This is always my policy with movie reviews, but just to reiterate – don’t worry, fellow denizens of the universe. No spoilers ahead.
I’m sure it’s a moot point to lavish this movie with any more praise, and admittedly that’s what I’m about to do. My one differentiating factor is that I’m a new fan. I didn’t even watch the trailer. Until about a week ago, the only Star Wars movie I had seen was The Phantom Menace – and only that because I’d gone to see the 3D re-release with friends at uni. (I didn’t enjoy it.) I had what I now realise was a pretty awful understanding of the plot.
Then my best friend wanted to go see The Force Awakens at the cinema, and I decided it was probably high time I got up to speed. I watched A New Hope as a tester and loved it – and then watched the remaining episodes in Machete order over a period of about twelve hours. (If you’re interested in what I thought, you can find my reaction on my personal blog here.)
The short version of this review is: all that crazy binge-watching was totally worth it. The Force Awakens is incredible. Maybe even more so than in the original trilogy – sorry; is that sacrilege? – the characters are complex and relatable. Full props to both the writers and actors. A special mention goes out to villain Kylo Ren, who’s a brilliant blend of new and recurring ideas and feels totally fresh. The old guard are developed in interesting ways, but mostly I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with the new kids on the block.
As for queer content? Of course, it’s Star Wars, so we couldn’t have hoped for too much – but it’s early stages yet, and thankfully all traces of romance plots are thin on the ground to make way for the story. Fans are already gathering in support of a romance between two male characters, and honestly? I’m not ruling out the possibility of seeing it on the big screen.
After all, one thing I’ve learned about Star Wars is that it’s not afraid to be progressive.
Well. Progressive for a blockbuster – but even that shouldn’t be sniffed at. Judging by the incredible box office performance TFA has had worldwide, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call it the biggest movie franchise in the world. When you have that kind of pulling power with audiences, it must be tempting to play it safe and formulaic. After all, why risk it? Look at the James Bond movies, for example. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve seen – but they stick firmly to the pattern, because there’s simply no incentive to deviate and risk their audience.
But The Force Awakens doesn’t do that. Fans have noted that the plot does quite neatly mirror elements of past episodes, but there are a few key differences. Perhaps the coolest is that the character leading this new previously male-dominated triology is female – and let’s just take a moment to point out what a relatable, funny and vibrant character Rey is in Daisy Ridley’s capable hands. She’s been lambasted as a Mary Sue by some, but compare her honestly to Luke and those complaints just don’t stack up. Then there’s Finn, who is a great and varied showcase for John Boyega to show off his frankly formidable talent; there’s a full spectrum of horror, internal conflict, humour, flirting, desperation, weakness, courage and post-battle euphoria to enjoy. There was some controversy prior to the movie’s release because he is both black and a main character.
Of course we all know how ridiculous this racism is, because it’s not even as though the rest of the Star Wars movies were completely whitewashed. My favourite Lando Calrissian, anyone? Mace Windu? Regardless, these are probably complaints we could have predicted, and yet they cast John Boyega anyway. Thank goodness – and rounding out our golden trio is charismatic Poe Dameron, who I’d say is yet to be fully explored. His actor, Oscar Isaac, is Guetemalan – and that means 2/3 of our leads are pe0ple of colour.
These are statistics that just don’t often appear in our blockbusters. If we take the top 10 movies released in 2010 onwards from this list of highest grossing movies, only Furious 7 seems to have an equal balance between white and POC main characters – and we should probably take that with a pinch of salt, because I haven’t seen it and don’t know how prominent each cast member is or who to count as ‘main’ in the first place.
In other words, this cast is more unusual and maybe even groundbreaking than it seems. No tokenism in sight.
All this, of course, is on the sidelines. The thing is, The Force Awakens is a great movie. It’s funny, action-packed, emotionally charged and engaging. Its diverse and talented cast only proves that the film industry has no excuse anymore, and means there’s no unpleasant whitewashing or blatant misogyny to distract you from the action.
So will these be the first Star Wars movies to feature openly queer characters? Only time will tell – but even if they aren’t, we’re still all in for a treat over the next couple of years as the triology unfolds. And thank goodness for that.
Opinions? Questions? Corrections? Please feel free to leave a comment! (Beware: I can’t guarantee the comments will stay spoiler-free.)