Monday, 11 January 2016

Film Review #85

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: J. J. Abrams Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Mark Hamill

Certificate: 12A Running Time: 135 Minutes

Tagline: "Every generation has a story."

If you have any kind of online presence, or indeed an actual social life with real people and all that junk, the latter few months of 2015 will have seen you fall into one of two camps: first were the so-called nerds who were counting the days until the new Star Wars film arrived with varying degrees of excitement; second were those who were unable to understand what all the fuss was about and couldn't give two pieces of monkey crap about anything including the words 'Star' or 'Wars'. I have definitely been in the former camp. Like many around my age, I grew up with the original trilogy of films. I probably didn't see them at the cinema as I would've been too young (certainly for the first two), but I watched them on trusty VHS over and over again, had tons of toys and action figures thanks to my lovely parents, and all sorts of other stuff. I even had Return of the Jedi bedding! These were happy years and ones I fondly look back upon often.

Rey, Fin, and BB-8 look on in concern...

But then came the darks times. At first the once-worshipped George Lucas busied himself tinkering with his earlier films. This resulted in the 'Special Editions', but then came the prequel trilogy. Many greeted them enthusiastically at first but the more time that passed, the more scorn was heaped upon the hapless films. Some of the die-hard fans were so incensed that they didn't even consider them as Star Wars films at all. After all these years of indifference, frustration, even fury, news of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and subsequent announcement of a sequel trilogy was met with trepidation. Would they just be concentrating on trying to wring as much money as possible out of their new division or would they actually devote the time and money needed to produce the films fans have been crying out for all these years? When the casting, photos, and then teaser trailer appeared, things started looking increasingly promising.

Fooom! Pee-yow! Yeah, the Falcon returns!

I'm sure by now most of you have heard the basic story: events are set approximately 30 years after the last film (chronologically), the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, and the thorn in their side is now known as the Resistance, led by General Leia. The First Order is led from afar by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and more directly by 'dark warrior' Kylo Ren (Driver) and General Hux (Gleeson). Their objective, beyond ruling all and being generally unpleasant, is to destroy the Republic and kill the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker. The only trouble is, he's gone into a self-imposed exile. Of course, there is a convenient map leading to his hideaway which was hidden in a spherical droid called BB-8 by Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Isaac). They got split up though, and the bloopy trundler has now fallen into the hands of a scavenger called Rey (Ridley) and an ex-Stormtrooper known as Finn (Boyega).

General Hux and Kylo Ren on the bridge of their evil ship...

You could be forgiven for thinking that at least some aspects of this story sound familiar, and indeed, there are similarities with some of the previous films, in particular the very first (A New Hope). That doesn't concern me as much as it does some though. If I'm being honest, much of the excitement I was feeling was simply due to the prospect of experiencing the sights and sounds of Star Wars again, and seeing some of the characters I grew up with again after all these years. As is probably obvious from the trailer, the most prominent of these are Han Solo and Chewbacca and it really is wonderful to see them again. It's like bumping into old friends, with the instant familiarity and enthusiastic catching up. Ford in particularly seems immediately comfortable back in the role and it's interesting (though not very surprising when you think about it) to see what Solo has been up to in the intervening years.

Hmmm, I swear I've seen these guys somewhere before...

It's not just about the old faces returning though. Among the many things fans were critical of in the prequels was the characters and performances behind them, or at least some of them, so I was also interested to meet the brand new characters as well. There are many of these including cantina owner Maz Kanata (voiced by Nyong'o), Stormtrooper commander Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) who certainly looks cool but doesn't actually do a great deal, and the 'best freaking pilot in the galaxy' Poe Dameron who is indeed impressive in the cockpit of an X-Wing, but there are four main newcomers on whom events are focused, with two on either side. Of them, Daisy Ridley probably features most prominently in the film's promotion and her Rey quickly becomes a heroine that you instinctively root for as she struggles to get by on the dusty world of Jakku, desperately awaiting the return of the parents who abandoned her.

Is it me or do the new 'Troopers look less scary?

Stealing the show for many though (not counting the old characters, obviously) is John Boyega as reformed Stormtrooper FN-2187, later dubbed Finn for short, whose enthusiasm for... well, pretty much everything, accounts for a good portion of the humour in the film. Representing the Dark Side are Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac but I couldn't help feeling the teeniest bit disappointed by both of these 'bad guys'. The latter was rather bland and forgettable, I found, with his only scene of note being his grand speech before the gathered masses of the First Order, while the former initially appears to be the textbook evil merciless dark lord, but is later revealed to be more of a rebellious child who has a tantrum every time something doesn't go his way. Ren is no Darth Vader, but on reflection he's not really meant to be either, and I suppose the idea of a conflicted, unpredictable enemy is more realistic too.

At least it's a nice setting for a brutal slaying...

The lack of a genuinely imposing, charismatic evil bad guy is about the only remotely negative thing I took away from this though, and as you've no doubt already heard from countless others by now, The Force Awakens is no prequel-smelling turkey. It may not have a totally unique story but it's pretty much exactly the sequel that fans have been hoping for all this time. Importantly, its look and feel is pure Star Wars all the way. It's wonderful beyond words to see Han Solo and Chewie confidently charging about the place again, blasters in hand (and Chewie's crossbow seems to be miles more powerful now too!), as well as the rather more world-weary Leia with C-3PO and R2-D2 in tow, and it's equally fantastic to see X-Wings and TIE Fighters zipping around taking pot-shots at each other, not to mention seeing the Millennium Falcon taken out of mothballs and once again swooping around gracefully (and less gracefully perhaps, too!), but the new stuff is all great as well.

