Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Ignite your cross-guarded lightsaber and don your chromium armour, The Force Awakens is finally here – but just how well does it live up to the hype?

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Star Wars – it’s kind of a big deal. Six movies, several television series, innumerable books and more merchandise than you could safely store in the hollowed out cores of the two Death Stars combined. There’s really no other franchise quite so widely beloved. And now, finally, it’s back in theatres!

The Force Awakens takes us back to a galaxy far, far away, to a time long after the defeat of the Galactic Empire. From the ruins, a new faction has arisen, the so-called First Order (basically the Empire again, but more shiny!). Opposing them is the Resistance (Rebel Alliance Mark II), who are desperately seeking out Luke Skywalker, who has apparently disappeared.

Now pan down to the planet Jakku!

FirstOrder1Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), is the Resistance’s top gun pilot, who entrusts the map to Skywalker’s location to his adorable droid sidekick, BB-8. The two are separated, with BB-8 left to wander the desert alone until chancing upon a mysterious girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is then subsequently drawn into galactic affairs as she teams up with Finn (John Boyega) and an old Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in order to bring the droid safely to the Resistance.

Hot on their tails, is the enigmatic Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), “space-Nazi” General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and the chrome-plated Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), all led by the First Order’s head honcho, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

rey-finn-poeRey is the film’s main protagonist (though Finn comes in at a close second). She’s a strong, smart and incredibly capable young woman. In fact, she’s so capable that she succeeds at almost everything, from piloting a spacecraft to firing a blaster, both of which implied to be firsts for her. It’s earned her something of a reputation among critics as a potential Mary-Sue, though nowhere near as frustrating or divisive as the likes of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker or the dreaded Jar Jar Binks. Ridley’s performance, whilst fairly wooden, is still entertaining.

As a contrast to the perpetually perfect Rey, Finn, as acted by John Boyega, offers something truly original to the Star Wars franchise in the guise of a stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter. His progression is the emotional core of the movie, brought to life by witty dialogue and impeccable acting. Of all the characters, I found Finn to be the most endearing, with only one possible exception…

bb8BB-8 is quite simply the cutest thing since R2-D2 first rolled along the corridors of the Tantive IV in A New Hope. Its charm comes in part from its simplistic design, but more deeply from the astounding practical effects required to bring it to life, without simply resorting to cgi throughout.

Poe Dameron – hotshot pilot and BB-8’s master – is very likable, in the vein of a young Han Solo.

Speaking of which, the much lauded return of Han and Chewie works really well, being nowhere near the cringe-fest served up in the fourth Indiana Jones film. This, at least, feels respectful both to the character and to the actor.

badass_kyloNow, to the bad guys, and who better to start with than the villainous Kylo Ren, quite possibly this trilogy’s equivalent of Darth Vader. A Knight of Ren, rather than a Sith Lord (though, it’s not really explained what a Knight of Ren is), Kylo Ren is a villain portrayed with surprising depths. He’s not your typical throwaway baddie in a cloak and his inner struggle offers a few of the more intriguing moments of the film.

huxAs a sort of foil, General Hux is a character much more in control and with traits comparable to those of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin. He’s cool-headed, professional and unafraid of talking back to Kylo Ren, with whom he shares some form of rivalry.

Disappointingly, Captain Phasma, perhaps best known as the chrome-plated stormtrooper captain in all the promotional materials for the movie, is fairly unimportant and severely lacking in screen time. It’s most likely a fault with the marketing, rather than the film itself, but the hype certainly suggested a larger and more interesting role than the film ultimately delivers.

Last of the villains is Snoke, whose role it seems, is to fill in for the now long dead Emperor Palpatine. He’s also introduced in much the same way, and (here be SPOILERS) fairly closely resembles, both in voice and appearance, a mutilated cross between Gollum and Voldemort. Nothing about him feels especially unique or interesting, but it’s early days, and there’s plenty of theories out there as to who or what he might turn out to be.

Of course, those are only a few of the new faces introduced in The Force Awakens, and there are plenty more familiar ones that crop up as well. What the film does better than some, is utilising older characters successfully, without allowing them to takeover the plot or steal the limelight from the new generation.

There are also a lot of nods to previous films (even the prequels), but the overall feel of the movie is closer to the Original Trilogy in terms of darker tones, locations and style. It puts a new spin on things as well, naturally, but is somehow easier to accept as a film taking place in the same universe as A New Hope than say The Phantom Menace.

reyfinnrunningFor myself, I found the best moments in the film to be those where Finn, Rey, and BB-8 were off adventuring together. The interactions between the new characters are charming, funny and left me genuinely excited to see where things might lead. This is, after all, an entirely new trilogy, so anything can happen!

phasma1However, it must be said that the movie’s plot is far from unique. Many elements are borrowed from A New Hope, though arguably used to solidify the position of the First Order as the new “big bad”, and Finn and Rey as the new heroes, whilst also intentionally reminding audiences that this series of films will have much more in common with the Original Trilogy than the Prequels.

Whether or not you find the plot engaging, the sheer ferocity of the spectacle that is The Force Awakens is sure to please many a moviegoer. Practical effects are utilised brilliantly to bring the aliens, droids and creatures of Star Wars to life, with cgi taking up the bulk of the work only when necessary. Rejoice, there are no ludicrously animated floating pears.

The music is once more composed by John Williams, but lacks the flare of previous instalments. While admittedly it would be very difficult to top the Imperial March or The Phantom Menace‘s Duel of the Fates, there are really no memorable themes in the movie’s soundtrack, which comes as something of a disappointment.

Ultimately, I would have to say that I found The Force Awakens to be an immensely enjoyable movie, which, while not without flaws, was still an engaging yarn with intriguing characters and plenty of stunning visual treats to behold. It may not necessarily hold up to the extremes of the hype made about it, but it is certainly a worthy successor to one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time.

The Force Awakens succeeds in setting itself apart from its predecessors, whilst still recapturing the essence of what made the Original Trilogy so endearing to so many people. I may be more mindful of the marketing strategies in future, but I’m no less excited to see where Star Wars takes us next!

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Specifications
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 135 minutes

Links:
Wiki
IMDB
Rotten Tomatoes
Official Website
Metacritic

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