There will be BIIIIG SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!
SPOILERS! Ok? Big spoilers. You have been warned.
Ok hopefully that’s enough of a warning. It’s 1pm in the afternoon on 17th Dec 2015 at the time of writing this post and I’ve just seen The Force Awakens. I’m doing a brain dump right away to complete my review of 7 Star Wars movies in 7 days and I’m not going to hold back with any spoilers. I will assume that anyone reading this review has either seen the film or is not bothered about being spoiled. And this report is just my initial thoughts after seeing it once. I’ve also not read any other reviews of the film at all yet.

[UPDATE: I’ve just watched film for a second viewing, this time in 3D, 4 days after seeing it for the first time. I’m going to keep this article totally the same though, so people can still read my first thoughts, but I do have a quick addendum at the bottom of the page with my updated thoughts.]

So, firstly I have to congratulate JJ Abrams. I thought he has done an absolutely sterling job. I loved pretty much everything about this film. So many good things. The hairs on the back of my neck were up for a lot of it. It was action-packed, it was intriguing, it was emotional, and it had just enough nostalgia. I don’t even really want to analyse it too much yet. That will come with more viewings I’m sure. I just want to enjoy the memory just now. So I’ll just give my overall impression here and list some good and bad points as usual below.

I’ve also just quickly read some reviews of the film and inevitably it is getting some mixed reviews from some critics. But that’s always going to happen isn’t it? I can’t even think what kind of pressure Abrams and his team were under but I think they’ve done a great job and hopefully they get a lot of positive reviews to reward their hard work. Like I said, I’ve not analysed the plot closely yet but I didn’t spot anything that would majorly upset a die hard Star Wars fan. We shall see. I’m already looking forward to the Nerd Lunch drill down!

I thought the whole style and tone was perfect. There was a lot of humour in the film but it was done well and not just slapstick or cheesy gags. The characters all came across extremely strongly. They have passed the torch on well. The action was also really nicely done I thought. Perhaps the pacing of the film was a bit too fast at times, but I also think they slowed it down nicely when required. A few more viewings will help judge that.

I liked the opposing symmetry to some of the original trilogy. For example, Han and Kylo Ren are standing on a bridge above a big gaping hole and it’s very reminiscent of Vader and Luke revealing the father/son relationship. But the roles are reversed here. Han, the good guy, is the father. And Ren, whose focus is on the dark side, is almost being seduced by the light side. And the symmetry things are not just a simple age/gender/darkside flip. There are more complications here, such as the seemingly more complex inner struggle of Kylo Ren, who definitely seems like he’s not just going to be a throwaway bad guy like Darth Maul. He’s here for the long haul.

Although there were lots of throwbacks, this film also relied heavily on the four new main stars. And they were all amazing. Kudos to the casting people. Rey and Finn in particular were absolutely faultless. And great chemistry. Rey especially. Daisy Ridley basically carried most of the movie on her shoulders and she did it triumphantly. And Poe and Kylo Ren were pretty great too albeit having a few less lines than Rey and Finn.

I’m still not sure who Max von Sydow played, to be honest. Perhaps I’m being stupid, or perhaps we’re not meant to know yet. Not sure if it was someone who appeared in a past film. Seems to be related to one of the main characters somehow and knew Leia I think, back in the day. I’m sure I’ll learn once I read a few more reviews.

In summary, I loved it. Very happy indeed. Sets up the new trilogy nicely. Can’t wait for the next episode. Well done JJ.

The Force Awakens

• Loved the first four words in the opening crawl – “Luke Skywalker has vanished!”. Not a single mention of taxation
• Rey. I have to start with her. What an awesome character and so well acted by Daisy Ridley. Brilliant
• Finn and Poe. I was nervous about these new younger characters/actors. They might have not worked. But again, I was really impressed with both the characters and the acting
• BB-8. Really liked him. And it was done well with R2 being powered down for most of the film. Will be interesting seeing how they interact together in the next film
• There were two strong Scottish accents, which as a Scotsman myself, can only be a good thing
• The humour was spot on. Perfect tone. Not cheesy. Not slapstick. Not waiting for a laugh. Well scripted, well acted, well paced.
• References to the original trilogy. Of course there were going to be some nods. But pretty much all of them were done tastefully and not too gratuitously. Comments about Leia’s hair, the hologram chess game on the Falcon, trash compactors, Ren lying on the ground looking like Vader in the final helmet removing scene from ROTJ at one point. And lots more. You’ve got to be careful how backward looking you are and I think JJ just about got the balance right here. I’m sure they’ll move things forward more in the next two
• All the ruins of old spaceships were great. The big Star Destroyer we saw in the trailer but also the AT-AT that Rey seemed to be living in
• I loved Finn finding and throwing aside Luke’s Jedi training remote on the Falcon, which only lasts for about half a second
• Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were great. They pulled off their scenes with great sincerity and Ford stepped back into his Solo shoes with no problem at all!
• Han dying. And I mean that with respect. I think it had to be done. Harrison Ford probably asked for it to be done. It gives the story, especially Kylo Ren’s story, more gravitas. It really puts Chewie in more of the spotlight too which is great. And it sets up Rey well for stepping into his shoes a bit. I don’t think anyone will be too shocked about it happening to be honest. I predicted it in my prediction blog post and I’m sure a lot of others did too
• Chewie was great in this film. For some reason I felt more of a connection to Chewie, more so than in other films. And I’m talking about even before Han died. Perhaps it’s just that the makeup was better or something, I’m not really sure. But I do think they could have fit in a bit more of Chewie mourning rather than just jumping straight back into the Falcon with Rey in the pilot seat
• Questions unanswered. The best Star Wars films (nay, films in general) don’t tell you everything. They hint at things and leave some things unanswered. The first Star Wars film is great at this. It gives the story more depth. And JJ Abrams wasn’t scared to do that here either. There are quite a few questions that are still unanswered (unless I missed something)
• The score. Great to hear the best bits of the traditional Star Wars score. I felt some bits on Jaaku early on weren’t very ‘Star Wars’ but those moments were fleeting
• Luke really did look badass with his beard and flowing, greying hair. Can’t wait until the next film.

