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Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens – film review

December 17, 2015

STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Fun returns to a galaxy far, far away.

Reviewed on Thursday 17th December 2015

star-wars-the-force-awakens-daisy-ridley

Directed by JJ Abrams. Written by Lawrence Kasdan & JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt. Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Running time: 135 mins.

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE!

Thirty years since the Battle of Endor brought a tyrannical Empire to its knees, a new evil known as The First Order has emerged to threaten freedom across the galaxy.     A spirited young scavenger joins with a First Order deserter, who, together with Han Solo and Chewbacca, set out on a perilous mission to return an astro droid to the Resistance, so that they, in turn, may locate the whereabouts of the legendary and reclusive Jedi Knight known as Luke Skywalker.

When I first heard the announcement that a new trilogy of unnecessary Star Wars sequels were being planned, my initial reaction was one of – oh dear. After the horrendous debacle of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, did I really want to see THE MOST iconic and beloved characters from my youth revisited as geriatrics? Couldn’t we just remember them how they were? This was perhaps the biggest issue which kept me from being as enthusiastic about seeing this film as others seemed to be.

Another issue I had going in was that while the prequels only exist because Lucas felt obliged to make them (after he had designated – to everyone’s surprise – The Empire Strikes Back as Episode V in that film’s opening crawl) – the idea that there were also plans for a third trilogy following the events of Return of the Jedi is something to be debated. Sure, Lucas had made his intention known in an off-the-cuff remark in Starlog Magazine following the successful release of Empire, but, if truth be told, he never actually had anything apart from a vague idea of what these sequels might entail. So what’s my verdict? Well – I’m happy to report – these issues I had going in have been completely overshadowed by every other aspect which makes The Force Awakens the best Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy.

A big part of the crowd-pleasing appeal of the original films was the amusing banter between the leads – something which was attempted in the prequels to far lesser success. In A New Hope this banter was attributed (although uncredited) to eleventh hour dialogue additions by Gloria Katz & Willard Huyck (American Grafitti) – who supplied many of the humorous lines (“Will somebody get this big walking carpet     out of my way?”). In Empire and, to a lesser extent, Jedi, it was Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark) – who came up with all those amusing exchanges we loved so much. And so, specifically going after Kasdan to again do his thing (while also providing continuity) on Force Awakens was definitely an inspired decision on Abrams’ part.

Abrams clearly knows and loves every single frame of the original trilogy and The Force Awakens can at times come across as a ‘greatest hits’ package of iconic moments from all three films. But the way Abrams seamlessly (and organically) incorporates these moments in a seemingly fresh and non-pandering way – while still being in complete service to characters and story – is truly remarkable.

In the same way that the focus of each episode of the original trilogy can be viewed as the story of a specific character or characters – Luke in A New Hope, Han and Leia in Empire and Darth Vader in Jedi – the focus of Force Awakens is definitely the character of Rey. Played exceptionally well by relative newcomer Daisy Ridley (a joy to watch) – Rey takes her place as an instant icon in the Star Wars universe and I look forward to seeing more of her in subsequent episodes. Indeed, in stark contrast to some of the previous installments, The Force Awakens features a uniformly excellent cast. John Boyega, playing a stormtrooper deserter disillusioned with his lot in life, has many of the best lines and is perhaps one of the most fully-rounded characters featured thus far in the Star Wars universe. While Adam Driver brings a great deal of depth and pathos to a complex character whose identity I won’t be spoiling here. Of the returning cast, Harrison Ford seems to be enjoying himself the most; making up for his self-admitted lack of enthusiasm when last we saw him as Han Solo in Jedi (a disdain which most likely had much to do with his character surviving and not being killed off – as had originally been intended).

Abrams’ decision to eschew greenscreen backdrops for actual locations (here including Ireland, Iceland and Abu Dhabi) lends the film a sense of verisimilitude not seen since Phantom Menace and, of course, the original trilogy. While Dan Mindel’s (thankfully lens flare free) cinematography recalls both Gilbert Taylor’s low-key lensing of A New Hope and Peter Suschitsky’s lush (and never bettered) work on   The Empire Strikes Back. And John Williams’ everpresent score effectively employs classic cues from the original trilogy for key moments throughout.

