I must confess that I struggle to write a focused review of Star Wars: Episode VII, because there are just so many interesting things going on in this film that it’s hard to determine where to start.
I think that one of the biggest successes of the new Star Wars film is its ability to mix tradition and innovation in a balanced and successful way. New characters, locations and concepts are developed, complex and intriguing enough to make this a successful independent film. However, appearances from old characters, relics and concepts are integrated in a way that keeps them interesting and dynamic, as well as essential to the plot line.
One of the common issues with revivals of series (and one of the things that bogged down many of the Star Wars prequels) is their difficulty in handling classic content. Either this content is included so sparsely that it is barely relevant to anything else and feels tacked-on (as in C-3P0’s awkward inclusion in The Phantom Menace), or it takes over so much that it makes it difficult for new content to flourish. The Force Awakens, however, manages to perfectly balance old and new.
The four new central characters become more developed and intriguing in this one film than some characters become across entire trilogies, but this development does not distract from the important role that returning classic characters play. It is also extremely refreshing to see a group of three new protagonists that does not include a white man, especially in a Star Wars movie. One can only hope that other major science fiction titles take inspiration and follow suit in the near future and start to improve representation in a genre that has been filled with too many heterosexual white men for too long.
One of the highlights of the film character-wise was John Boyega’s character, Finn. The film takes the Stormtroopers – the series’ signature disposable, faceless mooks – and humanizes them. After watching three films’ worth of Stormtroopers dying in waves, this film forces the audience to acknowledge their humanity by creating one of the most sympathetic characters of the series and making him a former Stormtrooper.
Boyega’s fantastic performance, combined with thoughtful dialogue, allows his character’s growth into self-awareness and understanding one of the highlights of the film, and giving it most of its heart.
Adding to Boyega’s standout performance were Daisy Ridley’s intriguingly enigmatic “scavenger with a heart of gold” Rey and Oscar Isaac’s charming, debonair Poe Dameron. Of course, it is impossible to ignore Adam Driver as Kylo “Inferiority Complex” Ren, whose perfect mix of whiny 19-year-old angst and terrifying mental instability make for a fun and unconventional villain.
Plot-wise, what impressed me most about the film was its pacing. The movie is able to fully develop four new main characters, introduce intriguing supporting characters such as Lupita Nyong’O’s Maz Kanata, and include appearances from several old favourites. It also establishes a new galactic political system, and balances family drama, personal development, action, and military strategy. It does all of these things without any major pacing issues. None of the film’s elements felt rushed, underdeveloped, or skimmed over; every scene was used to the best of its ability to ensure that the film was engaging and thoughtful from beginning to end.
I would recommend this film to anybody who doesn’t want to look back ten years from now and regret not being part of a definitive cultural moment of the twenty-first century.
- Steve Greenwood