For me, Doctor Who and Star Wars come from opposite ends of the sci-fi spectrum. While the latter is a big-budget blockbuster saga revolving around a group of rebels fighting galaxy-spanning battles, Doctor Who is a generally underfunded television series about a lone man who travels around in a ramshackle time machine. That said, neither of them are known for their hard science as both fall on the fantasy and adventure-driven side of things. And they do sort of share a linchpin theme of the never-ending struggle between good and evil.
For whatever reason then, I’ve never really ‘got’ Star Wars. I’ve vaguely watched the prequels and though I thought the first three movies (that is to say Episodes IV-VI – why can’t Star Wars have simple numbering like the Doctors?) were good films they’ve never hooked me.
So how did The Force Awakens compare to the others? Well, whether it was the fact of seeing it in its natural home of the cinema, or the actual film itself, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
While there were lots of breath-taking visuals and action set pieces, what immediately stood out to me were the lead characters. Brilliantly played by young British talents Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Rey and Finn were two relatable people thrown into a wild adventure – something that reminds me of Doctor Who companions who are likewise the audience’s eyes and ears. The two leads – plus a fun supporting role from Oscar Isaac as ace pilot Poe Dameron – somehow hold their own against the presence of the series’ classic protagonists who rightly take more of a back seat to make way for the new guys. Despite the fine acting on show, however, my favourite character is probably BB-8. A terrific creation, he could be a rip-off of R2-D2 (who he effectively replaces in the film) but the design work – which allows him to show expression through moving his head – helps give him his own character beyond just another perky, brave droid.
On the other side of things, Kylo Ren is obviously not the instant pop culture icon that Darth Vader was but this is worked into the story in a canny bit of metatextuality as the First Order’s prime villain feels that he is himself under Vader’s shadow. There’s more of Adam Driver’s face beneath the mask than you might expect but he gives me a chilling performance, reminding me of the love child of Alan Rickman and Javier Bardem (no? Just me?). And the reveal of his true parentage is one of the film’s best shocks – shocking in that it is thrown away in such a casual manner. The best surprise of the film though is Ren’s murder of this own father – none other than Han Solo! The death of arguable the saga’s best loved character is a ballsy move that has to be applauded. Even as a non-fan, the death of such a behemoth hero of cinema leaves your jaw hanging.
It wasn’t a perfect film, of course, as there were a few superfluous scenes (the sequence with Han’s enemies and the rathtars, for instance) and narrative contrivances (e.g. R2 suddenly waking up so Luke can be found in time for the film’s end). Perhaps the most prominent issue is the reusing of plot and character beats from previous movies – even as a layman, they were hard to miss. It’s an approach that is in danger of crossing over from the nostalgic nod to full-on plagiarism. It’s a shame Abrams didn’t learn from the negative reaction Star Trek Into Darkness received from some quarters after it aped The Wrath of Khan.
Overall, though, The Force Awakens delivers on the most important thing: it’s a fun, entertaining adventure film which harks back to the original trilogy and yet is still clearly able to win over the few who aren’t already familiar with the saga and awaken the inner Jedi within.