Scenes like this will give you such a buzz...

The new characters are well cast for the most part and they're very appealing too. Crucially, there's no Jar Jar here to drive you up the wall either. I suppose the closest equivalent would be BB-8 but he's the polar opposite in terms of pure annoyingness. It's pretty amusing watching him trundle about the place (he can even go down stairs, albeit rather slowly!), bleeping and blooping as he goes. Most of the dialogue is good too, and the many special effects are predictably stunning, but the best thing about the film is simply how it makes you feel. There are tons of (most welcome) nods to the previous films which will have fans smiling throughout but it's not just nostalgia - there's more emotion than there was in all of the prequels combined, including more humour than you might expect. Sure, there are a few small plot holes (as so many 'edgy' and 'controversial' critics have pointed out), but it's basically everything you hoped it would be. Welcome back Star Wars, it's been a long time. Too long...

RKS Score: 9/10



  1. Watched it the other night and I did enjoy it but I still wouldn't place it above the original trilogy. I think the next parts in this new trilogy will be much better as Force Awakens obviously has to set the stage.

    I too was disappointed by Kylo Ren and especially Snoke who is certainly no Emperor Palpatine!

    Great to see a brand-new Star Wars in a cinema though. The main theme blasting out and the scrolling preface were enough to make me grin again and all the old ships have been sorely missed.

    For what it's worth, I re-watched all of the movies again in the run-up to seeing Force Awakens and I enjoyed the prequel trilogy a lot more this time around. Revenge of the Sith is a genuinely decent film.

  2. Yeah, I think that's the thing for most people that have seen it - it's a good Star Wars film, but is it better-than-the-original-trilogy good? I'd have a tough time deciding that too.

    I know what you mean though, it was awesome seeing it in the cinema. All the little nods to the original films were great. I'm interested in how Rogue One will turn out though...

  3. I'm not even a big Star Wars fan and I enjoyed this quite a bit. A bit overly familiar (and making the third Death Star larger than the last two doesn't make the concept any fresher), but fun all the way through, with more organic dialog than in the prequels. I've got high hopes for Finn and Poe, who have fantastic chemistry and should be even more fun to watch in subsequent films.

  4. I think Finn was the highlight for me, besides seeing Solo and Chewie again, obviously. Ray and Poe are both promising characters as well though. I suspect Poe will have a larger role in the next film :)

  5. Aha! I've been waiting for your review on this. My own opinion was more negative. The movie jumps the shark in two ways: firstly the "let's destroy yet ANOTHER Deathstar" plot and secondly the instantaneous transformation of Rey into a Jedi Knight without even trying! The second is more serious IMO since it shows Abrams does not "get" the nature of the Force. Luke had to fail and sacrifice to eventually be able to beat Vader. In many ways that was the point of the trilogy. He came of age while learning, but Rey is able to whup Kylo's ass without any training? Abrahms seems to think the Force is just a way to become an instant super hero. Did he actually watch the originals?

    And the whole idea of Ren being "conflicted" doesn't work well. After all Ren orders a group of unarmed villagers to be executed and also kills one of his soldiers simply for bringing bad news "shooting the messenger". Vader only killed those who opposed or failed him. Ren is in many ways worse than Vader.

    Finally both music and direction were lame (John Williams is "getting too old for this sort of thing"). When Han Solo was frozen in carbonite in Empire it's a moving moment. When he is actually killed in this movie, I personally wasn't moved at all. That tells you all you need to know.

    FWIW here is my own review ;-)

  6. Hi again John. First of all, let me just say I was trying to avoid giving away spoilers here, so good job on that ;)

    But yes, I agree with most of your points, particularly regarding Rey's near-instant ninja status. It's definitely not a perfect film and I did nearly give it 8/10, but the fact is, I still enjoyed it immensely. Perhaps that was down to nostalgia to one degree or another (and JJ may well have been banking on that) but the fact remains. It's still only my second favourite film of 2015 though, after Ex Machina.

    Oh, and to answer your 'has he even seen the originals' question - I think all the little nods and references to them in TFA answer that as well as I could ;)

  7. Sorry about the spoiler, feel free to delete if you can (I can't edit). JJ definitely did see the originals but he didn't *feel* them! Seriously, whenever JJ remakes/reboots/sequelises a franchise it's like he didn't "get" the original. I just think he lacks the understanding and depth, he's really an action director. I don't actually think he is a good director at all, he doesn't make you feel or engage the way others can do, many scenes fall flat. Fortunately, I understand he is not directing Ep 8...?

  8. No, he's not doing Episodes 8 or 9 and (it seems) has next to no involvement in Rogue One either. I know what you mean about him; I think he just wants to put his own stamp on his films, make sure people realise there's a new director in whichever particular series. Maybe it's arrogant but I think he decent enough, generally speaking - Mission Impossible III is great and so is Super 8, for example.

    Oh, and don't worry about the spoilers (I can't edit either, only delete completely). I guess near enough everyone who's going to watch the film has by now! :P