Here at Time Out we’re deliriously excited about ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Our critic has given the film a 5-star review. Here, we share ten key things we learned from watching J J Abrams’s brilliant reboot. We don’t want to ruin the film. So, if you want to know absolutely nothing about the story before seeing 'The Force Awakens', please don’t read on. That said, we promise that we’re giving very little away here…
RECOMMENDED: Read even more on the franchise with our 'Star Wars' movie guide
The young lead actors are all excellent
Director JJ Abrams wanted fresh faces to front ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ alongside established stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. He chose well. Daisy Ridley, 23, is tough and determined as ‘young scavenger’ Rey. She is without doubt the film’s true lead – the character set up to be the heroine of the next installment, ‘Episode VIII’ (coming in 2017). Fellow young Brit John Boyega, playing a fleeing Stormtrooper, Finn (named after his Stormtrooper number, FN2187), is a worthy Rebel sidekick and doting admirer (smartly gender-flipping the glassy-eyed attraction Princess Leia felt for Han Solo in the first Star Wars film).
But Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson doesn't make a great villain
Maybe it’s because we've seen him play such ordinary guys in films like ‘Frank’ and ‘Brooklyn’, but young (too young) Domhnall Gleeson channelling a fascist leader as General Hux, one of the heads of The First Order (the movie’s bad guys, successors to the Empire), didn’t work for us. There were some mean chuckles behind us in the cinema when Gleeson first appears in black uniform with his hair slicked against his scalp. It doesn’t help that he is surrounded by imagery that so obviously, awkwardly evokes the Nazis.
Still, Adam Driver very nearly outdoes Darth Vader
As Kylo Ren, ‘Girls’ star Adam Driver is this episode’s Darth Vader – a young man, masked and clad in black who has gone over to the Dark Side. He has secrets to reveal (we won’t) and he’s properly terrifying because he makes us feel the anguish that led him down this grim path. Ren has serious anger issues culminating in a great scene where he lets loose in a control room with his souped-up, fiery lightsaber. Vader looks statesmanlike in comparison.
The humour works
‘The Force Awakens’ isn’t exactly laugh-a-minute, but there’s comedy scattered throughout. A lot of it plays on our knowledge of the earlier films. ‘You’ve changed your hair,’ says Han Solo to Carrie Fisher’s Leia when they meet again for the first time in years. Also, here’s Han’s response as he encounters yet another sticky situation on his intergalactic travels. Someone asks what he’s going to do: ‘The same thing I always do – talk my way out of it.’
And there’s nothing awkwardly funny like Jar Jar Binks (or cute like the Ewoks)
Patois-spouting Jar Jar Binks remains the fall guy for the flawed Star Wars prequels that began with ‘The Phantom Menace’. Safe to say, Abrams wasn’t about to make the same mistake. That’s not to say we weren’t worried: there’s a scene in a Mos Eisley-esque cantina, a haven for the galaxy’s drunken ne’er-do-wells, that begins with the unpromising sound of reggae. But Abrams and his team present a delicious line-up of uglies and nasties, with none of the film’s weirder creatures stealing the scene or distracting from the main event. The new droid BB-8 is the nearest we get to cutesy – but he’s a charming, low-key presence, the natural heir to R2-D2.
Nostalgia is incredibly powerful
It’s one thing knowing that General Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are all going to be in the new film – it’s quite another seeing these characters enter a movie scene 32 years after ‘Return of the Jedi’, now aged and greying. They each have different entrances, and each manages to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Remember the power of Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’, seeing a character age in front of your eyes? It’s a similar effect, only your imagination fills in the gaps of the missing years.
It’s all about family – again
Remember the theme that drove the earlier films? Fathers betraying sons. A brother discovering his sister. Well, if it ain’t broke… This new film also feels like an emotional rummage around the Births, Marriages and Deaths office. The Star Wars family tree just got bigger.
It's pretty easy to start up a rusty old Millennium Falcon
When we first meet the film’s heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), she’s living in a ‘Mad Max’-style desert junkyard town on the planet Jakku. Rey soon hooks up with fleeing ex-Stormtrooper John Boyega on a mission to deliver to the Rebel Alliance some crucial information about the whereabouts of missing Jedi Luke Skywalker. The pair hops into the decaying Millennium Falcon and start it up like an old Ford Fiesta that hasn’t moved for a few weeks. Er, anyone know how to work the windscreen wipers?
We think we spotted a cameo from Simon Pegg. Or Daniel Craig.
There's been a lot of talk about whether Simon Pegg or Daniel Craig – or both – have cameos in the movie (neither are credited). There’s a scene in which Rey uses the Force to make a Stormtrooper drop his gun and let her escape. We’re pretty sure the voice in the helmet was one of these two. Our money is on Pegg. Or was it Craig?
The film leaves a lot of questions unanswered
If we told you which questions ‘The Force Awakens’ answers and which it leaves hanging, you’d hate us. But let’s just say there are some huge reveals in this film about what’s happened in the 30 years between this and ‘Return of the Jedi’. But it also leaves you screaming to discover more and leaves enormous questions unanswered about two characters in particular… We can’t wait for 'Episode VIII'.
Read our review of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Not only expert homage for the fans but a first-rate, energised piece of mega-Hollywood adventure, the hugely anticipated 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' stirs more to life than just The Force. The rollicking, space-opera spirit of George Lucas’s original trilogy (you can safely forget the second trio of cynical, tricked-up prequels) emanates from every frame of JJ Abrams's euphoric sequel.