Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Film Review

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Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford
Certificate: 12A

by Anel Blazevic

(Note: this review contains spoilers)

“This will begin to make things right.” Here then is the opening line in this first Disney-affiliated Star Wars film. It could easily be taken as a slight on the underachieving prequels (episodes 1-3), but it could also be speaking to the franchise’s legion of very vocal superfans: “Don’t worry. You’re in safe hands now.”

So does the Force really reawaken? Does JJ Abrams deliver a successful reboot similar to his other giant-sized sci-fi makeover, Star Trek? Will those ranks of obsessives at least be sated until episode eight?

Well, therein lie the problems.

Those obsessives; the geeks, the cosplayers, the coffee shop fanatics, my guess is yes, they will be sated. So filled to the brim with homages, references and knowing winks to the seminal ‘originals’ (episodes 4-6) is The Force Awakens that, at times, you’re wondering if you might actually be watching some elaborate remake of A New Hope.

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“Retro box ticking”

Vast megaship opening scene, bleak desert landscapes, main character dreaming of a better life in another galaxy far, far away – believe me when I say I really could go on and on. Even the more memorable scenes – a cute Jedi mind trick, stormtrooper battle in the snow, father/son encounter atop a perilous sheer drop – are lifted from the originals like some curious exercise designed to placate every noisy superfan on the planet with pacifying historical references.

But yet, isn’t the enduring appeal of Star Wars the very opposite of this retro box ticking? Doesn’t the legacy demand the thrill of the new? The first time you see a hovering landspeeder? Luke’s lightsaber training session with the floating orb on the Millennium Falcon? The Cantina scene? Chewie’s game of chess? All thrilling because of their originality – yet all echoed here in some pale, yet knowing, homage. There’s a masked unveiling, a droid carrying a secret microchip, a superweapon with a fatal flaw – heck, there’s even a doddering old bloke in a brown leather jacket doing an impression of Han Solo.

Oh hang on, that is Han Solo. Thirty years on and seemingly none the better for it. He and permanently attached fur-ball Chewbacca lurch around blasting things like it’s 1977. Except it isn’t. And frankly, it shows.

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“Pace is breathless”

And yet, as a stand alone movie, free from the baggage of film history, there’s a terrific action adventure here. And the pace is breathless for the first 40-minutes.

Daisy Ridley excels as scavenger-turned-jedi-superhero, her Force powers slowly ‘awakening’ as the film progresses. John Boyega’s deserting stormtrooper Finn is a mixture of reluctant gunfighter and wide-eyed adventurer. New droid BB8 is an entertaining centrepoint, echoing R2-D2’s star turn in A New Hope – despite the machine occasionally coming across like some unwelcome metallic version of Scrappy-Doo. The big black-clad baddie (played by Girls actor Adam Driver) is a more sinewy, more petulant Darth Vader, prone to smashing up innocent pieces of equipment when things go against him.

Technically and visually the film is a thrill. Maybe, in time we’ll see The Force Awakens as a crucial reintroduction to a must-see movie legacy. But right now it feels like not much more than a fan film – and a long, albeit enjoyable, trailer for Episode Eight.


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