Review: 'Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens' (2015) Dir. J.J. Abrams
10 years after 'Revenge Of The Sith' and a $4bn deal, Disney takes its new 'Star Wars' universe into brave new territory...
30 years after the fall of the Emperor, from the ashes of the Empire comes the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis). A Republic-backed Resistance fights back under the leadership of General Leia Organa (Fisher).
Desperate to find her brother Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last of the Jedi, Leia sends pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) on a trail that may lead to Luke. But First Order Dark Side follower Kylo Ren (Driver) is also on the hunt.
With the help the mysterious scavenger Rey (Ridley), rogue Stormtrooper Finn (Boyega) and war hero Han Solo (Ford), the Resistance races to stay one step ahead of the First Order and find Luke before it is too late...
It’s clear after watching this that JJ Abrams was the right man to take us back to the galaxy far, far away for new and old fans. Bridging stories that began both in 1977 and 1999, this is the 7th installment and follows on from ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and it’s the film we’ve been waiting for ever since. It’s also clear that JJ when directing the Star Trek reboot films didn’t quite “get” the franchise, because here he clearly DOES “get” Star Wars and you couldn’t have a better director, writer and producer to launch this new trilogy.
It’s evident from the start this is made with nothing but admiration for George Lucas’ creation and what has gone on before. While it most certainly isn’t a ‘soft-remake’ or ‘homage’ to the original, like Bryan Singer did with ‘Superman Returns’, this acknowledges everything that has gone on before while also creating solid foundations for the unknown future we are going to journey into to build on.
Thankfully there isn’t a trade negotiation, senate meeting or pod-race in sight. No strained narrative or complex stories. This is a classic tale of good vs evil from the off.
We are thrust into events following some 30 years after the fall of the Empire and we aren’t given much breathing space from the iconic title crawl before we witness the might of the new bad guys in full force and the rousing bravery of our heroes. Just as it should be. We have a new trio of heroes to invest in – Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. Each character has a past, a present and future we are given clues to and invited to share in their journey. They are very likable, very well crafted and very entertaining as they quip, shoot, fly and run in and out of danger.
While Boyega’s Finn may be a little too excitable at times, it works for his character, eager to make a difference and we really see his arc from nervous Stormtrooper to Resistance hero. Daisy Ridley is nothing but sweet as Rey, a real ballsy female lead who gives as good as she gets and a welcome return to form for female screen heroes who don’t need to wear little or use their sexuality in anyway.
She has the most interesting journey and is going to be a very memorable character for all the right reasons. Rey is a wonderful character and I found Ridley nothing short of brilliant in her scenes, conveying so much varied emotion and wit when needed. Oscar Isaac has the most fun for sure; an established pilot and character already in the thick of it when we see him, but one who has dashing good lucks, a daring-do attitude and can fly an X-Wing better than most. These three represent everything Star Wars is about - believing you can be someone great, no matter your circumstances.
But with every hero introduced, we need a memorable villain to follow from Darth Vader. Even Darth Maul and his disposable appearance in ‘The Phantom Menace’ wasn’t enough to carry on through the prequel trilogy and we were given CGI cyborgs and lightsaber wielding pensioners with CGI body-doubles. Forget all that now. Domhnall Gleeson echoes the iron jawed ruthlessness of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin; a man fueled by one duty – to eradicate the enemy. He is self-assured, confident and commands his legions of Stormtroopers with a haunting efficiency of how the Nazi rallies were carried out.
Gwendoline Christie is Captain Phasma, a female Stormtrooper in a chrome suit who isn’t fazed by carrying out her brutal orders. She doesn’t get the screen-time she deserves sadly, and I hope we see her return to expand on her efficiency. And Adam Driver is Kylo Ren. A Sith? No. A twisted Dark Sider who is more haunting without the mask than with. With an unstable, fiery lightsaber that is as unstable and fiery as his temper, Ren is on a mission both for himself and the First Order and he doesn’t need gimmicks to sell him.
