I’ve been home now from my screening of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens for an hour now, and I’ve spent most of it staring at this screen with a goofy grin on my face. I promised you a spoiler-free review, and I absolutely intend to deliver. The only problem is: this may be quite short as a result. You know you’re going to see it. If you’re reading this, you want the bottom line. Episode VII exceeds any possible expectations. Not only is it the best film of 2015, but it has only The Empire Strikes Back for competition as the best Star Wars film of all-time. Go. Go as soon as you can (because spoilers will matter and they will be so large as to make national news), and see it in the biggest format that you can. It is an utterly joyous thing to anticipate something so much for so long and be able to be stunned at how much better it is than you could have ever imagined.
The Force Awakens was withheld from awards consideration until after the review embargo on the film was lifted by Disney the day before its release. Many awards went ahead and posited their nominees without it, and will look foolish. The American Film Institute delayed their annual list of the 10 best films of the year and Star Wars made the cut (along with Spotlight, The Martian, Mad Max and many other of 2015’s gems). I am not exaggerating when I say Episode VII should be Best Picture. It’s brilliantly constructed, peerlessly acted, complete and utter hysterical fun, tragic and ruinous heartbreak and the best event film in recent memory.
I have seen The Empire Strikes Back probably 150 times, conservatively, and The Force Awakens once, so it is presumptuous to call this the new best Star Wars film. To my mind, though, those two are in a league of their ow, n, and no coincidence, both written by Lawrence Kasdan. JJ Abrams and Disney have pulled off a master coup. What you think you know going in from trailers, you don’t. This film has, undoubtedly the best acting of any film of the seven, as the new cast endears themselves to you completely while the returning cast (Han and Chewie we get the most time with) is so good, so easily recognizable in their roles that it’s like coming home again. Harrison Ford needs an Oscar. This is the best Han Solo film and one of, if not the best, performance of Harrison Ford’s career. He clearly had a complete blast playing this character to the hilt and it shows on the screen. JJ Abrams made all the right choices, blending the best directing of his career with utilizing a blend of practical sets, old fashioned creature make-up, and filming in 35mm with motion capture performance, CGI and the latest techniques in F/X. Every decision was spot on, and some of the best shots, including the unforgettable final one, of the series grace us in Episode VII.
I love the original trilogy characters, some more than others. Despite its flaws, there are prequel trilogy characters I dearly love. I love every character introduced in The Force Awakens. Finn, Rey, BB-8 (LOVE BB-8!), Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, Poe Dameron, and all the rest. They are all completely at home in the Star Wars Universe. Andy Serkis and Lupita N’yongo create motion capture characters as every bit as intriguing and instantly entertaining as their human and droid counterparts. I’m blown away by Daisy Ridley. That she has no prior film experience and lays down this level of performance astounds me. John Boyega is so much fun as Finn. Oscar Isaac is the galaxy’s new best pilot in Poe Dameron. Adam Driver. Oh my goodness. Kylo Ren is a villain of such complexity and presence that I cannot wait to find out more about him.
That’s exactly one of the things about Episode VII that’s so miraculous. I walked in with a thousand questions and left elated with ten thousand more. This is very much an opening chapter and an introduction to complex, riveting characters in a galaxy so much different than the one imagined in the Extended Universe or implied at the end of Return of the Jedi. You can look at each character and imagine a myriad of ways they ended up the way they did when we meet them, and the most frustrating thing about the film is simply that it ends and we have to wait 18 months for the next episode.
This new galaxy is so rich, so detailed, so ripe for exploration that I can’t imagine how even two films can do it justice. There was so much on the line with this film. I don’t think there’s been a film in the history of cinema on which one company (Disney) had such a vested interest in the film not just being good, but healing the rift that has existed in the Star Wars fan base since the tinkering with the original films began in the late 1990’s. My audience was applauding throughout the whole film. We were spending time with dear friends, catching up after so long away.
The Force Awakens is a very funny film, balancing the adventure with character-based humor that Ford, Boyega, Chewie and BB-8 provide in large doses to balance some of the most poignant, serious, startling and devastating scenes in the entire saga. This was a film that affected me on every emotional level and I will cherish the experience I had watching it for the first time for the rest of my life. This is special. This is something that you have to go and experience if you have any love for the movies at all. Quite simply, this is Star Wars, and I’m overjoyed that it’s back for everyone. Flawless and I’ll not say a word more until you’ve had the chance to have your own experience. I’d love to talk about it with all of you in the comment section, so let’s section that off as a SPOILER ZONE, so stop scrolling here and go and receive an early Christmas present at your nearest theatre.