Star Wars: The Force Awakens
US (2015) Dir. J.J. Abrams
A long time ago in a cinema not too far away, I saw the original Star Wars (way before it was promoted as Episode IV – A New Hope) and it had a tremendous impact on me. After the huge misstep of the indulgent and bloated prequels, The Force Awakens transported me back to that childhood moment, a feeling many children will experience today with this film.
For J.J Abrams the pressure was on to deliver a film worthy of this legendary franchise while appealing to modern audiences. George Lucas did the impossible by managing to blight his own masterwork, leaving Abrams with the unenviable task of reclaiming the goodwill of any lapsed fans.
Along with original Lucas collaborator Lawrence Kasdan, Abram’s well crafted script does just that. Set thirty years after Return Of The Jedi, the last remaining Jedi knight Luke Skywalker has disappeared with the villainous First Order searching for him. Led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) they attack a village on the planet Jakku and capture Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who had a map file leading to Skywalker’s whereabouts.
However Poe managed to store the file away inside his droid BB-8 which travels across Jakku and happens across a young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) who takes the droid in. Meanwhile Poe is freed from captivity by defecting stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega), who Poe renames Finn, but they crash on Jakku, with Finn the only survivor. He eventually encounters Rey and BB-8 just as stormtroopers arrive, fleeing just in time via an old junk spaceship.
It is a simple plot but too eventful to successfully summarise succinctly and without spoilers which is the hardest part. The noticeable similarities between this plot and that of A New Hope are either the genius or the laziness of Abrams – I am with the former camp as it achieves everything I outlined earlier.
A New Hope is openly riffed on throughout, both visually and in major plot points but never feels contrived or ham fisted; it is almost beholden to follow and, in some circumstances, reproduce previous situations in what has proven to be an elliptical universe. But as much as the past has been honoured, the present and future are very much the main focus with new faces, new adventures and new worlds to explore.
This film is essentially a passing of the torch from the old guard to the new blood and is smoothly done but not without a few expected bumps in the road, which is where the spoiler embargo comes into play. Chances are if you are reading this you’ll have seen the trailers so you’ll already know which familiar faces return to show the young ones the ropes when it comes to intergalactic battles.
The former Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is now a general of the Resistance, a military force supported by the Republic, and is also keen to find her brother Luke. C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is one of her team along with a dormant R2-D2 waiting for Luke’s return. Enjoying a larger slice of the action are Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) who once again have a number of duped and angry criminal gangs after their hides.
One clear strength is the way the new characters compliment the nostalgia trip and quickly endear themselves to the audience, either to root for or despise. In a progressive move the women are no longer helpless window dressing – Rey is a feisty, headstrong kick-ass young woman and the First Order even have a high ranking female stormtrooper in the form of Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).
It would be nice to know more about Rey, how Finn came be a stormtrooper despite his strong moral compass and what the story is with Poe, who clearly has a lot more to him beyond being a skilled pilot. They make for an interesting trio to rival the Luke-Leia-Han dynamic with their own personalities and stories ready to break new ground and not be mere modern upgrades.
Similarly Kylo Ren may be the physical reincarnation of Darth Vader but is a different baddie altogether, less cold hearted and more emotionally fragile. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is far more sadistic and devoted to the First Order’s cause with his Hitler-esque sermons and cold stare, but both answer to Supreme Leader Snoke (a motion-captured Andy Serkis).
Much of the presentation is in keeping with the style Lucas established way back in 1977, complete with the scrolling credits, John Williams’s timeless musical score and the Kurosawa influenced screenwipes. Yet Abrams has still suffuses the project with modern production ideas, like aerial tracking shots, handheld camerawork and longer single shot takes.
Thankfully the excessive use of CGI in the prequels has been toned right down so the special effects simply enhance and not dominate, the reliance on practical effects, costumes and engineering (BB-8 is a working robot) making a very welcome return. John Williams once again creates aural textures with his trademark soundtrack, adding new overtures to the already familiar canon.
Abram chose his new cast well, none of whom looked out of place next to the returning veterans who provide the requisite gravitas as the bridge between the two generations. Daisy Ridley deftly essays Rey as the humble scavenger turned intergalactic defender, while John Boyega as Finn is a suitable male foil for her. As Ren Kylo Adam Driver makes for an interesting villain and the character’s future will be fun to track.
To put it bluntly Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first truly legit Star Wars film since Return Of The Jedi and is exactly what the prequels should have been. Everything older fans loved is here with plenty of enticing bait to hook new fans both now and in the future. The true test however is for Episode VIII which has a lot to live up to but confidence should be justly high.
Rating – **** ½
Man In Black