Film Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It is fair to say that, in a year which has given us a new James Bond movie, the reopening of Jurassic Park and the insane re-imagination of George Millers Mad Max franchise, one movie has stood head and shoulders above all else. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I don’t think I can remember a movie being as anticipated and pedestaled in the way it has. To say the pressure of expectation upon its shoulders has been immense would be an understatement and a half.

I’m not a diehard fan of the franchise. I’ve seen both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. I hold both in equal measure, liking them but not really loving with them. I find them inoffensive and easy to watch. To me they are just fantasy escapism, I’ve never got caught up with the deeper political messages littered within. As a result, they will never be my first choice movie to watch, yet even so, I have felt the butterflies in my stomach as the franchise was above to scream back into life. It is the final film of my “10 films of 2015” I’ve been waiting to see and, as the marketing machine has saturated my life, for the first time ever, I’ve truly felt the pull of the franchise – the speciality and charm it has to offer.

J.J. Abrams - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

From the moment the film starts and the ubiquitous John Williams fanfare announces its arrival, before the ever familiar scrolling text and descending camera shot take you in their arms, every tension and worry about what to expect instantly disappeared. Even though they really don’t hint at what to expect they put you totally at ease. You take this large, metaphoric, exhale as it becomes instantly clear that you’ve step back into the correct universe.

Direct J.J. Abrams needs to take credit for creating a sensation of complete familiarity while starting from afresh. He has managed to blend the look, environment and style of the original 1970s trilogy with modern film making techniques and scripture to produce this immersive environment that keeps reminding you of everything that went before, thus keeping the connection alive, while immersing you with a new, interesting and enjoyable story. It is made even more impressive by the fact that unlike Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series which felt like portions of a single story, Abrams (along with writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) has managed to create an entity that stands entirely on its own two feet, yet also, being the obvious beginning of a wider tale.

This is highlighted best by the characters. A lot has been made by the recycling of original characters – what prominence they would have and how their characters have evolved/aged etc. – and yet for me, they almost became a distracting and unneeded side plot. Harrison Ford, especially, just looks a bit too old, and his joints a bit too stiff, for the stunts he is asked to do while the rest of the original cast suffer due to the skill of Abrams to tie new to old. They simply feel dated, rather than useful, to the story as a whole.

Daisy Ridley John Boyega - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This sense of original character obsoleteness is driven slightly by the fact that Daisy RidleyJohn Boyega and a little ‘droid steal the entire show. Where my parents’ generation had Luke and Leia, this current generation have Rey and Finn. They are stunning. I just became completely infatuated by their characters and personalities to the point that potential holes in the plot, weak story arcs, missing backstory, all washed over me. I just wanted to spend time with them. They make the film and it is brilliant to see another major film stolen by a strong and powerful lady in a leading role. Sadly, it’s Star Wars, it’s too mainstream to win, but Ridley’s performance is so concussively spectacular that she deserves, for me at least, a nomination at the academy awards.

I do have some problems with the film though – I’m not totally in love with it. Essentially they all stem from the dark side of the force. Adam Driver is dark and menacing with his helmet on, but the minute he removes it, he brings out the personality (and look) of a petulant child at Halloween who has been told he can’t have any more sweets. Honestly, his performance just lacks the wail of “it’s not fair, I want it now” to destroy it completely. Alongside him, Domhnall Gleeson looks completely wrong for the position of power we’re told he has. He looks too much like a computer geek, and felt too comedic in appearance, to be believable. For me, at times, he appeared more like someone dreaming their perfect role playing fantasy rather than a strong cog in a force of evil.

Domhnall Gleeson - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Lastly, the film slightly loses its way as it approaches the end. It’s obvious where the story will go but it drags it out just a little bit too much. The pace of the narrative slackens compared to the rest of the film and as a result, I could help but wish it’d just get on with it and take me where I expected to go. That isn’t to say the ending is disappointing or disconnecting. I wasn’t bored at all by it, it kept me guessing and I couldn’t shake a feeling of panic, as it built to it’s conclusion. It’s just it is noticeable that it was the first time the film felt like it knew it had a future to set up and that it needed a bridge to continue the story.

I can forgive it though because Star Wars: The Force Awakens is everything I hoped it would be. It feels like a film that knows where it has come from and used that foundation to allow it to focus mainly purely characters and their emotive strengths rather than deeper underlying plot set up. Focusing, however, so singularly on characters both helped and hindered, as when it tripped up and stumbled, they were heavily in the spot light. When it gets it right though you become completely engrossed and forgive any issues that arise. It’s a fun, enjoyable and worthy spectacle, but it’s not head and shoulders above any other film this year, it’s just a solid sci-fi story in a world I’m find fun to spend time in.

(9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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