It’s breaking box office records the world over. In fact it’s probably broken a few more whilst you were reading this headline! This is John’s review of the latest entry to the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
I’m an old school Star Wars fan. I remember my first viewing when I was around six or seven years old. A gentleman with a large VHS collection in the boot of his car used to visit our house once a week and I remember flipping through a book of VHS cassette inlay covers deciding what to rent.
It was my father who picked out the film and once it finished I remember running up the stairs to his office crying my eyes. I enjoyed the film so much that I didn’t want it to end.
As the years went by my love of the series grew with the release of the sequels and the expanded universe it created, the games, the comics and novels. I delved behind the scenes and bought the fictional technical manuals, the ‘making of’ books, art books and more.
Then in 1999 my fandom was knocked down several notches with the release of ‘The Phantom Menace’. We all thought it was another great Star Wars film initially but over time it was apparent that we were all kidding ourselves.
The further films, ‘Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’ were better they simply couldn’t match the love we had for the original adventures of Luke Skywalker.
Fast forward several years and in a surprise announcement in October of 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and announced that new Star Wars films were going to be produced with the first set for release in 2015.
I was stunned and incredibly over excited as Will can confirm. He had to edit out my over excitement from the original news story I posted on the previous version of The Unheard Nerd!
At first I read every scrap of detail that was released from official channels and the spy reports that often fill up movie news web sites. But at some point I decided that I wasn’t going to ruin the film for myself. I watched the first three official trailers along with the international variant that offered more new footage.
Then the television spots appeared and after seeing the first, I realised these were going to reveal more of the film than I really wanted to see at that point. I withheld from viewing or reading anything else until I could finally see the film for myself.
December 18th 2015 couldn’t come soon enough.
“Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey, a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.”
This is the film I have been waiting for since ‘Return of the Jedi’ back in 1983! This is Star Wars as I remember it, a collection of resistance fighters with a rag tag fleet up against a new improved version of the Imperial Navy. This is also one of the films negative points, but more on that later.
When George Lucas created the prequels, he decided that as the films were set approximately thirty years before the first original Star Wars film that everything would have a very different look. Everything was designed to look new and clean which made sense but it gave the prequel trilogy an aesthetic look that I’m not a big fan of.
One of George’s factors in deciding to create the prequel trilogy was that computer graphics had become advanced enough that he could create the huge environments and characters that he had always wanted since he first created Star Wars in 1977.
Whilst George was happy with this new technology, not everyone else was. Whilst a great technical achievement, Jar Jar Binks is a poor character. The many environments of the prequel films look great but feel fake. Princess Amidala’s escape through the robot factory in ‘Attack of the Clones’ wouldn’t look out of place in a video game. It’s no secret that many of the sets for the films were merely huge green screen stages with the environments added later digitally.
The team behind ‘The Force Awakens’ knows the love for the original films and has gone back to the old ways. It’s been no secret that director J.J. Abrams has decided to build everything for real and the film really feels better for it.
Not only are we once again in a familiar world of used vehicles and environments but the creatures that inhabit these worlds have been realised as real animatronic creations (apart from one major character). This makes the world so believable; this is the Star Wars I grew up with.
The story is also feels like a good old time Star Wars film and this is my only real concern with ‘The Force Awakens’
Without trying to spoil the basic story, as revealed by the trailers, is that an ex New Order stormtrooper meets a scavenger on the planet of Jakku. They’ll meet up with characters from the original trilogy and fight against the New Order led by General Hux and the mysterious Kylo Ren.
The film does feel like a re-tread of the original Star Wars: A New Hope in places, especially with the desert planet setting in the first act and the final assault on Starkiller base which draws obvious parallels to the attack on the original Death Star, or even the Death Star II. Ever since watching the film, I keep getting the phrase of ‘Star Wars – The greatest Hits’ travelling around my head whenever I think of how to describe the film.
It as if J.J. Abrams and/or Disney played upon the strengths of the original films that the majority loves and decided not to take too many risks.
This is only a minor quibble on what is an excellent Star Wars adventure that rarely lets up to allow you to take your breath. Seriously, I was desperate for a much needed toilet break during my viewing but I gallantly resisted. Once the film was over I realised that if I had given in to my bodily urges I would have missed important information.
Considering the film runs for around two hours, it’s easy to see why it needs extra viewings. There’s so much to digest and some fans have travelled back to their local multiplexes up to ten times already!
There is also much praise to be lavished on the newcomers as well, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, who play Finn and Rey.
I was concerned that having a new film in a much loved franchise hanging off the performances of two young relatively unknown actors was a huge gamble. I’m happy to say that J.J. Abrams must have known what he was doing casting them and there a joy to watch.
The same can be said of the original returning cast members as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to spend a lot of time with Luke Skywalker, as played of course by Mark Hamill but his new look is awesome. His appearance in the film is rather late if you hadn’t guessed already and I can wait for Episode VIII to see what he will do next.
Carrie Fisher returns in a handful of scenes as General Leia and some of the media has been very hard on her rather unfairly considering the life she’s led since the end of ‘Return of the Jedi’. Regardless I was pleased to see her on screen again with her husband Han Solo.
That was another factor that concerned me. I’ve seen recent films where Harrison Ford looks like he’s phoning in a performance. Reports during production claimed that Harrison had slipped into the role of Han Solo with ease and it was like the thirty year gap never happened. I’m happy to confirm this is very much true.
Watching Han and his partner in crime Chewbacca back on screen was just another element of this film that had me smiling all the way through it.
But what of the bad guys?
Since the Battle of Endor, someone has taken the fragments of the Empire and reshaped it into the New Order, led by General Hux and Kylo Ren.
General Hux as played by Domhnall Gleeson despite looking rather young for an officer of his rank keeps order and control and continues the Star Wars tradition of all Imperial officers being portrayed by English actors.
Finally we come to Kylo Ren. Adam Driver portrays a young man who whilst intimidates those around him with his use of the dark side of the Force, it transpires he’s not as in control of his feelings as it looks. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader and is still receiving tutoring from a mysterious figure known only as Supreme Leader Snoke.
Adam is impressive as Kylo especially when he has to show more emotions that you think you’ll see from him. He isn’t just a carbon copy Darth Vader replacement.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ for me was a full on return to the style of the original trilogy films that I love. It does tread a dangerous line between sequel and reboot but don’t let that fact dampen your spirits.
It’s a thoroughly entertaining film and I can’t wait to give it more viewings, as well as the antagonising wait for Episode VIII.