On December 17th Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, premiered at cinemas around the world. Countless fans attended the midnight screenings, fuelled by a New Hope for a return to form for the franchise, and enough adrenaline to ignore the looming alarm bells that would call them back to work the next morning.

Like any good fan, I gulped down my coffee, donned my favourite Star Wars attire and prepared in nervous anticipation to begin a familiar adventure with new friends. And I hoped.

The Force Awakens is the first chapter in a new era for the franchise which promises at least five more films. The premise for this film is that the Empire has been resurrected as the First Order, a new league of baddies helmed by the evil menace (no phantoms to be seen, thank God), Kylo Ren. Our protagonists are scavenger Rey, Trooper-turned-Rebel, Finn, Rebel Fighter Poe and the lovable Astromech droid, Bb-8. This sassy little robot-come-soccer ball stole my heart within the first 15 minutes of the film and it’s not hard see why.



These characters embody some recognisable traits from the original cast — the scavenger, the rebel fighter, the masked villain, the anthropomorphised drone companion; however, there are acute differences and unique nuances to the new crew which sets them apart from the old. To be sure, this film is a hand-over. It needed to reference the original series in order to establish canonical tone whilst paving the way for a new story in the series. I suspect that the next two films will not reference the original series to the extent that this one did, but it was necessary in this case.

The protagonists are joined at various points throughout the movie by veterans Han Solo (Harrison Ford), General-thank-you-very-much Leia (Carrie Fischer) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammel). The plot is established when Rebel fighter Poe gives Bb-8 a map containing the location of Luke Skywalker, who disappeared a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The movie revolves around the search for Luke and the evasion of First Order troops who seek to capture Bb-8 and bring down Skywalker – the last remaining Jedi.



Of all the impressive performances in this film, my absolute favourite is Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of Rey, the soon-to-be hero at the centre of our journey. Rey is a scavenger who lives on Jakku and is joined early on in the film by Bb-8 and Finn following his escape from the First Order. Rey is everything you could hope for in a hero: she’s resourceful; sassy; strong; fragile; and likeable. She’s the Strong Female Character we all hope for, and better yet, she pulls it off effortlessly: she just is. Her character treatment is a joy to watch unfold. We know from the long shot of Rey eating in the shade of her home – an abandoned AT-AT unit — that she is adept at fitting her environment to her purposes; a survival trait befitting a scavenger. We also know from her first encounter with Finn, that she is resilient and independent. Whilst being chased by First Order troops he attempts repeatedly to “save” her by taking her hand and ferrying her to safety, but she rejects his efforts and insist that he stop. This humorous exposition of traditional gender roles is used for comic effect when Finn is struck down and when Rey shakes him awake he asks urgently if she is ok.

Rey doesn’t mean to be a feminist, she just is, through the ways in which she conducts herself. This is a satisfying take on feminist representations because it de-stigmatizes feminist values by de-emphasising them. The same mechanisms that are used to entrench traditional gender roles are used in this instance to normalise feminist politics. It’s refreshing and hope-inspiring.



In addition to offering a host of new characters, Abrams should be praised for retaining a tangible quality to the world through the use of real models and props. For example, the Bb-8 droid was built to scale and puppetered for the entire film. This attention to detail helps to give the movie some verisimilitude, thus better aligning the audience to the experience of the characters. Whilst there are occasional glimpses of CGI, it’s woven in subtly and only when needed; you wont be distracted by the dense, graphic landscapes and scenery characteristic of the prequel trilogy. In fact, every scene in this film serves a purpose – whether for character development, world-building or plot-progression. This simple but elegant approach to screen-writing creates a more purposeful narrative and makes the film inherently re-watchable. At the time of writing I’ve seen it twice already and booked tickets for a third viewing in a week’s time.

Bolstering Abram’s efforts to conjure the spirit of the original text is the chronological ordering of the franchise. The inclusion of characters played by the same actors from the original films anchors the new film firmly to the original text – an advantage which has not been wasted. Whilst it’s no secret that the new trilogy tells the story of a new set of characters, Ford and Fisher in particular lend a nostalgic appeal to the telling. The Force Awakens provides enough fan service to situate the film within the cultural context of the original text, but not so much that the film feels like a rehashing of existing tropes. For example, there is a sequence in the beginning of the film where Finn stumbles through the dessert on Jakku shedding layers of his old Storm Trooper gear. He is lost, desperate and alone. Both the framing and emotional tone of this scene closely echo R2 and 3-POs trek across the dessert of Tatooine at the beginning of A New Hope. These references purposefully resonate with the motifs associated with the original work, thus lending authenticity to the next chapter. No doubt this was also done in an attempt to win back a disenfranchised audience after the chilling effect brought on by the prequel trilogy.

Despite all the impressive trimmings, what sold this movie for me was the reinstatement of a simple story. Lucas’s prequel trilogy tried too hard to impress fans with complex politics and dense historical contexts. However, the Star Wars Universe doesn’t need to be made denser, it just needs to be explored. The original series told a classic tale of good vs evil in a world capable of sustaining multiple stories. The prequel trilogy disrupts this approach by forcing a complex narrative onto an already complex world. Generally speaking, a complex world is best served with a simple story and vice versa. The Force Awakens is the Force balanced.


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Images courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions