You may have noticed something unusual before you got to this section of the review. I didn't use the conventional Star Wars poster. I didn't use the one from cinemas, all over the internet, and in reviews everywhere. Why? Because it sums up all of the marketing/review strategy that this film has thrived on. Nostalgia sells. And it sells damn well. But nostalgia is also a lie; sugarcoating of the facts is almost inevitable to my mind. Let's think about this for a while. There's 6 Star Wars films, a Holiday special, and an animated spin off. Those are the major incidents in the franchise that I will acknowledge. The holiday special and 'Clone Wars' were abominations. Of the original trilogy, two of the films were stellar (no pun intended); and the third was..... mediocre (or should that be the third mediocre was). What made the first two so great? The first was anchored by originality and the awesome special effects for the time. This has somewhat worn off, but it's still a nice film that I love to watch with adults and kids alike. What about 'Empire'? Because its a phenomenon rarely achieved! The sets were so original, and the filmography is fantastic! It's dark, darkly humorous (familial ties in relation to both political alignment and love interest prove very.... erm.... awkward), has a dark twist, and ends on the best note that a family film could: defeat. The 'Empire Strikes Back' is such a success because it challenges the conventions of family movies, and beats them with such gusto that we just have to go along with it! Return of the Jedi was a mess; and the three prequels were a mess. Revenge of the Sith was bearable, but by no means excellent; and that lightsaber fight was the shittiest piece of crap in the franchise. Apart from Jar Jar Binks. It suddenly doesn't look too clear: Star Wars is actually a mess, held up by two great films.
A great film.
In order to maintain objectivity, it's good to keep the same format, and you guys know I always start with the story. In this case, however, it's the story that lets the film down a little. Does the following sound familiar? There's an attack on a group of people, and one person stores a very important piece of information on a droid. The droid escapes, travels half way around the galaxy, and finds an unsuspecting resident. Guess what? The unsuspecting resident finds out that they are the chosen one, and must return the map to the resistance so they can find said person. Oh, and guess what, there's a massive planet zapping planet that some sinister force has invented, and the good guys must stop it. And it has one weakness. And they find it. And they blow it up. And they find the weakness. And the lost character. It's not clever, or funny, or brilliant, or original. It's the same stuff that pisses people off about remakes or reboots. But here's the funny bit. JJ Abrams just took the biggest, most revered film series, and then remade it. And all those people just lapped it up, they loved it. If, back in 2012, Disney announced they would be remaking A New Hope, somebody would get shot. The internet would go mental, and the film would likely be reviewed negatively. But Disney didn't say that, they just did it, and everything's fine. Personally, I have nothing against remakes/reboots per say (even if they are usually shite), but I think it should be acknowledged.
|What. A. Scene.|
But the additions to the story and the cast are brilliant. John Boyega is great as Fin (or FNsomethingorother) in the Stormtrooper defect role. He brings a naturalistic and powerful presence to the film that I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the most publicized inclusion of Daisy Ridley appears a mistake. She doesn't have the presence, or skill of any other cast member in the film. I fear that she has been miscasted, and it just feels awkward when she's on screen. This is bolstered by a script that I can only call 'feminazi'. And please, let me explain what I mean. Naturally, critics fall in love with this new wave of strong, independent female heroines. It's very much in vogue, and is a symbol of gaining equality. I appreciate this, and support it. For instance, Furiosa in Mad Max was an excellent and strong character that drove the whole film. I loved it. I loved how George Miller was able to make a woman the head of his petrol-and-violence epic. Without blinking. And I love what that means for Hollywood. Conversely, I loathe how Abrams has Fin holding Rey's hand every two seconds, only for Rey to pull her hand away and shout 'stop holding my hand'. Or I loathe how every time Fin asks her if she's alright, she gives him this sarcastic look. It's too self consciously 'hey look I'm acknowledging that woman are also strong people' rather than just stating it. Just making Rey a strong woman would be more powerful. In the way that George Millar just has it, Abrams forces it, making it seem unnatural and forced. It doesn't work, and undermines a year of female-driven action. It, of course, panders to critics; but I fear Abrams doesn't believe in what he preaches. I fear that Abrams has the motivation of praise in introducing a female role-model. Aside from Daisy, the cast is mostly present and correct. Harrison Ford and whoever the hell plays Chewabacca make for a hilarious and endearing pair, and BB8 is also amusing to say the least. R2D2 and C3PO bring some joy to the proceedings, as does Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron. Dameron is perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises in the film: funny, sarky, and skilled. He is the new Han Solo.And SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER we need a new Han Solo..... SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. The presence of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia I felt let the cast down a little, but each to their own I suppose. And Adam Driver as Kylo Ren: what an achievement. Ren is a tall, hulking, and imposing figure. His black mass, and antichrist lightsaber anchor him as a terrifying character. When he lifts his mask, his dialogue and expression are on point. Where Vader was mathematical, prepared, and precise: Ren is fanatical, unhinged, and dangerous. Frequent temper tantrums cause both fear and hilarity in the audience. Another unexpected joy is Domhnall Gleeson's fanatical dictator character. A speech given by him on some distant planet is a highlight to say the least..... Lupita Nyongo gets honorable mention as a CGI peace-monger, in a crucial role.
|Poe Dameron - a pleasant surprise|
In a film full of Easter eggs to do with cameos and casting, one of them got me in particular. Aboard the Millenium Falcon, the whole cast of The Raid (or at least the main players) turn up; dressed in samurai gear, for a subtitled take-on of Harrison Ford. Blink and you might miss it, but for me (as a fan of excellent movies Abram's audience will most likely have not seen), it was just the casting icing on the cake.
There are strong thematic overtones of Nazism and dictatorship, as well as the corrupting effects of religion. The cult-like First Order has taken inspiration from good-old Darth Vader, and created some kind of pseudo-religious sect based on it. Led by the ominous and enigmatic Supreme Leader Snokes (we'll find out about him in later iterations of the franchise I think), and having Cathedral-of-light esque displays of power (in which one of the greatest, and most unhinged speeches occurs), Abrams evokes Leni Riefenstahl; and I say that in the nicest way possible. These fanaticised troops are like the SS; Children stolen from birth, then groomed to be the ultimate killers. They exercise their rights indiscriminately, killing all they please.
|A unique opening shot for sure.|
All of this is bolstered by a fantastic score by returning composer John Williams, that really adds to the cinematic experience. Both wonderfully reworked pieces of music from the past films, and great new additions to the lineup of tracks create a wonderful atmosphere, for a great film.
|A tense finale.|
And there we have it. Star Wars: The Force Awakens IS a great film. It's violent, dark, and brutally beautiful. It's stylish, adventurous, and genuinely entertaining. And the new cast suggest great things to come. Unfortunate, therefore, that it's hampered by overwrought nostalgia and an unoriginal plot. Perhaps Abrams should have trusted his own vision, rather than that of 1977...
|Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets 4 stars!|