Synopsis – Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
My Take – Since the moment it was announced that acclaimed fan boy J.J. Abrams would be taking on the job of directing a new installment of the beloved Star Wars, fans have held their collective breath. You could feel the nervous tension, mixed with fervent anticipation, as the lights dimmed at the packed midnight showing at 00:50 on 17th December 2015. Could Abrams deliver? Well, the wait is over and the result is in. And it’s a major success!!! This return to to a galaxy far, far away is packed with sensational action, some ultra-heavy drama, well-timed humor and best of all memorable characters both new and old. Director J.J Abrams services the fans well with a fair dose nostalgia, there are some cliche’ moments but there is plenty of new here to be mixed in with the old, and it pays off nicely in the end. This movie hits every conceivable emotion, but above all, it’s fun. Nowadays, we have so much dark gritty stuff which is great and deep, but it gets tiring. And, things that try to be fun come off as overly silly and dumbed down. This film does something not many films have done successfully in a while; combine the two seamlessly into one balanced package. The prequels tried to do this, and it blew up in creator George Lucas‘ face (even though I don’t hate the prequel trilogy like many people do). The reason it works in this movie is that all the humor and drama comes naturally from the characters. Yes, the plot and beats are very similar to A New Hope, but that was a great movie. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Besides, that’s exactly what’s been missing from movies lately. It can be denied that the prequel trilogy shunted the franchise on a downward spiral, the overuse of CGI and the introduction of some of the most annoying characters in film (a-hem Jar Jar Binks), but Abrams, the finest choice of a director to reignite the franchise, did nothing more than show pure love for the films and has created a sequel that definitely exceeded every ones expectations. A film that features endless nostalgia with appearances from Ford (who is beyond fantastic), Fisher, Hamill even Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and constant references to the original trilogy. The story follows a frustrated star-ship mechanic Rey (Daisy Ridley) stranded in a dead-beat job on the desert planet of Jakku (which all feels nostalgically familiar to someone who is old enough to have been there at the start of it all), about 30 years after the historic events of “Return of the Jedi” (but still a “Long Time Ago”).
A New Order has arisen from the ashes of the Empire and a planet-scale Death Star has been constructed. Luke Skywalker has not been seen for years after his Jedi apprentice turned to the dark side of the Force, adopting the masked identity of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Through the intervention of a BB-8 droid & Finn (John Boyega), a disillusioned storm-trooper who has ‘nothing to fight for’ with an embedded secret, she is dragged into the workings of the Republic’s fight against a resurgent dark-side. Hence, we are in territory which is both unknown and yet strangely familiar. The opening of the film, with the titles traveling along the screen, and the orchestra following in the background, immediately absorbed me into the experience. Although I initially feared this sequel would fall flat, from the very beginning, the film sends its audience on a magnificent ride across the galaxy. There are significant gaps in the story-line, from the conclusion of the last installment up until this point in time, some of which are addressed over the film’s duration, while others will hopefully be answered in future episodes. Despite some segments of the film bearing a striking resemblance to scenes encountered in previous installments, these are so well delivered, they offer the viewer moments of nostalgia, that have not been felt, since the original trilogy, all those years ago. It’s also fabulous to see the original trilogy cast again, all older and nicely wizened, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) being delightfully crusty and only Carrie Fisher‘s Leia perhaps suggesting that even with all the high tech that existed back then, they still hadn’t quite mastered cosmetic surgery. Even the inside of the Millennium Falcon – queue audience cheer as the rust-bucket hoves into view – looks like its had a chip-fat fire or ten too many and could do with the hire of a steam cleaner. (And Abrams judiciously resists the urge to lens flare it, which is a plus!) What a treat also that the ‘hidden’ originals of Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Kenny Baker (R2D2) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) all had the chance to reprise their roles again. They are joined in the “I was in Star Wars not that you’d know it” club by Lupita Nyong’o (from “12 Years a Slave” and “Non-Stop“) as a sort of alien commune leader (reminiscent to me of The Simpson‘s Professor Frink), Mo-cap expert Andy Serkis (“The Lord of the Rings”; “Planet of the Apes”) as supreme leader Snoke and the very lofty Gwendeline Christie (“Game of Thrones”) as the stormtrooper Captain Phasma. The action and set pieces in this movie are done on a very large scale. With the biggest franchise, do we really expect anything else? The re-use of practical work with CGI help is done extremely well, though not as well as Mad Max Fury Road, but that is the most visually stunning movie of the year and arguably of all time. Whilst watching these scenes I was wondering why other directors don’t use practical as well. This is a better way to show action pieces, to the audience, but it’s also more time consuming and expensive. It’s good to know that Disney is spending more money and time for our enjoyment.