To be honest I don’t really have any bad points. I loved it that much. But here is just a list of ‘could be even betters’
• Didn’t think 3-PO had to reference his red arm, twice. Could have just left it as a mystery. 3-PO’s few appearances were all a bit annoying sadly, as is quite often the case in some of the Star Wars films
• Not enough Luke, but I get why they wrote it that way. Sets it up nicely for the next film
• Adam Driver as Kylo Ren looked a lot younger with the mask off than he did in his promo interviews. I was about to say that it almost made Kylo Ren lose some of his scariness when you see him take the mask off but I’m guessing that’s what they want. They want you to think he is still young, is Solo’s son, and is still teetering between the dark and light. Interesting character
• It’s not really a bad point but I was initially confused and worried about Supreme Leader Snoke being a giant or something, but was relieved to find out he was just a large hologram. Looking forward to seeing how he is portrayed in the next film
• Captain Phasma. I was hoping she would be awesome, but I kind of didn’t see the point of her. Amazing outfit but she didn’t really do much and she got overpowered much too easily. Her voice also seemed a bit too normal too. Slight wasted opportunity perhaps
• General Hux. I just wasn’t really convinced by Domhnall Gleeson unfortunately. Not sure what it was. Perhaps he looked too young, or his voice/accent wasn’t quite right for the role. I love him as an actor normally but I just felt it gave the First Order a very different and almost smaller vibe than the Empire had in the past, which is a shame as it seems that they are just as powerful as the Empire was, with massive ships and a planet weapon even bigger than the Death Star
• Kylo Ren seemed to be even more powerful than Vader. Stopping laser blasts mid-air with the Force, throwing people sky high in fights and reading people’s minds? Just seemed a bit of a super-Jedi/Sith, but again, we don’t know much of Ren’s backstory yet
• Rey perhaps picked up her Force skills a little bit too quickly too. Including the mind-reading! But perhaps that highlights just how strong she is with the Force. And I guess it may well be her Force that is Awakening as referenced in the title. I get the impression that she could also be Luke’s daughter but I’d need to watch hit again to see if I missed any other obvious hints about that. I may well have. Perhaps she’s not related to anyone
• I mentioned some good callbacks in the Good Points above but I also felt that there were a lot of visual callbacks to the first trilogy, which perhaps lacked originality. The yellow deserts of Tatooine (Jakku), the whites of Hoth (death planet) and the greens of the Endor moon (the green places in this film). Each of the original trilogy had a strong visual colour cue and it was a shame that this film didn’t really have that
• The ‘death planet’ thing. I’m not sure what it was referenced as. I didn’t quite get what it was, to be honest. I think I missed one line in the war room which might have explained it. But was it originally a planet? Or a space station that they have genesised? (if that’s a word – it isn’t) Having unanswered questions about it is ok if it survives into the next film, but I think my main gripe about this movie was that it was ‘just another death star’ in terms of the plot. Bigger, yes. A bit different, yes. But to all intents and purposes it was a big death star with shields they had to get through and some kind of weakness point they could bomb and then it would explode. We’ve been there twice before and although it was great and slightly tweaked I still think they could have tried to think of something totally new here. That’s my main ‘could do better’ in this movie

So, the final ranking. I actually very nearly put The Force Awakens straight in at the no.2 spot. And you know what, it may well get up there after a few more viewings when I can make a more rational decision, but for just now I’m going to put it just above the prequels. But it could be a climber and could even reach the no.2 spot.

1. Ep 4: A New Hope
2. Ep 6: Return of the Jedi
3. Ep 5: The Empire Strikes Back
4. Ep 7: The Force Awakens (but could rise to no.2!)
5. Ep 3: Revenge of the Sith
6. Ep 2: Attack of the Clones
7. Ep 1: The Phantom Menace

[UPDATE: After seeing the film for a second time I think I love it even more. Most of the small ‘issues’ I may have had after one viewing are really not issues any more. I didn’t mind Snoke as much this time, particularly as I’ve learned that there is a good chance he is a Muun which is the race that Darth Plagueis (the Emperor’s original mentor) was. So there is a chance he may even be Darth Plagueis which would be very cool. And my biggest gripe was the lack of originality about the Starkiller Base being too much like the Death Star. But I’ve come to the realisation that JJ Abrams basically made a conscious decision to make this film an amalgamation of Episodes 4-6, in order to recapture the magic of Star Wars and give a new generation the same experience that a lot of us did in the 70s and 80s. It was the passing of the torch in this film and the next two Episodes will move it forward. I’m ok with that. I still didn’t particularly like General Hux and I thought Captain Phasma was hugely under-used. Also a bit of a gripe of mine after the second viewing is that there was no verbal reference to Han dying after they all went back to the Resistance base. There was a hug and a few sad faces, but even just a one-liner involving Leia or Chewie would have been good, before they all moved on.

But everything else on the good scale was just amplified even more. I think the whole setup of the first 45 mins or so, with the main characters’ backstories, is expertly done, and Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are SO well portrayed. And I really noticed much more this time what a fantastic job Harrison Ford did in reprising Han Solo. What a great film. Star Wars is back, baby!]