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

Director: J.J. Abrams

Runtime: 136 minutes

Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.


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Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the new Star Wars everyone wanted back when the prequel trilogy was announced. It carries expectations well, brings Star Wars into a new era and generation whilst maintaining a lot of what people loved about the original films.

First things first, The Force Awakens looks and sounds like Star Wars. Lightsabers make the correct noises, Stormtroopers move like they’re meant to and the soundtrack transports you to a galaxy far, far away. The story and characters too are reminiscent of what has come before; The Force Awakens plays its cards in a very similar order to A New Hope. Practically every beat of the original film is here, but with new graphics, new characters and different landscapes to drool over.

The characters all fulfil similar enough roles to their original counterparts too, with John Boyega’s Finn providing the new Han Solo, Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the new Luke Skywalker and so on. There are differences in the characters, but they do fulfil the familiar roles largely. Rey is tough, after having lived on her own for so long. She’s a survivor, she knows how to look after herself. Finn is a runaway Stormtrooper. He’s quick-witted though and Boyega’s performance is full of charm, humour and strength – everything you’d want from a Star Wars protagonist.

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Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is a great new character too, but unfortunately his screen-time is reduced. The returning cast from the originals are great. They give the film a real nostalgia kick (like it already needed one). Harrison Ford in particular still excels in his role as Han Solo. Combining the new and the old characters was a great move by J.J. Abrams and co. It adds to the feeling that The Force Awakens was a true cinema-going event.

The hype surrounding The Force Awakens was non-stop, and there are plenty of pages out there dedicated to understanding every last minute detail about the film, leading up to the film and maybe what happens afterwards. All I know is that I enjoyed what happened during the film… for the most part.

As I have already said, The Force Awakens feels a lot like A New Hope, even following a pretty similar storyline. The requisite beats are there, but a lot has changed since the original trilogy. There are moments in the film that felt too blazingly obvious to be said, but they went ahead and spoke about it anyway. The bad guys can feel too distant at times too, with not a huge amount of thought going into their actions.

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The bad guys – The First Order – are more evil than what has come before. They play like a terrorist splinter group, with seemingly random attacks on innocents. They are scary in their ability to wipe out entire planets just like that (pretty similar to the Death Star). With Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at their disposal too, The First Order are a nasty bunch.

With nastier bad guys, The Force Awakens brings with it a level of violence previously unseen in the Star Wars Universe. Lightsaber duels are more aggressive than showy, blasters carry with them a good amount of punch and ships burst through the sky with a velocity and power unlike any other film in the long-running franchise. This is a destructive film, and cinematography follows the destruction well. There is more movement here than in previous Star Wars films, it’s all visceral and it’s a good amount of fun.

Kylo Ren sums up the destructive nature of the film. He wants to be like Darth Vader. He wants to achieve what Vader never could, but his aggression and outbursts of violent temper-tantrums (like a toddler when they want a toy the parent can’t afford) hold him back. He’s an angry, angry man and to be honest, he kind of steals the show. Kylo Ren doesn’t carry the same power as Darth Vader did in the originals, but he is a new villain for a new generation: angry, random and violent.

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The Force Awakens is more violent, and perhaps darker than older Star Wars films, but it isn’t a dreary film like any of the Prequel Trilogy were. This is a film full of energy, fun, adventure and some good humour and BB-8. BB-8 is arguably the star of the new Star Wars. I really dug the little guy, who’s a ball with a head that can move anywhere across it. The bar was set high by Luke’s relationship with R2D2, but BB-8, Finn and Rey seem to have matched it.

This is a good film, then, but it’s not perfect. I loved the practical effects, but I was disappointed by the amount of needless CGI in the film. There were two characters in particular that I felt could’ve been done better if they were not in CGI: Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). Not only did the two characters add a hefty layer of gorgonzola to the already cheesy film, but they just looked entirely out of place for me.

The effects were largely brilliant, but these two characters (along with some big alien ball things) took me out of the experience. Moments like these happened a little too often for my liking, too. It’s nowhere near on the level of any of the Prequel Trilogy films, but there were definitely moments in the film that removed me a little with what was happening.

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The dialogue, too, wasn’t top-notch. There were a few too many lines that made me roll my eyes – lines that were best left unsaid were said, stuff like that. Carrie Fisher wasn’t great either, returning as Princess Leia of course. She didn’t really add anything particularly noteworthy to the film, but I get the feeling her role will be expanded throughout the trilogy.

Thankfully, there were plenty of great moments in the film. This is a film full of adventure and fun. It has these moments that can take you out of the film just a little, but there are more moments that remind you why you loved Star Wars in the first place. It’s a little disjointed and it lacks the magic of the originals, but what it lacks in magic, it makes up in spirit.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens. I appreciated the violence, the darker tones and return to light-hearted dialogue. I was transported to a Galaxy far, far away and I am really looking forward to Episode VIII. The Force Awakens laid out the groundwork for a new Star Wars trilogy rather well, with only a few minor cuts and bruises along the way.

Summary:

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is a strong start to what should be the Star Wars sequels everyone has always wanted. It’s more aggressive than older entries, but it’s just as light-hearted as the original trilogy. It may feel very similar to A New Hope, but why not? It hit all the right nostalgia buttons. Some of the CGI was completely unnecessary, and the dialogue got far too obvious and cheesy at times unfortunately.

4/5

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