On a smaller scale, individual confrontation looked great. When I heard that they were hiring some of the staff from the Raid movies, I thought that they would help give it that jaw dropping moment, however this wasn’t the case as I feel that they missed a trick to make this movie slightly more epic. The action was breath taking at times and not showing a lot of the action beforehand helped make the scenes not lose any of its movie magic. The only downside to the film is perhaps that it is so much in awe of the original that it doesn’t dare to be an original in its own right. As a result, the film sometimes feels more like an homage to (or even a remake of) the first Star Wars – but who’s to complain when it’s such a joy to watch? Who’s to complain when we get to hear John Williams‘ epic score again and we get to enjoy that magical world without any annoying Gungans or a petulant child Darth Vader? Yes, the film plays it safe – but it’s the kind of safe that I will gladly take over such original fare as Lucas’ prequels any day. Strong performances from all the new characters is paramount and from the beginning the film leans heavily on its new cast. This is the new generation of heroes after all and happy to say they all nailed it. Daisy Ridley more than proves she’s up to the challenge of letting a large portion of the new trilogy rest on her shoulders. Her Rey is a scavenger with a good heart (as evidenced by her coming to the rescue of BB-8, a droid carrying something important on him). Whilst certain people (who for some unfathomable reason don’t like seeing a woman who can handle herself) may take this new female lead (who is smart, brave, kind and just all around awesome) as a personal affront to them, for the rest of us who don’t hate seeing a woman take cent re stage, this is what we’ve been looking for in a female character for so long. She’s everything you could hope for but not without her faults, as she does make occasional mistakes – but not enough you hate her for it. She’s flawed, but so much more interesting because of this. Ridley imbues her character with so much heart and soul, conveys a lot with just looks and even shows she’s adept at humor as well. Most importantly, she’s likable, forming instant friendship with other characters who we already like (so we know she’s awesome). Sharing her responsibility of being one of the new faces of this trilogy is John Boyega as Finn – a former Stormtooper who refuses to go along with the rest when he witnesses them do something terrible. It’s after this that he meets Oscar Isaac‘s Poe Dameron, who he forms an almost-immediate friendship with. Out of the three new leads, Isaac‘s Poe is probably given the least development, but he manages to make it believable that he and Finn become close friends in such a short space of time.
The best dynamic, though, is without a doubt the one formed between Rey and Finn. The way they play off each other with such ease is thanks in large parts to the actors, but also the dialogue is snappy and quick-witted. They share a fun friendship that becomes quite close, but is always believable due to the actors truly inhabiting their roles/believing in who they’re playing as well as the universe they’re a part of (where characters talk/act in a unique way). One of many things the prequels sadly lacked was heart, but this movie/these characters have it in spades. Adam Driver‘s Kylo Ren picks up where Darth Vader left off as our main villain this time around and is clearly devoted to his memory (since he talks to the burnt mask of him, as seen in the trailers). Driver is quite good at playing the bad guy, though he is prone to the occasional ‘hissy fit’ with his crossguard lightsaber which verges into slightly over-the-top/petulant teenager behavior. Thankfully, when the big moments occur, Driver shows real emotion/conflict within his character. His lightsaber duel, first with Finn and then Rey, is everything the prequel duels were lacking. They may have had the fancy needless twirling and whatnot, but here we have rough and tumble, gritty fights between someone skilled and two people who are only just learning what they’re capable of. Plus there’s real emotional investment, which helps. It’s an epic battle with tension – which is a big plus with this movie: we don’t know what’s going to happen. On the whole, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ is a masterful return of an epic and fantastic saga with a near perfect installment filled with non stop entertainment. The good news is you don’t really need to watch the original Star Wars films in order to follow along with this film. But then honestly, why wouldn’t you have seen the original Star Wars films? Star Wars is really an amazing franchise, starting in 1977 with the very first film. Can you imagine watching that in its inception? All these years later, you’re still in awe of the characters, the story, the effects, the set pieces–the whole universe. The sets don’t even look that different in this one than the ones from the ’70s. Yet, we’re still in awe. Must watch!!
Director – J.J. Abrams
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 135 minutes