The Force is strong with this one… but first, let’s go Beyond!

Today marks the end of one long wait and the start of another – with The Force Awakens finally here (my review is further down this page, be warned, whilst I won’t be going out of my way to spoil the film, I cannot guarantee no spoilers), I feel it’s a good time to reflect on that journey.

When I first heard that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and were planning on making a new trilogy, I will admit to skepticism. Whatever you may think of the prequel trilogy (and indeed, the original trilogy), the six films that comprised the saga tell a complete story – the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (which of course, several other themes running parallel to that).

As time went by, and trailers began to emerge for The Force Awakens, I found my concerns gradually being replaced by a sense of hope and anticipation. The trailers revealed a less flashy and more lived-in feel to the universe JJ Abrams was trying to build, and the news that he wanted to build sets and use make up and physical props more than CGI was encouraging. There was something about seeing familiar settings and characters that evoked the charm of the original trilogy, rather than the bland imagery of the prequels.

With each new trailer, the Star Wars fan in me grew more excited. I was also remarkably impressed at how few spoilers there were – the trailers gave us new clips and moments without actually giving anything away – and everything about them heightened the desire to embrace my inner Jedi.

In the final few days building up to the film, I felt like a kid at Christmas. I even had a Star Wars Advent calendar that I was using to countdown to the big day!

As this was going on, another sci-fi saga was quietly going about its business, slipping under the radar as Star Wars hogged the limelight. The news that a trailer to Star Trek Beyond would debut before The Force Awakens was very cool to me – and it was yet another reason to look forward to the 17th December. I managed to resist watching the trailer online, so my first dose of it was on the big screen.

If you don’t want any potential spoilers for Star Trek Beyond, stop reading round about now.

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Obviously there’s quite a lot going on, no context to place anything in and the trailer is less than two minutes long, so giving away major plot points at this stage is impossible anyway. What I will say is the film appears to retain the fun spirit of the first two, but with a different director (Justin Lin replaced JJ Abrams for obvious reasons) the style feels different, with more colour and vibrance. The Enterprise appears to once again get her ass kicked – the crew is stranded on the frontier, and beyond that, I have no idea. Personally, I feel it looks good, but we shall have to wait and see.

So, on to the main event. The Force Awakens. What do I think?

Final warning, if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now.

Still here?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here we go.

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The film is a visual feast from the moment it starts, yet not in an in-your-face sort of way. This is a lived-in universe, with physical objects you could reach out and touch, rather than the CGI-laden prequels. Everything – the sets, costumes, puppets and the odd burst of CGI work here and there – is done with great care, reverence and attention to detail.

After all the theories about who the bad guy really was and about who, if anyone, would die, the film gives us what is effectively A New Hope, but reworked and brought up to date. There is an early revelation about Kylo Ren’s true identity, and a confrontation near the end of the film based on this that you half-suspect is coming, yet it still manages to hit you where it hurts.

Of the newcomers, it’s actress Daisy Ridley as Rey who steals the show. After all the (admittedly small) pointers in the trailer that point to John Boyega’s character being the next Jedi, instead it’s Rey who has a strong connection to the Force, and Ridley portrays her journey from a lonely scavenger to budding Jedi brilliantly.

Boyega also does well. Like Rey, Finn is trying to find his identity, having abandoned the life he knew. Despite some outward signs of fear, Finn is very brave, loyal and determined, eager to prove himself.

Oscar Isaac plays Poe and it’s hard to really judge his performance because we don’t see too much of his character. The X-Wing vs TIE fighter moments we’re treated to are breathtaking and beautiful and we’re also treated to what could best be described as a homage to A New Hope’s trench run.

Kylo Ren is played by Adam Driver and his character is perhaps best described as a Sith who lacks discipline. He is full of angst and anxiety and is being pulled in different directions – Driver does a pretty good job with Ren – a pity he wouldn’t have been old enough to play Anakin in the prequels, he would have done a good job!

So, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. They both did well at playing their respective characters – both Han and Leia are weary of everything, which is hardly surprising given what they’ve been through. Mark Hamill isn’t in the film long enough to establish anything!

So how do I feel about the film? The visuals are incredible, the music evokes memories of the original saga, and the performances are excellent. I need to see it again, to properly take it all in, but I can honestly say that I loved it. The Force has truly awakened!

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