Star Wars: The Force Awakens [2015]

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Thirty years after the Empire’s defeat, a new threat to the galaxy rises. As the strength of the First Order grows, it is up to the Resistance to protect the galaxy from their destructive might, and the power of the Dark Side of the Force.

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac.

In the years since production on The Force Awakens was announced, the levels of excitement have gradually risen, spiking sharply in recent months and in the weeks imminent to its’ release, they have bordered on hysterical. Saturating social media and shops, this sort of coverage and reaction is hardly surprising or unwarranted, due to the sagas’ place in cinema history and popular culture.

With the promise of new developments and the continuing presence of familiar tropes, it is therefore very pleasant to say that such emotional investment is well founded.

J.J. Abrams has finally made the film he wanted to produce when he set to work on Star Trek, and the results are visually marvellous; the use of real locations and a heavier reliance on costumes and props help place us back into that worn and authentic feeling galaxy. It is an aesthetic that was so often missed from the CGI heavy prequels, and its’ return is very welcome in this new episode.

Abram’s skilled direction is also apparent, and complementary, to George Lucas’ established universe. The compositions of his shots are sights to behold, whether it is Rey (Ridley) traversing the sands of Jakku, or Kylo Ren (Driver) standing illuminated by red light on the bridge of a Star Destroyer. Abrams’ usage of new technologies also allows a greater intimacy with these situations, placing us in the heart of the action, be it the midst of a whirling X-wing dogfight or alongside an intense lightsaber duel. The essential ingredients are accounted for, and have been revitalised accordingly.

The same can be said for the new characters; one key to the success of Star Wars is that they are essentially archetypal, with additional quirks and slight flourishes. There is no exception to this rule in The Force Awakens: Poe (Isaacs) is the cocksure companion, Finn (Boyega) is the everyman hero, Rey, the tough heroine, and Kylo Ren is the primary antagonist yet each of these talented actors gives a depth and an authenticity to their roles, so that the audience cares about their inner conflicts, and is captivated by them in their adventures.

The return of familiar faces further enhances the film’s pedigree and alongside John William’s rousing score, they ensure that there are pleasant touchstones to the previous movies. The Force Awakens, and its soundtrack, incorporates strong new elements and themes, even if they are not as memorable as the originals.

Indeed, some may find that its’ deference to the original trilogy is to its detriment; there are story beats and stills that especially mimic ones present in A New Hope. Some plot developments are therefore predictable. Yet as the movie progresses there are enough new occurrences, with consequences to the world of Star Wars, which ensure that The Force Awakens does not merely feel like a stilted retread of the other movies.

Additionally, there are so many things to be discussed, seen or demonstrated, to bring us up to date with the new status quo, that some aspects of the plot are given the short shift; moments that could have been held longer for impact are abandoned in lieu of new ones. Holes and conveniences in the story lurk beneath the nostalgic goodwill. Certain details about characters are forgotten then hastily retrieved when needed and rules or traits that were established earlier in the series are confusingly twisted to suit this story.

However it is clear by the roll of credits that many of these omissions and allusions have been strategically arranged; like in Disney’s other blockbuster machine Marvel, there is clearly a bigger game afoot, and these questions will surely be answered soon enough.

Overall, The Force Awakens, though not an absolutely mind-blowing installment, is a resounding triumph. It has something for every interested party to enjoy: a funny, thrilling, dramatic and occasionally dark foray into that galaxy far, far away, where old fans can rejoice at the familiarity of that timeless story, and new fans can love and identify with every fresh face (especially the cute BB8).

The Force Awakens satisfies the clamour for nostalgia, the want of something new, and it still tempts us with developments that have yet to come to pass. Indeed, in the words of Count Dooku, “This is just the beginning.”

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