Film Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterAfter months, even years of speculation, fan theories and spoiler-phobic lynch mobs, the biggest twist in the newest addition to the Star Wars saga has been unveiled: R2-D2 is BB-8’s father!

I joke, of course, but please be aware that although I’ve avoided major spoilers, I do issue a minor warning to anyone who has hasn’t yet seen J. J. Abrams’ love letter to the biggest cinematic franchise to ever grace our screens.

Taking place 3 decades after Return of the Jedi, we learn that despite the Galactic Empire’s defeat by the hands of Luke, Leia, Han and the Rebellion – plus a tribe of friendly Ewoks – the galaxy far, far away is not in the greatest shape. The villainous new First Order has filled the void left by the Empire, and our heroes have been scattered by the ensuing chaos. However, fresh young faces have appeared, bringing new hope to a losing cause…

The Force Awakens is undeniably a passion project, with fresh filmmakers at the helm who live, breathe and – thankfully – exude 100% classic Star Wars. Where necessary, the film applies beloved storytelling values that made the Original Trilogy (or ‘Orij-Trij’ if you will); from jaw dropping action flight sequences to banter amongst characters, lightsabre duels and situations that leave you questioning the fates of our favourite characters.

And yet another credit to Episode VII; not a single major character is poorly cast or written. New and old faces gel perfectly, with Harrison Ford’s “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” and John Boyega’s endearing ex-Stormtrooper sharing hilarious dialogue with their fellow cast members.

The terrifying Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – Episode VII’s Vader-worshipping big bad – possesses more than a fair share of his predecessor’s qualities: an intimidating black silhouette, coupled with lightsabre tantrums that are actually scary. And of course, Rey – the Jakku Scavenger portrayed by Daisy Ridley – immediately shines as the Luke Skywalker of the new generation, rivalling even her older co-stars. The strong, natural relationships perceived onscreen allows us to believe that these people and their bonds are real. The only newcomer to really suffer from a lack of screen time is Poe Dameron – the dashing pilot played by Oscar Issac – whilst veterans ‘General’ Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 also take more of a backseat role.

starwars2The Force Awakens is really a four person vehicle – discounting Droids and Wookiees, of course. Despite the “cuddly walking carpet”, it’s been impossible to miss the spherical new sidekick who all parents will recognise as the toy they’ve been nagged to buy this Christmas. An embodiment of the successes practical effects have over CGI – especially when compared to the prequels’ attempts at comic relief with Jar Jar Binks – BB-8 is far from irritating, employing ingenious design, brilliant physical comedy, and everything else that made other tangible predecessors of the Orij-Trij popular.

The story of The Force Awakens is, for Star Wars fans, a very familiar one. Containing a multitude of parallels with A New Hope, anyone with a keen enough knowledge of the original plot certainly shouldn’t have a hard time piecing together what will happen next. It is easy, then, to imagine this new addition to the saga as a carbon copy of the original – despite a rather longwinded epilogue that accomplishes a little too much, a little too quickly. And yet, this is the whole point of the film. Just as it aims to recreate the feeling of what it was to see Star Wars in cinemas for the first time nearly 40 years ago, it is clearly the intention for The Force Awakens to be a starting point for a brand new generation of Star Wars fans, building upon the bones of those before it.

Upon first glance, J. J. Abrams’ love letter certainly feels flashier than George Lucas’ Orij-Trij. The new director’s presence is evident with more dynamic shots and squeaky-clean lighting. This gives a different feeling to the source material, and definitely poses the film as a JJ-project much like the Star Trek reboot. And yet, hints of a more familiar Star Wars are evident. Even in the trailer, we were granted the obligatory establishing shot: an expansive horizon, Rey’s speeder bike zooming left to right across the surface of a dusty alien planet, and the ruins of a felled Star Destroyer framing the scene. It is here, in the smaller touches, that we feel the most familiarity. And as John Williams’ iconic score swells and soars, visual throwbacks to classic scenes play out onscreen. When taking in the rich worlds, strange creatures and iconic characters, it is hard to deny the lineage of this particular movie.

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