more honouring of the original series like a little appearance of Dejarik.
Kylo Ren and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) seek their next step from the Supreme Leader Snoke. Here we get the sense that General Hux is preferred by Snoke, he’s very dismissive of Ren. It seems he’s only using him and that he’s seen as disposable by the Supreme Leader. Hux is given the go ahead to fire their new Starkiller base, a nod to Luke’s originally intended last name, it’s much bigger than the Death Star, and has the ability to destroy a whole star system at once. They use to destroy the Bosnian system controlled by the New Republic. Another great development is as we see the planet converted weapon fire one huge beam that separates to attack several planets, it’s viewed by us from the side of the attacked as well. The way it charges and fires is so imposing. The dynamic between Hux, Ren and Snoke is an intriguing dynamic that will have a rewarding ending in future episodes. Smoke is somewhat a disappointment, but the scars across his face suggest he’s been in an altercation that resulted very badly for him. Here’s hoping it was with The Emperor meaning he’s Darth Plagueis.
Snoke tells Ren, who is doubting his strength within the dark side, that to truly let go of the light side he must kill his father Han Solo. But it’s not until we see him praying to Darth Vader’s burnt helmet, which made me realise it’s that he’s Vader’s grandson more than Solo’s son, that made him turn.
Han, Chewie and Finn seeing the beams in the sky from the planet they have traveled to, Takodana, is an effective way of showing how epic this weapon really is. On Takodana the group go to a bar owned by Maz Kanata who can help them find the resistance. We hear of Han’s reluctance to return home to help Leia in the Resistance, who we have still yet to see on screen. Finn is desperate to escape somewhere on the outer systems. Lupita Nyong’o the voice hidden behind Maz really works as a wizened old woman who has seen a lot in the galaxy.
Rey gets drawn to a basement in Maz’s bar by Anakin’s old lightsaber, when she touches it she gets horrific visions that scare her away another recognition that the force is strong. Finn takes it for safe keeping but notably gets no feelings from it.
When the First Order invades Takondana Han, Chewie and Finn survive the attack thanks to the help of Poe leading a squadron of Resistance X-Wing fighters. Again Abrams’ set pieces are so engaging and exciting, they also prove what we saw earlier that he really is the best pilot in the Resistance. Kylo Ren escapes from their defeat with Rey after another great development of the force as he makes her frozen to the spot.
He tries to extract the map from her memories but she resists with a Jedi mind trick that had everyone in the cinema sit up, in pure shock and enjoyment. It was a really convincing way to prove she was strong with the force and to show that Ren is perhaps quite weak. It’s then equally a moment that fans will love when she uses the classic “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for mind trick,” on a Stormtrooper played by a hidden Daniel Craig, to escape her cell on the base with a blaster.
Meanwhile the three that escaped go to D’Qar, the resistance base headed by General Leia. It’s a moment that the audience has been waiting for since the opening scroll as we get to meet Leia, as does Han. The reuniting is handled excellently while they gaze listlessly at each other C3-PO interrupts in another well landed humorous moment. There’s some exposition as they discuss getting their son back, but it works at revealing how his dark turn tore them apart and made Luke go into hiding because he couldn’t look his sister and best friend in the face.
The reunion is short as Han, Chewie and Finn go to bring down the shield of the Starkiller as it charges to fire on the Resistance base, with a squadron of X-wings in toe. The discussion of the plans, to take the Starkiller down before it destroys their base, gives more nods with Nien Nunb and Admiral Akbar stood around. BB-8 recognises RD-D2 who’s been in “low-power” mode since Luke’s departure. Carrie Fischer as the militarised Leia is an excellent return to the character the resilient part of her personality has grown as she’s got older.
So the climax has Han, Chewie and Finn breaking into the Starkiller base to bring down the shield. Rey is escaping from the base and a squadron of X-wings led by Poe are trying to destroy the weapon discharge point.
Finn gets his payback on he’s old Captain, Captain Phasma (Gewndoline Christie) who hasn’t had a lot to do this episode but there’s a sense that there is more coming from her. She brings down the shield at gunpoint. This isn’t enough to help the X-wings so they start placing bombs to create an opening as Kylo Ren approaches to stop them.
Han Solo confronts his son. It’s hard to write about what happens next. It was obviously coming from very early on in the film, but Abrams plays with the audience before as it seems he might turn to his family for help. Even though it was predictable the moment the flickering lightsaber plunges into Solo’s chest the same feeling reverberates around the cinema. Chewie’s scream punctuates the devastating moment.
Poe gets his moment to shine in the end as he disarms the base by infiltrating in the hole Chewie creates and tears it up from the inside.
On the planet’s surface Finn faces down Kylo Ren wielding Anakin’s lightsaber he’s seriously wounded after Ren disarms him. The film then provides another compelling moment that just rounds off how Rey as the most compelling heroine this year, she’s a incredibly well judged perfect blend of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Rem is using the force to bring the lightsaber to him, but he’s force out strengthened by Rey. Followed by the best lightsaber battle in the Star Wars saga, it’s so engaging, raw and gritty, the camera is drawn in so close which is so effective. It makes sense for Rey to win as well. We’ve seen throughout the film then Ren is weak in that he’s not certain of his place in the dark side but we’ve also seen that Rey is stronger with the force than him. He’s not had an opponent yet, with Luke in hiding, he’s been wandering the galaxy wielding a lightsaber that no one has dared to cross, he’s not had a force sensitive opponent yet. It was great to see he was not a Vader 2.0.
Verdict: Effectively affectionate of the original series in all the right ways while smartly developing ideas in a compelling way. It boils down the battle of good vs evil that we haven’t seen since Return Of The Jedi. It’s an epic that’s built around it’s engaging characters.