JJ Abrams has, for two years now, carried the unenviable weight of delivering a film better than the one you’ve crafted in your head. With the heated opinion and mass investment surrounding the galaxy far, far away, that’s a fair amount to take on board, and I’m sure that, if Abrams had, we’d have ended up with something closer to Patton Oswalt’s Parks and Rec filibuster than anything resembling a half-chewed screenplay. In The Force Awakens, Abrams shrugs this burden from the off, and we’re all the better for it.
If any comparison must be made – and it will be made – then let it at least be with those films that actually exist. To put it simply, The Force Awakens is, at its best, every bit as good as the big three. If the film has any major failings, it’s that it just won’t be as good as you remember them. Some scenes will evoke echoes of past wonder – figures across desert horizons, a frenzied dogfight through cramped interiors, and literally every scene with the Millennium Falcon anywhere in-shot – yet, through little fault of the film itself, will fail to match it.
But The Force Awakens is a film which bridges forward as much as it harkens back. Interspersed with the wink-nudge references – even parsecs gets a mention – are moments of genuine and unexpected humour. Many of these laughs stem from the fantastic interplay between the film’s new arrivals and the old guard, and serve to make the spectacle accessible to newer viewers, whilst bringing levity to the galactic melodrama. Pair all this with the strongest leads in Boyega and Ridley since the holy trinity and, arguably, the series’ most interesting villain to date in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and The Force Awakens is a film every bit as novel as it is reverent, and one fully capable of being the object of as much nostalgia for newer fans as it evokes for existing ones.
Back in January 2015, in a fit of hubristic foresight, I hailed Iñárritu’s Birdman as the year’s best film, mere days into the running. I’ve stuck by this, for better or worse, through Whiplashes and Ex Machinas aplenty, and I stick by it now.
That said, it’s no longer my favourite.