He genuinely is a visibly imposing villain but very layered to be far more interesting than anything we’ve seen before, even giving Vader a run for his money. And what is worth it all? They feel a real threat. They are scheming, volatile, cunning and ruthless as all villains should be, but never without motive and not acting on a whim. There is something far greater at work and I can't wait to see what it is!
And let’s not forget the welcome return of original cast members Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. They slip into the worn and weary shoes of the characters we last saw 32 years ago and have aged naturally, which makes even more sense in the narrative. Ford has that world-weary charisma he never loses as Han Solo. Fisher is commanding but still tender as Leia Organa. Peter Mayhew still makes you cheer as Wookiee Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels forces a smile as loveable C-3PO. And Mark Hamill…well, you can discover his well-kept secret appearance for yourself.
They will make you smile, cry and laugh with the heroes you’ve grown up with and heard so much about if you’re a new fan. The new generation refer to these characters in the film as “myth” and “legends” – and they are, both in the film and in reality, and so we welcome them back with open arms to remind us we are still in the galaxy we loved as children and continue to do so today.
As you can see, my praise runs high for the cast and characters, but it also runs high for the crew who have created a world so real and vibrant it’s hard not to feel involved in the drama and action, all without shaky cam. Real sets, real practical effects and real stunts take over from CGI. When CGI is used, it’s for the spaceships and Starfighters and space voyages and expansive planets which is as it should be – it’s used to enhance, never to replace. I counted only 2, possibly 3 CGI characters who even then were really well rendered. And remember a certain rumour about a certain James Bond actor featuring in the film as an uncredited Stormtrooper? Listen out. Because it’s true. All of it.
This is a journey the top dogs at LucasFilm and Disney want us to invest in with our hearts, not just our wallets, and with the real actors, real costumes, sets and props, we can. Stormtroopers have never been such a welcome return after flat CGI clones. Star ships have never looked better inside and the galaxy has never alive with a number of brilliant set pieces on this roller coaster journey of emotions; both with nostalgia and narrative.
The first hour eases you in, establishes the story and lets the new characters open up before pushing the throttle for the classic Star Wars narrative plot-points; dogfights, prison breaks, shoot-outs, daring escapes and lightsaber battles. And I can safely say the duels here, thankfully not overused, actually outshine the prequels over-choreographed ballet numbers. It’s a more primitive, brutal and desperate style of fighting like we saw with Luke and Darth Vader. There’s no grace or CGI jumps and flips and powers; it’s just good and evil battling to stay alive and out-do the others, and it’s nail biting stuff and shot superbly.
The action is also akin to the things we mimicked with toys as a child, and even now with computer games; Resistance v Stormtrooper shoot outs in dangerous battle zone, X-Wings v TIE Fighters above a snowy planet, and hero / villain lightsaber fights. It’s the stuff of our childhood and our current love for this galaxy.
Are there faults? Of course – no film is perfect, but the faults are so small you forget about them seconds later. There is a little too much back-and-forth between stories at the start, and some of Boyega's acting could be turned down a little to veer away from parody. However, on the whole this is damn good fun, and done so well. With a sprinkle of adventure from ‘A New Hope’, a smattering of tone from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and a helping of fun from ‘Return Of The Jedi’, this creates something very familiar, but something so different.
In a decade full of films that rely on dark, gritty and muted tones and themes, and forces violence and sexual content down our throat we are now nearly numb to it, ‘The Force Awakens’ shows how much a film can rely on nothing but the story and content itself to be rich in colour, exciting, vibrant, funny and emotional, dramatic and tender without being a pastiche of the films it follows or trying to be something it’s not.
It’s a welcome relief for Star Wars fans and film lovers in general. 'The Force Awakens' deserves all the praise just for the effort put into giving us something we’ve been waiting for for many years.
'Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens' is a LucasFilm Ltd. production