My only real criticism of The Force Awakens is that, halfway through, it does tend to fall back on familiar plotting we had already seen replicated in Return of the Jedi (which in turn was lifted from the original). It would have been nice to have seen a brand new threat employed here. But this issue aside, The Force Awakens deifinitely recaptures the spirit and sense of fun of the originals, is quite brilliant in parts and is, overall, surprisingly better than I expected.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, December 17th 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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8 Comments
  1. Oh! Yay! You’ve reviewed this! I love your reviews. 🙂 I was definitely worried about this one, although I think I was looking forward to it more than you were. I’m still trying to sort out all my feelings on it but, overall, I’m very happy! Especially with what they’ve done with the characters. I didn’t expect to like them as much as the original trilogy characters but I think I already do. Especially Rey. She’s awesome and I’m glad my daughter (a huge Star Wars nerd already) has a new, strong female character for her generation. 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yeah, I realized pretty much straight away that I was going to enjoy hanging out with these new characters as much as the originals (which I never thought I’d hear myself say). And I thought Oscar Issac’s character was also nicely done (although it wouldn’t have hurt to have seen more of him in this episode – perhaps we will in the next one). And yeah, Rey is definitely a strong enough character to carry this new trilogy – and it’s great that she’s a girl! And Daisy Ridley – what an incredible find! She’s amazing! Hell, they’re all amazing! And now that we have been introduced to all these great new characters, I can’t wait to see how they all interact in the next installment. 🙂

      • Yes! Me too. I’ve actually gone a second time now and like it even more. I was hoping that would be the case. 🙂

      • gregory moss permalink

        I’ve heard it just gets better with subsequent viewings. I caught it at a 5am screening on opening day (so I wouldn’t have to steer clear of my favorite movie podcasts) – and so I’m real keen to go see it again at a more respectable hour. 🙂

  2. Positives- the new cast is pretty terrific and, Harrison Ford aside, better even than the Original Trilogy cast ever was. It ‘looks’ like Star Wars. It ‘sounds’ like Star Wars.

    Negatives- alas the script is almost fan fiction. It tries too hard and too many things feel forced (sic). Its almost an Original Trilogy Greatest Hits. And typically JJ Abrams, the coincidences just pile up too high. Finn crashes on the planet near to where Rey lives and the Falcon just happens to be in the local junkyard and Rey flies it like a pro, and later, Finn (a StormTrooper Janitor no less) without any training goes head to head with Kylo Ren in a lightsabre duel and holds his own when he should have been headless in seconds. And how did that Po fella get back to the Resistance before Rey and company, and why did he abandon BB-8 and those plans with the bad guys hunting for it? As usual all the plotholes are hidden by the relentless pace and tight cutting. Very Modern Hollywood.

    Overall it was fun and a step in the right direction, but all the relief from the fans that it’s better than the prequels is getting the film too many soaring reviews.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Nice summing up, Ian! Yeah – I agree, it does have plenty of flaws in the story department, ie: if the New Republic is up and running and functional – then who are the Resistance resisting against exactly? If they’re resisting against the First Order (who don’t actually appear to be in complete control of the galaxy) – then wouldn’t the Resistance be in alliance with the New Republic – and therefore not really a Resistance at all (in the true sense of the word)? The more one thinks about this, the more it comes across as just messy, ill thought through and confusing. And absolutely, there are plenty of plot holes as you mentioned, which only become apparent once the ride is over – and we are given a chance to process the information (an issue which I also had with Abrams’ STAR TREK reboot – although that film’s plot conveniences were far more apparent during the watching of it – and way more annoying). I do get the impression that Abrams is more concerned with tone and character (with these franchise reboots) – than he is with creating coherent and plausible narratives, so I’m glad he is bowing out from writing the next one and handing over the reins to Rian Johnson – as I really enjoyed what Johnson did with LOOPER. And Johnson appears to have a better handle on avoiding plot contrivances than Abrams.

      • Yeah, its great that Abrams is moving on. I’m really excited to see where ROGUE ONE and Episode Eight go. Abrams did his job regards relaunching the franchise but the really good stuff (hopefully) comes next

      • gregory moss permalink

        Yeah, I’m absolutely more excited about seeing the next one – than I was about seeing this one for sure. 🙂 And ROGUE ONE has interesting potential (considering it’s set just prior to the original) – a STAR WARS-set period film! 🙂

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