Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Review

WARNING: Minor spoilers!
The gratuitous Special Editions, the embarrassingly dreadful prequels, even the occasionally entertaining animated series - suddenly they all seem like nothing but a dimly remembered bad dream. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is the first truly authentic Star Wars experience since Lucas closed his seminal trilogy with 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

Some of this authenticity comes at the cost of originality, and there are times where Abrams' creation steps dangerously close to the line between homage and plagiarism. But for all that this film owes to 1977’s original Star Wars, it in turn owed just as much to old science-fiction serials and samurai films, and for those who have delved into the (admittedly now defunct) EU, the cyclical nature of the universe’s Good vs. Evil narrative has already been well-established.

I’ll concede, though, that the inclusion of a third world-destroying super weapon - largely incidental to the storyline - did smack of laziness. It’s clear the scriptwriters were aware of this - their brazen rehash of the mission briefing scenes from A New Hope and Return of the Jedi tries very hard to smooth things over by being self-consciously tongue-in-cheek, but instead feels rather forced. Further compounding the issue is the fact that neither we nor any of the film’s characters have any personal investment in the worlds destroyed by said weapon, which diminishes the satisfaction we receive from seeing the First Order receive their eventual comeuppance. Nevertheless, it’s a minor quibble, and it certainly suffices as a vehicle for story elements which we *do* care about.

And it’s a ripping yarn, not to mention a remarkably convincing continuation of a story arc long thought finished. Covering 30 years of exposition without pausing for breath is no mean feat, although its breakneck pace may require a second viewing to pick up on some of the details the film leaves implicit. The new protagonists are as compelling and loveable as the old heroes they fight alongside, although Harrison Ford steals the show, defying his age by slipping effortlessly back into Han Solo’s boots. Kylo Ren, our main antagonist, is a far more human and conflicted villain than we’ve seen before - in other words, he’s precisely what Anakin Skywalker should have been. Abrams took a big risk in including a villain who wears his weaknesses and insecurities on his sleeve, complete with the adolescent mood swings audiences found so obnoxious in Anakin - but the strength of the script and of Adam Driver’s stellar performance makes the character believable where his predecessors were not, and somehow he’s even scarier for it. Ren is the anti-villain to Han’s anti-hero, and I’m just as curious to see where his path leads as I am in that of our protagonists.

The Force Awakens is a thrilling, action-packed nostalgia trip and the most satisfying theatrical experience I can remember having. It lives up and even exceeds the hype, and should go a long way towards restoring the franchise to its former glory. While its frequent callbacks to the originals are occasionally heavy-handed, the risks it does take pay off in spades thanks to the stellar performances of its cast, both old and new. There has indeed been an awakening, and if you haven’t felt it yet you should probably book tickets immediately.


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