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Review - The Force Awakens

By midlandsmovies, Dec 20 2015 02:35PM

The Force Awakens (2015) Dir. J J Abrams


* CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS*


Let’s get this off the bat – this was one of the most enjoyable cinema experiences in years for me. My first ever midnight showing with over 500 eager fans made the atmosphere at the screening electric. The showing I saw was in 3-D and premiered at Leicester city centre’s Showcase X-Plus screen (Tesco value IMAX) but the sound and picture quality were absolutely outstanding.


There was an audible tension in the air and the inevitable long wait after the cinema adverts and trailers increased the anticipation before the logo, obligatory plot crawl and the infamous John Williams score burst forth and a round of applause engulfed the audience.


So, where does JJ Abrams take this sequel set 30 years after Lucas’ “Return of the Jedi” and with the god awful CGI-infused prequels still looming heavy over everyone’s minds. Well, a return to practical effects, sets and locations were a great start. The story begins with Luke Skywalker now missing and his possible location hidden in a droid (BB-8 doing a great R2D2 impression) which ends up on a desert planet and being hunted by the new Imperial First Order – a force of evil rising from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.


This sets in motion a series of plots also including lucky escapes, a Stormtrooper with a conscience (a brilliant John Boyega as Finn) and the droid ending up in the hands of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger. These scenes hark back to the original trilogy and Abrams’ lens flare and handheld camera are massively reigned in for some Original Trilogy-inspired vistas and the classic Star Wars dissolves and wipes. In addition there is much more comedy in the film, but rather than the stupid pratfalls of a Jar Jar, Boyega’s quirky performance and confusion about what is happening is family friendly fun with a character you really root for.


My main gripe with the film however – and why I cannot make it the best film of the year – was the recycling of the plot. I get that JJ would have to homage the style and iconography of the classic universe but far from revolutionising the franchise, he’s repackaged A New Hope. Not a bad thing per se but I wanted more of the new and innovative and less of the nostalgic “old”.


For example, both films could be described as thus:


A droid (R2/BB8) is given an important map by the resistance in part to help stop the rising of a fascist organisation (Empire/First Order). The “beep-booping” droid is being sought by a black-cloaked villain (Vader/Kylo Ren) whose reliance on the dark side of the force is being overseen by a tutor (Emperor/Snoke) and the droid ends up on a desert planet (Tattooine/Jakku). A desert orphan (Luke/Rey) who trades in space junk ends up with the droid before leaving their home planet and runs across a wise old man (Kenobi/Solo) who knows about the Force. *breathes* They end up on a ship (the Falcon both times) before liaising in a bar with a band in an attempt to avoid Stormtroopers. After learning about the mystical nature of the force from a small alien (Empire's Yoda/Maz Kanata), the resistance plans to take out a planet destroying moon-sized space station (Death Star/Starkiller Base) using X-Wings running down a trench (!) Without going any further, there are more story beats as family connections are revealed and important deaths occur.


Phew!


It was a shame this was the case as an hour into the film I kept noticing these each time they occurred and it took me out of the film completely. The three main planet locations had familiar terrain – desert, woods and snow- but there were many opportunities to move into new areas. Boyega’s mutinous on-the-run Stormtrooper was great (and different) but the film focused on Daisy Ridley whose acting was “solid” (that’s being generous) and I very much wanted to see more of Oscar Isaac’s X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. By playing safe the film avoids any huge errors but it’s just a little too safe. John William’s score was ok but yet again, whenever the old themes could be brought out it literally signposted “THIS IS IMPORTANT” and had a “hey, do you remember this” feeling. And I think the film deserved better than that. Think of the great "Duel of the Fates".


That said, there are some hugely impressive set pieces, the action is superb and given weight by cleverly plotted character motivations and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is a simply brilliant baddie who I hope we can see more of in future instalments. Driver’s acting is the perfect blend of confusion, brat-like tantrums and unsympathetic evil and are exactly the traits Lucas could not get across in his story of Anakin.


The film also contains one of the cuts of the year as we shift from one location to a Star Destroyer in space which (in 3-D) comes so far out of the screen there was a huge “Whoah” moment in the cinema and one that I won’t forget any time soon.


Moving Star Wars back to its origins was the perfect (and needed) step to re-engage with the universe many originally fell in love with and JJ Abrams has created the most accessible film of the year and no doubt of his career too. Despite the story flaws, the film shows that you don’t need to force CGI down an audiences’ throat for them to be impressed with a blockbuster film and amongst all the space battles, (limited & rightly so) lightsaber duels and Stormtrooper shooting action, it’s really the small intimate moments that make you care again. JJ successfully plants the seeds of a new direction, fresh characters and I have a new hope the franchise continues with the innovation that we glimpsed throughout.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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