Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Review

The Force is strong with this one


 I will try to keep this review spoiler free. Though, really, you should have seen it by now.

This is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated film ever; it’s been 32 years since the last true, proper, good Star Wars film.
Everyone and their grandfather have at some point been touched by the intergenerational, international legacy of the biggest space adventure phenomenon of all time. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen a Star Wars film (apart from a prideful and foolish few) in 2015, this has been true for the past thirty years, but over the past fortnight, you’d be equally as unlikely to come across someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (and possibly more than once, at this point).
star_wars_vii-02

And with good reason.

I loved this film. I’d give it a solid 8/10.
It is exactly what a Star Wars film should be; it captured the tone and spirit of the original trilogy, it was fun, it was an adventure and it was proudly fantastical, and that is what Star Wars is above all else, an adventure fantasy (that happens to be set in space).
It introduced new characters and brought back old ones and they all worked to the film’s advantage and at no point does it feel like they were squeezing them all in.
The Force Awakens has (ostensibly) four main characters, all of them new; the first is Poe Dameron, a rebel pilot played by Oscar Isaac (XMen Apocalypse). Isaac describes him as “the best friggin pilot in the galaxy”, and the film wastes no time in delivering on that promise, on top of him being funny, interesting and charismatic. He builds a strong and believable camaraderie with the secondary lead of the film, Finn, played by relative unknown John Boyega (Attack the Block), a deserter Stormtrooper who wants nothing to do with the Nazi-esque First Order. This is a distinctive and interesting take on the whole Star Wars mythos because we’ve never seen a Stormtrooper’s face, let alone gotten to know and like him.
finn-new-star-wars-teaser3-xlarge

The next is Kylo Ren, the villain, the unstable, iconic-looking Darth Vader wannabe played by Adam Driver. Kylo is a Knight of Ren, a scarcely mentioned post-Empire sect of evil Force users, who wants more than anything to “finish what you [Vader] started”. He’s probably the most interesting character because he is faced with opposition and derision at every turn in his attempts to be take seriously as an emissary of The Dark Side and, like a lot of characters who came before, he struggles with temptation, an internal conflict about which side of The Force he belongs to.
He’s been criticized for being too much like Prequel-Anakin, but I find that his rage and instability are just much more believable and engrossing. He is quite consummately evil, but he’s a nuanced character and is fascinating to watch. Driver gives a great performance that really makes you wonder about the motivations of the character and where he’ll be going from here.

kylo-ren-header
Lastly, in what I’d describe as a twist that ran the length of the film, is that true lead of the film, Rey, played by absolute newcomer Daisy Ridley, and she is excellent; she’s like cross between Princess Leia and Han Solo with just a dash of Luke Skywalker’s youthful, adventurous naivety.
From the get-go, she’s very likeable, capable and kick-ass in equal measure and over the course of the film, she really grows in to someone that you will be more than happy to accompany on the journey through this sprawling, epic saga.
The casting of unknowns reduces the scrutiny we’re inclined to give and makes the whole thing more immersive because we presume less from the actors and dive right into the characters.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega)

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega)

I can’t stress enough that the characters in this film are funny and likeable, which is something the prequel trilogy often failed at and rarely delivered. The Force Awakens does what the Original Trilogy did so well in taking a handful of characters from such disparate backgrounds, thrusting a huge undertaking upon them and just letting them naturally clash & bind with each other in ways that made them so damn likeable.
By the end of Return of the Jedi, we felt we had been on a triumphant adventure with a band of semi-mythical characters; a gunslinger, a princess and a budding samurai. I hope this kind of feeling will be approximated in the coming instalments of this new trilogy.

92zKyCE

For me, Star Wars’ greatest strengths were its nuanced cine-literate characterisation, its homages to the greats of cinema history and its use of straightforward, relatable concepts to drive the story, The Force Awakens checks all those boxes in ways that the prequel trilogy was so blind to.

The Force Awakens is not perfect, but it IS really good and it is respectful of its audience. This is largely due to the fact that a member of that audience is behind the camera, he knows what they’ve always wanted because it’s what he’s always wanted. J.J Abrams, who directs and produces this record breaking new hope, understands what Star Wars really IS and answers the big question that has plagued fans for the last 10-15 years:
Does Star Wars belong to the people or its creator?
Well, J.J is one of the people, and we, the people, have met this film with a generally positive response, so I’m going to believe this one belongs to the fans. There’s not one floppy eared, idiotic abortion of an attempt at comedy in the hope of pandering to children, nor is there one word of trade federations and galactic taxes, which I guess were intended for adults, in sight.
Instead, we get a classic story of heroes and villains and aspirations of changing one’s life for the better. This is the story we deserve and have been owed for so long.

The story is all that matters.


J.J co-wrote The Force Awakens with Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and when this detail was released, all Star Wars fans worldwide knew what was coming.

Empire is considered the best Star Wars film and one of the greatest sequels of all time. It also served as an example of what happens when you let someone who isn’t George Lucas write a Star Wars script; the result was better.
The much maligned prequel trilogy (completely written by Lucas) is evidence that Lawrence Kasdan is what Star Wars needed. Before we go any further, I don’t think George Lucas is thoroughly incompetent; he may not be a great writer (outside of the original film), but he is a very competent visionary and world-builder whose literacy in cinema is not to be sniffed at.

SCREENWRITING-STAR-WARS2
I was sold on The Force Awakens from the very first line of the opening crawl:

Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.

This is what we needed, it references the things we know and tells you everything you need to know about the direction the story is taking, but is vague enough to leave you wanting more. This is perfect: a simple story of heroes and villains. Contrast it with the opening crawl for Phantom Menace:

Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. 

Taxation? Trade routes? Trade Federations? Who thought that was a good idea?
The Force Awakens brings the saga back to its mythical roots and even slyly references the failings of the Prequel Trilogy. Heck, the first spoken line of the film, delivered in an all too brief appearance by Max Von Sydow, is “This will begin to make things right”.

A lot of people have criticised this film for being a rehash of A New Hope or a condensed version of the whole Original Trilogy and I see that. It’s impossible to ignore the obvious parallels with, callbacks to and identical scenes from those older films, but I feel these actually work to this whole new trilogy’s advantage because the most important thing that this film needed to do was to show that a good Star Wars film could still be made and that the “Sequel Trilogy” can appropriately handle the characters and iconography that have become so integral to the Star Wars universe.

Pros:

  • Some nice cinematography, the shots were largely clear of clutter.
  • It’s really good fun, It’s adventurous
  • It feels like a Star Wars film
  • The combat sequences are infrequent and when they happen it’s at an emotional crux
  • Immersive action scenes
  • Rey spelunking through the ruins of a Star Destroyer
  • Good acting
  • Likeable, funny characters – a lot of good jokes, some of them subversive.
  • The lightsaber combat feels physical and like it has weight, no acrobatics here.
  • Likeable characters (new and old)
  • Leaves a lot to the imagination and your own inference
  • Practical effects
  • That the First Order were scary and definitely space nazis

Cons:

  • Didn’t have the distinctive, iconic and artistic visual flare of the original trilogy
  • Underuse and marginalisation of Captain Phasma to little more than a shiny suit
  • Supreme Leader Snoke being obviously CGI
  • Reuse of a Death Star-type planet smasher, because it worked so well before
  • The fact that the Death Planet wasn’t really given any build-up
    Underuse of Max Von Sydow and those two guys from The Raid
  • Pointless space octopus scene with Han Solo
  • Heavy handed presentation of The First Order as Nazis
  • Too safe

So, what did you think?


– Matt S

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.