Please beware, spoilers ahead.
The new Star Wars film The Force Awakens released this weekend and so the time has come yet again to journey back to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. There is always an unexpected thrill to see those words appear on the screen. They speak of a promise, a promise to allow us for however many hours, escape our mundane lives and join in the battle amongst the stars. We are guided in this journey by new champions of the Light Side. A rogue Storm Trooper Finn (John Boyega), an abandoned desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and a gutsy rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Heading up the Dark Side is formidable Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Like masterful director Irvin Kershner before him, J.J. Abrams has taken the helm away from series creator George Lucas to direct this new story in the Star Wars saga and his “play it safe” approach to film-making is felt throughout. From the title crawl to the final credits, the film outright welcomes you forget the prequel trilogy, firmly hooking into the characters and events of the original trilogy only. In this respect the film makes logical, fan-pleasing decisions. No mention of Midichlorians here and Kylo Ren does not remove his mask to reveal that he is in fact Jar-Jar Binks. Visually, where the prequel films elected to add a glossy finish everywhere, this film has been definitely crafted to remind you of the older films, from the practical creature affects and a welcome lack of reliance on obviously computer generated characters. Most welcome are the subtle reminders I was able to notice here and there, like when a creature’s face will pop out to steal the last second of a scene before a diamond wipe.
So while the first half of the film is strong, fresh and familiar in the right way, what became less welcome over the course of the film however, were the not-so-subtle reminders. Liked the Death Star? Check out our new “Starkiller Base”. Liked every character and actor from the original trilogy? Well guess what, they’re all here (almost) and they’re all doing exactly what they did before. There are so many parallels to the first film that it can almost be considered a remake. So much so, that the film feels it must excuse itself by describing the cyclical nature of the reusing the plot points from previous films through an exposition from a Yoda analogue to Rey.
In this reviewer’s opinion, for the previous two sets of trilogies, the first film in each was the weakest and perhaps this film will be too, but at least for both Episode 1 and Episode 4, they worked as self contained films. Were there unanswered questions there? Surely there were, but they did not throw up huge walls to understanding the world the characters interacted with. Why is Kylo Ren so angry? Why did Luke choose to disappear? Where did Supreme Leader Snoke (yes, that’s really what they call him) come from? The film hints at sparse reasons to these questions and you know the sequels will address them so you simply shove them away and accept the motivations for what they appear to be. Much like the final scene where the camera pans as Rey holds Luke’s light-saber at a good distance and Luke awkwardly allows her to just um, stand there, the film feels a just a little bit unfinished, predictable and over-reliant on the inevitable sequels.
The film is not perfect. Only one Star Wars film managed that (Empire Strikes Back), but in the end though, the question must ultimately be asked, “is the movie enjoyable?” and the answer is a definite yes. The performances of the new additions to the cast, Boyega, Ridley and Isaac playing Fin, Rey and Poe respectively, turn in performances that are so earnest and fresh that it’s impossible not to sympathize and smile as they stumble, recover, and battle their way through the galaxy. Here’s hoping that the sequels rely less on nostalgia and forced connections to the original trilogy and give these new worthy characters a legendary epic all of their own.
3 out of 5 stars
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