Saturday, 19 December 2015

Film Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens


Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita N'yongo
Runtime: 135 minutes

It's been ten long years since the last Star Wars film, and a whopping 35 since the last great Star Wars film - until now. Star Wars: The Force Awakens revives the slumbering franchise and injects new characters, adventures and tragedies into the iconic galaxy far, far away.


Gwendoline Christie dons shiny Stormtrooper armour for
her role as Captain Phasma
Set 30 years after Darth Vader dismissed the Emperor by throwing him into a really deep chasm, The Force Awakens plunges us straight back into the action; the opening title crawl clues us into the central mystery - 'where is Luke Skywalker?' - and director JJ Abrams wastes no time in introducing us to characters who're seeking to answer that very question.

We're also introduced to new planets - primarily the sparse junkyards of Jakku - as well as new factions - the nefarious First Order have risen from the ashes of the Empire - and new characters, such as intelligent young scavenger Rey, played by Daisy Ridley.

Ridley, in just her first feature film, establishes herself a future megastar. Seriously, she's a revelation and her bright-eyed and hopeful visage feels right at home in the Star Wars universe. Her character, Rey, is also wonderfully written and instantly becomes one of the best we've seen in the entire franchise. She's clever, resourceful, brave, talented and funny - everything that this new generation of films needs in a lead.

Meanwhile, Adam Driver arrives on the scene as new villain Kylo Ren. A Darth Vader fanboy with anger issues, Ren is so much more than just a carbonite copy of his idol. He may come with a black mask and cloak, but Ren has a backstory and emotional depth that makes him one of the best villains in the series so far. Driver works wonders with this complexity; conflicted, petulant and ambitious, Ren is a compelling adversary with so much more than just a scary mask.

New Sith in town; Adam Driver tearing it up as
the villainous Kylo Ren
Any concerns that you may have had about JJ and co. relying too heavily on the classic cast are dispelled also immediately. As well as Ridley and Driver stealing the show and carving a new legacy for fresh-faced fans to connect with, we're also treated to more brilliant newcomers in the form of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac; firstly we have Finn (Boyega), an ex-Stormtrooper suffering with an identity crisis. Boyega's big boyish grin and swagger makes him a hoot to have around, but the British actor also underscores this with a sincerity that sets him apart from the rest. We genuinely haven't seen a character quite like Finn before, and based on the arc he and Rey undergo over the course of the film, that will continue into the future.

Isaac is wonderful as the dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron; an indie darling who is starting to make a name for himself, Isaac brings Poe to life with another well-rounded and three-dimensional performance that instantly feels like he belongs alongside whirring robots and fuzzy Wookies. And I simply can't discuss the new cast without mentioning BB-8, the adorable orange and white soccer ball droid that zips around alongside Rey. Sweet jesus that guy is cute.

But don't worry, this doesn't mean that the classic cast get short-changed; fan favourites Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) round out the main cast and they're funnier and better than ever. Rid yourself of any doubts surrounding Ford's level of commitment because he isn't sleepwalking this one. He is walking the walk and talking the talk as Han Solo once again. Carrie Fisher also reprises her role as Princess (now General) Leia. Fisher isn't present as much as Ford, but they do share some tender moments together that'll get the tears flowing - as well as raising questions regarding the period of time since Return of the Jedi...

Kicking up a storm; John Boyega plays Finn, a
Stormtrooper with a heart of gold
And what about Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)? Well, he is in it - that much I can say, but anymore than that would upset the balance of the Force and tip this review into heavy spoiler territory.

The first hour of The Force Awakens is sublime, as close to perfect as we've gotten in a Star Wars movie since the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back. The pacing is spot on, the new characters are established quickly and efficiently and we instantly get a plunged right back into the action. The second act reintroduces older faces (as well as posing some key questions and ideas for later films) whilst the third draws heavily from visual motifs and narrative blocks we've seen in Star Wars before. This, in my opinion, is the only real issue with the film.

Abrams has effectively relaunched the series for an entirely new generation, but in doing so has carried across a very noticeable collection of story beats from the Original Trilogy, particularly A New Hope. A lot of imagery in the final battle will feel instantly familiar to fans and casual observers alike. Thankfully, it doesn't kill the momentum that Abrams has built up; where one part is generic, another is working on key character development that keeps you engaged through it all. It might be a little bit safe, but it's an effective and well-executed kind of safe that coaxes us back into a series that has failed us so many times before.

