Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Next Generation

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

I find it harder with every passing year to take an interest in new release movies, and even I was more interested in newer films I would need them to sink in before reviewing. However this is Star Wars we’re talking about! When it was first announced back in 2012 that a new trilogy of Star Wars movies was to be made, my initial reaction was “It will be better than the prequels, but will still suck”. The filmmakers had the gargantuan task of winning back all the cynical, jaded Star Wars fans like myself; I don’t think many people where jumping for joy when a new trilogy was announced. As more announcements about Episode VII came to light such as the film’s apparent use of practical effects and that it was going to be shot on film I compared it to a politician making false election promises; in other words, it’s a trap! Then came the first teaser and I couldn’t complain. It actually looks like what I want a Star Wars film to look like, but no, I’m not getting sucked in that easy! With the second teaser I finally gave up; “shut up and take my money!”. While counting down the days towards this film’s release my love for Star Wars was reawakened.

I almost love The Force Awakens, I almost think it’s an excellent film. 80% of aspects in the film I am over the moon about and exceeded my expectations; 20% I am indifferent towards. As the movie begins there is no 20th Century Fox fanfare, but the silence over the LucasFilm logo works in its own way; plus at least there isn’t an insane amount of opening logos like most movies today. As soon as I seen “A long time ago…” and the opening crawl I was in full goose bumps mode. Although why does the crawl state “Episode VII” when the marketing does not? Due to this I expected the crawl not to state the episode number, which means they’re acknowledging the prequels as canon, but whatever, those are in the past. The text in the crawl was perfect and the opening shot of a star destroyer hovering over a planet in the background, such striking imagery. The opening with the attack on the Jakku village actually reminded me of Apocalypse Now, surprisingly intense and even a bit violent. When Finn has the blood of another storm trooper draped over his helmet, I already became emotionally invested in this character, and I haven’t even seen his face; if that’s not impressive then I don’t know what is. The landscapes of Jakku themselves had that sense of Laurence of Arabia grandeur and those shots of the downed star destroyers in the background are poster worthy material.

From the trailers I got the impression the movie achieves the right balance between offering nostalgia but also giving us something new. The classic characters aren’t just there for nostalgia’s sake but they actually have important roles in the story. However if you told me that I would be raving more about the new characters as opposed to revisiting the old characters, I would have had the reaction of “yeah right!”. I can’t decide which character I love the most. Daisy Ridley without a doubt steals the show while her banter with Finn couldn’t be more fun to watch. Poe Dameron on the other hand, what a cool MF. He’s not necessarily the most complex character but he doesn’t have to be. He has that adventure serial, flyboy, pretty boy type charm; a guy you would just love to hang out with.

Captain Phasma, dam! I remember when I first saw her in the second trailer my instant reaction was, “Wow! that is freakin’ badass!”. She has the same type of appeal Boba Fett has, a ‘man with no name’ type who has few lines and only appears in a handful of scene but leaves an indelible impression. I know this will sound like sacrilege to Star Wars fans but screw it, Captain Phasma > Boba Fett. I also loved the other notable villain General Hux, a character who is one dimensional in the best possible way. He’s just so delightfully evil and his speech on Star Killer Base in which he lays on the full Nazi vibes gave me the chills. I’m so gald they brought back the British bad guys, one of many aspects of Star Wars sorely missed in the prequels. To me Star Wars isn’t Star Wars without generals with sinister English accents.

I wonder if Kylo Ren is intended to be a satire on fanboyism with his extreme idolisation of Darth Vader. Talk about a villain you feel sorry for, you condone his actions but completly understand why he does what he does. But what really fascinates me about Kylo Ren is the fact that he’s a whinny teenager, and when you think whinny teenager and Star Wars you probably think of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III – except Kylo Ren is Anakin Skywalker done right. With Kylo Ren being the son of Han and Leia I can now say the Star Wars saga is a soap opera centred on the Skywalker/Solo family, making Star Wars the only soap opera to date I can say I like (well from Part IV onwards). Which brings me to my next point, Han Solo died! My favourite movie character of all time, killed by his own son. As soon as Han steps on that platform with no hand railings and a chasm below him I just knew this is it, he’s going to die. Chewie’s roar in response to witnessing Han’s death says it all; Han Solo (1977-2015). Luke Skywalker on the other hand is in the film at the very end for about 20-30 seconds and doesn’t speak, yet his appearance in the movie is still strangely satisfying. This along with Han’s death shows this movie has balls, and I respect it so much for that.

The Force Awakens is the darkest Star Wars film to date, even more than The Empire Strikes Back, but they still manage to counter this with the light heartedness and the humour. Speaking of humour, I can say this is the funniest Star Wars film to date. Rey knowing more about the Falcon than Han and BB8’s using a lighter to give a thumbs up, comic brilliance.

So what am I indifferent about in The Force Awakens?  One of my issues with is the CGI standing out among the practical effects. The character of Maz Khanta for example, she seems like an interesting character but her computer generated appearance takes me out of the film. Couldn’t she be a puppet or a person in a costume? I feel the character’s appearance could and should have been accomplished with practical effects. Yoda was a puppet in Episode I and CGI in Episode II, perhaps this trilogy could do this in reverse? Granted I am a practical effects purist (and of course I am overjoyed by the film’s extensive use of practical effects), and any use of CGI in a movie which is a follow up to a trilogy features the greatest and most memorable practical effects in cinema history is going to stand out. When I first saw Supreme Leader Snoke I was almost about to lose it. Are you kidding me? A giant humanoid who is 100s of feet tall in Star Wars? It was like nuke the fridge all over again. However when we see Snoke is a giant hologram, I had a huge sigh of relief and even thought “that’s actually pretty clever”.  However I do still find his CGI appearance to be problematic. I also wasn’t keen on Han escape scene; the CGI creature appeared rather generic and the action in the scene itself was not well executed.

The John Williams score itself does not particularly stand out. While it’s always nice to hear classic Star Wars themes again, the new compositions aside from Rey’s Theme are not very memorable. They get the job done but I doubt you’ll find yourself humming them like every piece of music in the original trilogy. Although the truth I wasn’t expecting any of the new compositions to stand out as John Williams hasn’t composed a truly great film score in my opinion since Catch Me If You Can.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault is that it will never be the original trilogy, it will always be in its shadow; well for me at least anyway. The Force Awakens may grow on me more with when I see the bigger picture unveiled with the next two films; but I can say two hours flew by. I did check the time once, but because I didn’t want it to end. I was craving answers and wanted more. The movie leaves questions unanswered and lets your imagination fill in the blanks, unlike the prequels which spoon-fed information. I still want to see The Force Awakens again. Reviewing any Star Wars film is no easy task as I could literally write pages and pages of thoughts. Just like the original trilogy, I could take any scene and talk about it in depth and talk about every little moment or touch I loved.

In short: Star Wars is back baby!

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