Dec 182015
 
Star Wars Force Awakens Poster
Title: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford,
Carrie Fisher,
John Boyega,
Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac,
Genre: Sci-fi
Runtime: 2 Hours 15 mins
Music: John Williams
Studio: Lucasfilm,
Walt Disney
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: Dec 17 2015
See If You Like: Star Wars, Star Trek Into Darkness

“You’ve never heard of The Force Awakens? It’s the film that was made like the first one again in less than 40 years.”

Spoiler Note: Whilst the author does take care to avoid spoilers, there is discussion about the set-up of characters post Episode 6 of the Star Wars series, events of Episode 4 and the opening few minutes of this film to summarise the plot. Character reveals are not spoilt.

So it’s finally here then. You wanted new Star Wars and you’re damn well getting it, thanks to the Walt Disney marketing machine. Event cinema seems to have died a death with not many movies generating a casual interest in recent years but the simple fact that there is a new part of the classic space opera mythos has captured the imagination of many cinemagoers with plenty of older and younger heads alike opting to make the effort with the return of George Lucas’ beloved space opera to big screens. Gone is Lucas after selling the rights to Disney for an eye-watering sum and in comes marmite director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) to pick up where the prequel trilogy left off with an annoyed fanbase keen to see something more akin to the original saga from the 70’s and 80’s post the good guys winning. Laboured? Maybe but there’s money to be made and Disney is not afraid to pick up a dropped couple of pennies as Abrams delivers a nostalgia filled, rip snorting darling of a sci-fi epic that lacks innovation.

Luke Skywalker has been missing for some time and he is considered to be The Last Jedi. In his place, a successor to the fallen Galactic Empire called the First Order has risen to terrorise the galaxy, with the dark side of the Force wielding Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, While We’re Young) at the forefront  of their campaign to finish the Republic and Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps To The Stars), once and for all. A Resistance fighter pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Show Me A Hero), comes across the means to find Skywalker on the desert planet Jakku but runs afoul of the First Order. His droid comes across Rey (Daisy Ridley, Scrawl), a scavenger, and a redeemed Stormtrooper dubbed Finn (John Boyega , Attack The Block) as the three plan to get the information to the right people.

First off, most of the cast – both old and new – are highly impressive in their abilities. You would think given how most space operas can verge into the silly (i.e. this year’s Jupiter Ascending) that a new one in 2015 could fall into a similar trap. But this is Star Wars we’re talking about. It commands a respect from the new players to give it their all and at the same time is the comfort of an old pair of slippers for the older generation to slip back into iconic roles. Harrison Ford (The Expendables 3) excels sliding back into his breakout role all those years ago as space rogue Han Solo, as he is shown to have not missed a beat using the same old tricks. Isaac is captivating as the ace pilot Poe that gees up everyone and is a bit of a shame you don’t see more of him. Boyega adds an impressive string to his burgeoning bow as the turncoat Stromtrooper who sees one atrocity too many and can’t hack it anymore. With a character that could attract some ridicule, he really gets over the humanity of Finn and his attempts to make amends by running further and further away from the First Order. Considering how little of a career she has had to date, Ridley shows absolutely no fear as she grabs the sizable role of Rey and rides it to success in a star making performance. With so much on her plate to go through, she captures the story arc of that ‘daughter left behind’ who can’t think of anything else to do but wait at home brilliantly.

But alas, too much nostalgia proves to be an irritant. Without going into specific plot details, most of The Force Awakens‘ events mirrors Episode 4 – A New Hope. I know we wanted the Star Wars of our youth done in the modern day to dispel the lacklustre prequel trilogy, but this is way too far. Pretty much all the story points are hit as well as certain set-pieces with callbacks and old characters clogging up the screen. Action sequences play out in nearly the same fashion. Shots linger on what you grew up on, with the sense of achievement of displaying what you have already seen before. There is plenty of new characters & sights and the advent of modern cinema with elements like positive female representation that drives The Force Awakens far from being a simplistic remake, but the word rehash deserves to be stapled to it’s record. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of engrossing drama and cool enjoyable moments but with the locales visited (we’ve had the desert planet, the forest one & a Hoth replacement – where do you go next?) and reoccurring cogs in the machine coming across as the writers and producers saying ‘Sod it they’ll watch it anyway’. With a whole galaxy of possibilities, we have barely progressed further in nearly 40 years.

Whilst you may think, “Hey that Terry isn’t a big fan, so I can ignore that critique of something I love” (Which is understandable), I think it will be in agreement that Driver as Kylo Ren is a misfire. Not at first as the echoes back to this creature being the new Darth Vader becomes apparent and he stands on his own two feet. But when we start to learn more of his backstory, the masks slips literally and we see a snivelling whiney teenager with issues that kills any sense of screen presence that was crafted quite masterfully. A shame. Compared to when Domnhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina) rolls up as First Order leader General Hux and maintains a threat throughout, Ren evaporates as a weakling as he constantly is presented to fail. Hardly the face of your evil army. Also, I was never too sure of what exactly the First Order want to achieve. They want to get rid of Skywalker to polish off the light side of the Force and… generally just take over the galaxy? Guess it’s a case of new bosses, same remit when it comes to the new Empire, I mean, First Order.

What Abrams sets out to achieve in a 2015 Star Wars he does succeed. With a remit as simple as ‘Make a worthwhile follow up to the original trilogy in the same vein for 2015 which gets rid of the stain of the prequel series in the eyes of the fanbase’, he ticks all the boxes there. Plenty of space battles, planet & alien exploration and tackling the age old battle of good vs. evil are definitely what SW is all about and those themes are well covered here. The emotional operatic high points have surprising depth especially with the performances behind them. The dripping raw energy of seeing worlds at war away from ours has that charm once again with a directional focus correcting mistakes and generating interest again. Despite some missteps in the humour department, I credit Abrams to deliver on a functioning simplistic take on Star Wars on focusing what it does well in a completely un-J.J. Abrams way. Considering this is the guy that had the big screen reboot of space politics TV staple Star Trek and changed it into a space action series away from it’s explorative roots, that is praise. Nerd do well for once.

Hardly the disaster that I personally was predicting, the first ‘new trilogy’ entry into the Star Wars franchise courtesy of the Disney machine is a slick and watchable throwback to the original trio that fans have been dying to see for years. Despite the fun and emotive peaks though, the dread of viewing a simplistic rehash without noticing that much innovation or new ideas to slap onto The Force Awakens left a bad thought – as a review-proof film such as this will undoubtedly break box office records and receive high fan reaction, it will mean that the lack of progression is almost rewarded. Prostitution seems to be the order of the day to milk the franchise which you can understand after surrendering that eye-watering one billion dollar rights deal. Whilst I can’t say I am one of the hardcore, I do hope that the main fanbase for this can see through the blinding rose-tinted specs and see this as a decent return albeit one that needs some major changes to keep up with 21st century cinema. Still, credit to Abrams for bringing the series back on track so to speak and delivering on creating easily the fourth best Star Wars film.

Agree, or disagree? Let us know what you thought of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the comments section below.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

Verdict:
Ratings 07 Buy from Amazon.co.uk Buy (CD) from Amazon.com
Star Wars Force Awakens Poster