2015 – USA
Director: J.J Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Andy Serkis, Mark Hammill
Words: J. Senior
If you are a human being living on Planet Earth, and unless you have been living in a cave with no internet connection for the past three years, it will be almost impossible for you not-to-know that there is a new Star Wars film currently out in cinemas. The financial might of Disney studios having purchased the rights to film’s greatest ever franchise three years ago has lead us to this point, the point of no return. The Force, has awakened.
Now it’s almost impossible not to get washed up in a tidal wave of euphoria when it comes to Star Wars, for most young people of all ages the six previous films are cherished pieces of cinema that can be returned to over and over again. And before we get into a debate about The Originals vs. The Prequels or any of that nonsense, it’s important to note just how excited the whole world is (with the exception of that undeniable twat Piers Morgan) about the return of the galaxy far far away. For my own personal reasons Star Wars, and in particular George Lucas’ original three movies circa 1977 onwards will always hold a special place in my heart. They were the first real movies I got excited about, and they shaped my childhood to a certain extent. I saw the re-releases in the cinema with my parents, one of my earliest cinema going memories in fact and I remember long winter afternoons constantly re-watching them with my younger brother. To this day I still get Star Wars branded Christmas gifts, and more often than not the films are a reference point between myself, my Father and Brother from which many fond memories and jokes originate. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, these films are kind of a big deal for me.
So to review this film I need to take a step back from any personal investment in the franchise as a whole. I like many others would simply enjoy this film because Chewbacca is in it or because someone turns a light-saber on, those are just basic things which garner so much adoration, there are more but I shall refrain from listing them. What we as a society need to do is analyse why this film, the seventh addition to the Star Wars franchise is good, because it is, but not because I loved the other films when I was seven. This is the first film in the series I have seen for the first time as an adult, so I will attempt to produce an adult appraisal, so I’ll mention Jar Jar Binks here, just the once, and leave it that. The end product when you strip away the merchandise and the endless tie-ins is a film, so let’s just look at it as that, and that alone.
With most film reviews it is always pertinent to talk about the plot to begin with and as such, there may be a few spoilers in here that you may want to miss. Although we will not discuss the big reveals in detail so as to avoid crushing anyone’s souls.
What J.J Abrams and co. have done with this film is identify what makes Star Wars, Star Wars. Gone is the constant use of green screen and questionable acting. In comes a return to practical effects and a new young cast assembled from a wealth of burgeoning acting talents. Messers Ridley, Boyega, Driver and Isaac, really steal the show and introduce themselves as the franchise’s new driving force.
Abrams appears to have simply followed the ‘if it ain’t broke approach’, he knows what fans of Star Wars want to see and he provides it. What we have here is something that simply feels quite familiar, and different at the same time. There’s a droid with a hidden secret that is being pursued by an evil army, a loner on a desert world with no real family, a chance encounter with a certain intergalactic smuggler, a Sith lord in a black mask with a sinister voice and so much more that brings us back into the world of Star Wars with a friendly and noticeable homage to films passed. Yes there may be a big ball of death with an Achilles heel to defeat but there are also new stories and new directions that The Force Awakens leads us off along to.
Boyega’s Finn is a Storm Trooper with a conscience that decides almost imminently after his first battle that he cannot support The First Order (renamed from The Galactic Empire) in their motives and sets out on a path to escape their clutches. He does this by way of setting ace X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron free from the clutches of the crossguard-sabre wielding Kylo Ren. In doing so he crosses paths with Rey, a loner and a drifter who’s only friend is a small droid called BB-8. It is this chance encounter that sets the film in motion. And by simply attempting to escape The First Order Rey and Finn are dragged right into the centre of the conflict and are welcomed into The Resistance who are lead by a certain Princess. The battle ensues, and it’s a joy to behold.
I’ll not go into anymore detail than that, as I feel I’ve given enough away without spilling the beans too much. But The Force Awakens really is a genuinely excellent film, for the same reason I enjoyed Spectre so much this year for the fact it paid tribute to previous installments whilst still being refreshing and compelling.
J.J Abrams has a strong career in television behind him, which is a telling fact, because this film really did feel like the TV pilots to end all TV pilots, by setting up the main characters and their oppositions. The trailers for the film promised the reveal of big secrets, and some are divulged but so many more are left unresolved, leaving you wanting more. The first film of an all new trilogy was never meant to give you all the answers you required in one fell swoop. But the tease of bigger events to come also lends the film its main strength. Certain characters like Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke are shown on screen but are given no back story. Unlike Luke Skywalker in A New Hope we know very little about Rey (she’s the real hero here by the way), we are given only the briefest of insights into her past, is she Han and Leia’s daughter? It would appear not… is she a Skywalker descendant? Who knows? It creates the anticipation for Episode VIII that Star Wars needs to survive over the next 18 months.
In that time we do have Rogue One to keep us mildly entertained (I for one think it will be excellent), but with Brick and Looper director Rian Johnson taking the helm from Abrams I hope that the next installment takes a step away from the familiar and into darker and more pensive ground. Where this film was enjoyable it was also a little safe, but it proved less of tangible risk to all involved by being as such. If the next film does one thing it needs to brave and bold, The Force Awakens has built the platform needed to spring upwards from, it’s a good film not a great film, but with two more films to go it was never the intention that this be the strongest film in the trilogy. It does its job admirably and passes the lightsaber on with a fresh drive and a daring impetus.