Abrams' penchant for visual storytelling really comes to the fore during this film; his directorial choices give the series a vibrancy that it never had under the gaze of George Lucas. The junkyard dogfight glimpsed in the trailers is a giddy, wide-eyed, punch the air affair that sees the action framed in new and exciting ways as the iconic Millennium Falcon swoop, dart and dodge between two First Order TIE Fighters. Later, another aerial assault above a crumbling castle is filled with numerous camera angles that show us a new and exciting take on the much-loved series. You can really see Abrams' love for the material coming across in the way he shoots the film and makes us care for the new characters.

One way in which he has achieved this, along with co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, is injecting the film with a great deal of humour. Fans will rejoice with the sheer number of wry Han Solo one-liners and clutch their sides as Finn, Rey and Poe dish out the same brand of sass. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is afforded one of the biggest visual gags in the film. The Force Awakens is a brisk, breezy film that doesn't forget that Star Wars is all about having fun, whether our characters are being chased by Stormtroopers or simply standing around a table devising a scheme.

The resounding success that we all hoped it would be, only a few story issues that bear resemblance to A New Hope stand against The Force Awakens. But for every detail I dislike there are another five or six that I absolutely loved; The Force Awakens covers a lot of ground and sees the series rediscover its mojo. Take a bow JJ, you done good.

The Verdict: 9/10


Chewie, we're home. Star Wars: The Force Awakens sets a high watermark for future films to contend with, all whilst paying homage to and advancing the story of George Lucas' definitive Original Trilogy. The new cast members are astounding with Daisy Ridley in particular announcing herself as an instant superstar. The film answers some questions and poses even more, leaving this life-long fan desperate to discover more in Episode VIII.

Wait, we have to wait how long for the next one?!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in cinemas across Australia now

6 comments:

  1. I can't wait! I'm seeing this tomorrow morning.

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  2. Damn, I want to talk about how awesome this movie is but I have to avoid spoilers. Still, as a long time Star Wars fan I do find myself very much agreeing with you on most things. It is so full of homages that the film feels a little like a remake, but the execution is so splendid that I hardly mind.
    I'll get my negatives out of the way: I do hope the next films will play it a little less safe and do their own thing, otherwise the plot may get a little too predictable. I'm not too worried though as this film basically had to clean up the mess of the prequels so probably why the filmmakers played it safe. I think that might also be why, for some reason, around the third quarter of the film I started to lose a little interest. And my other big complaint is I really wasn't convinced by the big villain, delivering an important plot point in a way I thought was too casual, and also he looked fake and CG.
    Those are however insignificant next to the power of the For- I mean compared to how well made the rest of the film was. The plot was well device, and I thought the story of one character provided a very natural explanations for the actions of others before the film (I'd say what I mean but I'm trying to avoid spoilers!). And of course the action scenes were amazing - the final fight had me all tensed up in my seat from how awesome and epic it was! It helped that the battles felt real, it wasn't (just) choreographed to look cool, you could see each move having an intent to kill.
    I came in expecting something a little like Revenge of the Sith, cool looking but a little mediocre, and came out thinking this may be even better than Return of the Jedi. So good I almost wanted the film to end as I could see the very final scene miles away and had a really bad urge to clap!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you summed it up pretty well Julien - I found the time to give The Force Awakens a rewatch last week and I loved it even more second time around. Like you said, even those elements that feel similar to the Originals are done in such a great way that it's hard to be too upset.

      But I agree with what you said about doing something different next time; now that they've reestablished the series and the characters, I'm looking to Episode VIII to do something really out there and shocking.

      I think that Snoke did look a little out of place at first, but no more than Maz did. I didn't mind it so much at the end - it's not like they can get that amount of complexity from a puppet. That being said, I really liked that all the other aliens (other than Snoke and Maz) were practical. It lent the film a tangible look and feel.

      Thanks for your awesome comment!

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  3. Great review man! I think we have very similar opinions on the film. Thanks for your comment on my blog :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers Alex! Not a problem, glad to share thoughts with like-minded film fans. Stop by anytime!

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