Monday, December 28, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) film review

Year: 2015
Running Time: 135 minutes
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: George Lucas (characters), Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt (screenplay)
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong'o, Anthony Daniel, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew

Could Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been anything but a success both critically and at the box office? With any other film the answer would have been that failure is always possible, but failure was never an option as far as The Force Awakens was concerned. With the incredibly high expectations placed on the new film and after a set of prequels which divided opinions, it was hard to imagine that the film makers wouldn't do absolutely everything in their power to make Episode VII the best film it could possibly be. While breaking box office records all around the world, The Force Awakens is an extremely solid and impressive addition to the Star Wars universe that fans will rejoice in as it gives further excitement to the upcoming films in the saga and remains respectable to it's predecessors.

Three decades after Darth Vader and his empire were destroyed in Return of The Jedi, there is a new threat to the galaxy by the name of the First Order who are trying to wipe the existence of the Jedis. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and his sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is desperate to find him. The missing piece of the map to where he can be found is hidden by the Resistance fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in the droid, BB-8 just as the Resistance comes under attack by the First Order and the formidable Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). BB-8 comes across scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley) who together with the help of renegade stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega) seek to escape those looking to harm them. The three find themselves caught up in a war with a family they have only heard rumours about, but find themselves involved in ways they could have never imagined.

In the best possible way, The Force Awakens is hugely glorified Star Wars fan fiction on the big screen and this is in no way an insult. J. J. Abrams has made no secret of his love for the franchise and has commented in the past on the way the first films shaped his film making. While there was early talk about how Abrams was too obvious a choice for director of Episode VII due to past projects, he was and still is the perfect choice due to his admitted inner passion for Star Wars which gives him invaluable knowledge about what is desired by the ever loyal fans and what is seen as respectful towards the past films. Yet, those who have not seen the previous six films are not ostracised by the story. However in saying this, it does help if one has seen at least one or two of the Star Wars films as there are references to the George Lucas told stories and of course to the characters themselves, especially Han Solo, Leia, Luke Skywalker and brief mentions of Darth Vader. There is also a feeling a deja vu of past Star Wars films (particularly A New Hope), which may be an annoyance for some.

The Force Awakens brings the intrigue back to the franchise with much discussion to be had afterwards that will continue till Episode VIII is released in 2017. Like Episodes IV and V, there are many questions left unanswered which is all tactical rather than careless. Unlike many other franchise films, Star Wars is not based on official existing literature where fans can read what will happen in the future films. So one can translate certain aspects of the film in numerous ways, but all will not be revealed until later films and therefore increases the intrigue of the film. The Force Awakens carries this intrigue throughout the whole film without any lulls or scenes which slow down the action or story. The value placed on every moment of the film and the anticipation of information this brings increases it;s suspense and unpredictability.

As is to be expected, The Force Awakens takes full advantage of what is available to films with spectacular budgets in 2015. The film launches straight into high intensity action and establishes itself early as a visually extravagant piece of work that admirers will be easily besotted by. The action sequences are extremely impressive with the combination of incredible CGI, powerful sound and expert cinematography. John Williams returns to provide the soundtrack once again for Episode VII and although his work is as strong as it consistently is, it doesn't have the same iconic feeling as his previous Star Wars work (yet).

The casting decisions made for The Force Awakens are seemingly safe choices as they cover all bases to make sure that they cannot be criticised for any reason. Yet here safety pays off with some stunning performances by all involved. They may not be Oscar winning performances, but each actor portrays their character to the very best of their ability and pulls everything from the role that they can. Daisy Ridley emerges from being a relative unknown to giving a wonderful and strong performance as Rey. The film itself had a tremendous opportunity with Rey, as movie lovers this year have been calling for more strong female characters in film and they have absolutely made the most of this opportunity. Rey is a young woman who does not rely on anybody else for anything (regardless of whether they are male or female) and has no hesitation fighting for what she wants. However, she is not a forced character in that she is not the typical action woman associated with strong females in film, particularly those in such a genre as Star Wars is in. Rey does possess the same strong will as Leia did in the previous films, but perhaps in a more physical sense than Carrie Fisher's Leia. However, while there is much love for the female power of Rey, it is a shame that Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma doesn't have the right amount of screen time to have the same sense of power in the film and is rather a wasted opportunity.

As for the male side of the Star Wars casting, there are solid performances all around. John Boyega makes his entrance into the Star Wars universe and feels particularly 2015 while doing so with a modern sense of humour and use of language. He works well with Ridley and Harrison Ford and easily liked among audiences. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren has a tremendous presence about him and Domhnall Gleeson also shines as General Hux, although one would love to see more of the formidable character during Episode VII. Harrison Ford is also as heroic as is remembered and his presence is adored.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a success in every way and not just in figures at the box office. It remains extremely respectful to it's older relatives and an absolute treat for those loyal fanatics, yet has the potential to attract new loyalists to the fandom.


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