Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
Dir: J. J. Abrams
I never really understood how people could get so excited about ‘Star Wars’… Until now!
Decades after the events of the original trilogy, the Empire has fallen only to be replaced by the ‘First Order’. Important information that could help the resistance has been entrusted to a small droid, BB8, that ends up with a scavenger called Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega).
If you follow my blog much you may already know that I hadn’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy until three years ago when I purposefully made a day of it (and wrote reviews for Episode IV, Episode V, and Episode VI). I was first introduced to the franchise when I saw the prequels as a kid, which really didn’t work for me, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and I actively hated Episode III. When I finally watched the originals in one day I enjoyed them much more than the prequels but I think I was past the point of being able to be wowed by them due to the abundance of parodies and references that had spoilt any tension or big reveals. Therefore, going into seeing this I wasn’t expecting too much though I was cautiously optimistic based on the positive reviews that were flying about and the fact that I generally enjoy J. J. Abrams’ films.
I’m happy to say it won me over rapidly. To help set the right mood I joined friends for a marathon of the quality trilogy before heading to the cinema to see this one and it made many things clear. For a start this film takes the originals as a launchpad from which to develop, reusing some elements, but also pushing things forward considerably. As well as that, rather than being mere homage, it sets a similar tone and feel to the film right from the opening, so that it really feels like an ‘Episode’ that is fully part of the same saga but with the improvement of updated filmmaking abilities.
Handled very well is the use of both CGI and practical effects. Scenes such as ships flying are able to use newer technologies to give us angles and shots that weren’t really possible before and they work insanely well. On the other hand, there are elements such as the droids that avoid the use of CGI and are achieved the old-fashioned way with models and costumes. This proves effective, especially in the case of the heavily featured new addition to the droid characters, BB8, who has all the charm of R2D2 yet with even more expressiveness, a truly wonderful piece of production design.
There’s some unquestionably amazing casting, with capable actors filling the roles of new exciting characters with a diversity and gender equality that works incredibly well. I noticed from re-watching the originals how much Leia was tough, often rescuing the men, and Rey brings that back but without the need to wear a gold bikini. Daisy Ridley is brilliant, I found myself warming to her character straight away and wanting to learn more about her and her origins, exactly what the filmmakers intended.
Humour has always been part of the films, with Han Solo often getting the best and most quotable lines. This film manages to achieve a similar tone, proving to be surprisingly funny in places, with John Boyega’s character Finn shedding his stormtrooper past thanks in no small part to his likeability achieved much through wit. He even gets to do something for the first time in a ‘Star Wars’ film, be a stormtrooper with a face. There are some very clever and interesting references to the origins of the stormtroopers, something I hope they will expand on a little more in future films as its potentially genius.
Villain Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver (‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘) is shockingly good. Darth Vader is a tough act to follow yet his character does, partly in homage, but also in the way that Driver’s performance is, in the most part, unsettlingly calm. He’s not an actor I’ve seen much in other things, so for me I didn’t have to shake the memories of past characters, though I feel this will become his defining role.
Thankfully the film doesn’t overuse the original cast, without question the new characters are the leads, the returning characters are important but in a way that fully makes sense as they achieved so much 30 years before and have become legendary. It would have been easy to capitalise almost entirely on the returning quartet of Han, Luke, Leia and Chewy, but their roles are important while strictly speaking not exactly vital for them to appear.
I have only one major issue, which is the same as almost everyone else I’ve spoken to, the depiction of Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture king Andy Serkis) appears through the use of a 30ft tall hologram. Even the fact it’s a hologram does little to help how out-of-place it looks, since the rest of the CGI in the film is excellent and blends in beautifully with the locations and practical effects, Snoke looks really bad. While it’s quite off-putting, thankfully it doesn’t ruin the film, they are just a few brief scenes but they do stand out for the wrong reasons.
I’ve seen this film twice at the cinema and it’s had the effect of making me genuinely excited to see more ‘Star Wars films’ now, something I honestly never would have expected to be saying. As this film used old characters and plotpoints to set things up, the next Episode in this saga should be able to take things beyond that and further the franchise in new directions with these strong new characters that we are already invested in and wish to follow and see develop.
‘The Force Awakens’ is nominated for 4 BAFTAs in the categories of ‘Music’, ‘Production Design’, ‘Sound’ and ‘Visual Effects’. It is also up for Academy Awards in ‘Best Editing’, ‘Original Score’, ‘Visual Effects’, ‘Sound Editing’ and ‘Sound Mixing’. The home video release should be coming in a few months once the box-office has taken all it possibly can.