Review: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: J. J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, John Boyega

Release Date: 17th December 2015 (UK)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

These iconic opening titles induce goosebumps and more in nerds around the world, and when we learned of a new chapter in the Star Wars saga expectations were naturally high. In The Force Awakens George Lucas has noticeably passed the baton on to Disney and, in this case, J. J. Abrams, who have together delivered a film which at one acknowledges its place in a franchise but strives, and achieves, new levels of greatness.

In a plot very reminiscent, at times even mirroring A New Hope, Daisy Ridley plays nobody teenager Rey on desert planet Jakku. Even to the most hardened fans, the planet bears a striking resemblance to Tatooine. After a chance encounter with Finn – a treacherous First Order stormtrooper – and the eventual destruction of her village, she finds herself making use of the Millenium Falcon as a getaway vehicle.

Sound familiar?

Rey and Finn cross paths with old favourites Han Solo and Chewbacca, and together they are embroiled in a plot to destroy a new weapon of mass destruction, directly compared against the Death Star. You probably have a bad feeling about this and at times the parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope are almost distracting. However, there’s a reason why A New Hope was the benchmark and not The Phantom Menace – something J. J. Abrams clearly knew.

In fact, one of the most endearing qualities to this film was its directors obvious passion for the franchise. The occasional nod to previous characters, scenes and even specific locations and dialogue layers the story in such a way as to appease the real fans but also deliver a solid movie for the newbies.

However, the real feat of this movie is balancing the traditional aesthetic we know and love with modern visual effects that propel the series into the twenty first century. Star Wars was built on its reputation for pioneering technical achievements, and the action scenes certainly did justice to this. From the beautiful sweeping landscapes to the ripples in water as spaceships fly by, the attention to detail was on a whole different level to its predecessors. The Force Awakens is a visual masterpiece.

Many early reviews have championed this as the best of the seven, both for its technical finesse but also for its roster of new characters. Unlike episodes I-III, The Force Awakens has introduced us to characters with depth and intrigue. Their arcs are not self-contained, but allow growth that should extend perfectly into the following two sequels. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were revelations as the two new stars, confidently picking up the baton from Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, whose appearance has been shrouded in secrecy. Don’t worry, we won’t spoil anything here.

However, as expected, it is Adam Driver who puts in the most mature performance of the new recruits. He is quite established by now, but the prospect of following in the footsteps of Darth Vadar is intimidating for anyone. You wouldn’t have guessed. In Kylo Ren he gives us one of the most emotionally conflicted and compelling Star Wars villains ever, and dare we say he may just succeed in surpassing the Dark Lord himself.

It is too early to say if The Force Awakens will stand the test of time alongside the original trilogy. With all the qualities of a great all round movie it certainly deserves to, and rarely does the end of a screening erupt in such conversation, let along at 3am. One thing’s for sure: this will be one of the biggest movies of all time.

Star Wars is back.


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