Film Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (USA, 2015)

When I got the opportunity to write the review for what is undoubtedly the biggest film of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I trembled at the idea of doing something so underwhelming and unjust. Then I thought – while it isn’t remotely on the same level – J.J Abrams must have felt the exact same way when he embarked on what will arguably be the most scrutinised film he has ever carried out.

Star Wars fans are a fickle breed. The Holy Trilogy (Episodes IV, V, VI) is held in such reverence that the mere thought of attempting to execute something that not only honors it but organically ties into it is a monumental task. George Lucas, the very brain behind the venerable franchise, couldn’t achieve success when he himself helmed the prequel trilogy. Marred by the breadth of his own vision, he failed ultimately in his endeavor to connect with audiences that had invested their hearts and minds into the tales of The Rebels and the Empire.

So with 30 years of built up angst no doubt nibbling away at J.J and Co, how does Episode VII stack up? And does it deliver diligent service to a legion of devoted fans?

Things have been suitably vague when it comes to plot details and I think it’s for the best if I remain as tight lipped.

Thirty years after Darth Vader passed and the Empire was once again defeated, a new enemy has emerged called the First Order. One of their highest ranking members Kylo Ren (this generation’s Darth Vader) leads the task of acquiring the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi, in an attempt to ascertain complete power. But Luke is well hidden and it is only when resistance pilot Po Dameron gets a lead on his location, that the galaxy is plunged into warfare once again.

Finn, a former stormtrooper, meets up with scavenger Rey on her planet Jakku and when the two come into the possession of Po’s droid which holds the location of Luke, the two team up with some new and old allies in order to take down the Empire.

There is no doubt about it, The Force Awakens is so beautifully rich and authentic that it unequivocally cements its place snugly among its predecessors. For what it’s worth, and if I had to alleviate the restlessness someone felt about Episode VII, I would say that J.J Abrams pulled it off and no amount of backlash could ever undo what he achieved here.

The Force Awakens is easily the most polished looking entry into the series. While it certainly benefits from the advent of modern technology, it is filmed with such grace and painstaking deference that there is no real room for debate when it is held up against the first six films.

Abrams puts on a hell of a show visually. Dog fights are filmed with such fluent precision as the Millennium Falcon evades tie fighters accompanied by looping camera shots and X-wings and star cruisers converge on one another against the back drop of the stars. There is a giddy sense of adventure that seems to missing from cinema at the moment and it harks back to those rudimentary but glorious battles in the original trilogy.

When our heroes are duking it out on land, firefights are as much a spectacle as whats happening above them. Gone are the days of stormtroopers and rebels missing shots at each other and taking cover until someone lands a lucky hit. Wide shots of the battlefield present a complete scope of blaster fire and small explosions. The less said about light saber battles the better but the young and young at heart are bound to erupt at how wonderfully shot and choreographed they are.

Where The Force Awakens falters, is in its story, to the point where Episode VII retreads plot points that have been explored before. There is an emphasis on new beginnings and that is an overall goal that they’re attempting to establish, but the balance is somewhat in favour of emulating what came before and unfortunately, it lacks in originality.

With that being said, The Force Awakens lays some intriguing groundwork for the next two films and and when looked upon in that light, it can be seen as a pseudo reboot that will branch off into some fresh and interesting territory.

The cast is a fantastic assortment of young and old. Harrison Ford, although tired and seemingly less enthusiastic about acting now, still puts in a solid effort as Han Solo and it’s great to have Peter Mayhew back as Chewbacca. Carrie Fisher has aged gracefully and her short appearances as Leia pack a sufficient amount of emotion into the proceedings.

Newcomers are fantastic too. Initially Finn, played by John Boyega, seems one-dimensional and his presence provides little to no real impact but by the time the credits roll, his natural knack for humour and ability to turn it off at a moment’s whim serve their purpose. Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, does a fantastic job with the risk of casting a virtual nobody for such a huge role paying off.

My one gripe would have to be with Kylo Ren, who is played by Adam Driver. It isn’t that his character is dull. In fact, his violent temperament and cold blooded disposition make for some remarkable scenes. It’s more that, despite the direction in which this franchise is headed, he still comes off as Darth Vader-lite. And whether everyone involved with the film likes it or not, he pales in comparison to the original Sith Lord.

I tread the line here between not wanting spoil anything but feeling the need to paint a vivid picture of the spectacle that I witnessed. The space opera that played out before me and the homogeneous world (nay, galaxy) that Abrams has constructed in an unbashful testament to something he so obviously adores. But I’ll leave you with this: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a rollicking adventure that looks stunning and will evoke nostalgia from every part of your being.

It’s hilarious and it’s touching. It will make you jump out of your seat in excitement and sit back down in awe. Go see it, its flaws are not big enough to hinder is majesty and even if this humble reviewer’s words get lost in the infinite space of the internet, I must still say that J.J Abrams, my hat is off to you sir. You did it. 

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in cinemas now.

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