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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What does one say about a series like Star Wars that you haven’t already heard? It’s such a pop-culture phenomenon that you’d be hard pressed to avoid it in any English-speaking country. The revival of Star Wars by Disney’s purchase of the rights from George Lucas was huge, and with Episode VII, The Force Awakens, we can see just how huge the juggernaut can get. I went to watch it on Friday, a whole 42 hours after its release on midnight Thursday, and I already felt like I was out of the loop for almost two days.

Still, the experience is unique in its own way: the lights go down, the trailers end, the screen goes dark… and then those words appear – A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… cue the fanfare.

The Star Wars experience is as codified as a fairy tale starting with “Once upon a time”, and the rush of seeing it in a full theatre is equal for fans and non-fans alike – you can’t help but be caught up in John Williams’ score, or the scale and scope of the visuals that march across the screen. This is a sign the fun’s just getting started.

The Force Awakens starts with a thirty year jump from the end of Return of the Jedi (and in the real world, it has been over thirty years since as well, so this is only too apt). Luke Skywalker is missing; the galaxy is not yet wholly under the New Republic; the Rebel Alliance still relevant as the Resistance, who fight the remnants of the Empire in the form of The First Order. Leia is a general in the resistance, and sends a pilot, Poe Dameron, to track down a map to the whereabouts of Skywalker. He’s being tracked by The First Order, who want to prevent the return of Skywalker as much as they want to re-establish control over the Galaxy.

Since it’s still so close to the release, I’ll tuck the rest away under a break for spoilers…

… and since I assume anyone reading here has watched it, I’m going to skip over details of the plot and just note thoughts, mostly.

  • Yes this is very much like Episode IV. It may not be an exact repeat, but it sure does rhyme. You could re-cut this into Ep IV or vice versa very easily. This is lazy writing and will reflect on this episode potentially being weak – in a back-to-back rewatch, this would look very similar to Ep IV and Ep VI quite easily.
  • … but that’s not a bad thing in the context of a re-launch for the series, especially if the aim is to gather a new crowd of fans. Disney’s playing the long game here, and they’re going to pull it off.
  • Above all, this is much more fun than some of the movies before, but not in a silly, slapstick way that The Phantom Menace was.
  • Oh that Millennium Falcon reveal, and then subsequent chase. Best action sequence by far of those whole thing.
  • Finn is a little troublesome. He’s a bit too… bipolar? for a Storm Trooper, for a lack of a better term. His abilities are wide ranging – and I concede I don’t know what his training may have involved, but handling a light sabre seems unlikely to have been included. Is he Force-sensitive? Is that what prompted his defection? I liked the actor more so than the character, which is possibly troubling given his clearly pivotal role.
  • Rey on the other hand is perfect. Enigmatic, driven, powerful, raw. Well done with this character. Her abilities are a little too quick to come on in the latter part of the movie, but that may just be the deus ex machina that is “The Force”. Loved “why are you holding my hand?!”
  • Rey’s backstory needs so much more exposition. A good film should leave you wanting more, but this was almost too little to go on. Should be interesting to see this play out in the next film or two, hopefully.
  • Han and Chewie are the perfect buddies, and I’d love to see more of their adventures, except they killed Han, dammit!
  • (Whoops, jumped ahead a bit there.)
  • Kylo Ren…. Emo Vader? Too much? Well played though, his clear lack of fine control and incomplete training is obvious. That he’s Leia & Han’s son was obvious from the trailer to me, but it seems to shock people. Also well done was the fact that he wasn’t as complete a source of terror as Vader seemed to be, indicating the relative lower position in the power structure.
  • The First Order is a little too Nazi alluding to me – the Empire was a tad more restrained. Like everything Abrams though, this one’s been turned up to 11. Way more questions than answers about the First Order and how they’ve succeeded the Empire, particularly with Snoke and the whole mysterious mega-hologram that looks stupidly overdone/oversized, even for a base-the-size-of-a-planet.
  • Speaking of, Finn was in Sanitation? How the hell does he know as much as he did if that was his job? Those are some powerful bloody janitors!
  • Leia is oddly passive given how active she was in the original series. Wonder if that’s age showing or what, but it may be her time is yet to come for this new series.
  • Luuuuuuuke. He looked so perfect it was unbelievable they left it so late.
  • The new Cantina is good fun, and no doubt a setting for more fill-in in the event that they go back to tell Young Han’s story, or even how Luke’s sabre ended up there. Too much potential there for it to be thrown away this quickly.
  • I almost didn’t care for the whole end battle to blow up the base because it was far too obvious what was going to happen. If anything, I almost expected the twist to go the other way – for them to succeed at destroying the Rebel Resistance (aside: why the name change?!) base instead, despite the best efforts of Han & Chewie & co. That’d fit right into the Game of Thrones era of entertainment, but it would ask a bit more from the audience than the series seems to want to stray towards.
  • Williams’ score is excellent as always. Visual effects brilliant as always.

Overall, a safe film that didn’t push too many boundaries in the film-making sense, but delivered as promised on the Star Wars universe being revived. Will be interesting to see how Disney follow through without going a little too commercial with the merchandise and spin-offs and the planned 4 movies in 4 years.

★★★★

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