Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (also known as Episode VII) is an action adventure sci-fi film released in 2015 and is the seventh film in the Star Wars saga. Set thirty years after Return Of The Jedi, the film features a large cast including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson. It is the start of a new trilogy of Star Wars films that were announced after Disney secured the rights to the franchise, making this the first film in the series released by Disney. Unlike the original trilogy, the film was co-written, co-produced and directed by J.J Abrams with series creator George Lucas serving as a creative consultant. With a budget around $200 million, it is the most expensive film in the franchise's history but also the most successful with global takings of over $2 billion.
What's it about?
About thirty years have passed since the destruction of the second Death Star and the tales of the heroic Rebel Alliance have passed into folklore. Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi in the galaxy, has disappeared and both the remnants of the Empire (now known as the First Order) and the Resistance movement seek to find him as his powers could prove pivotal in shaping the future of the galaxy. Poe Dameron, a pilot with the Resistance, is sent to the planet Jakku where he is given a map to Skywalker's location shortly before the First Order arrive, led by the villainous Kylo Ren. Poe stashes the map into his trusty BB-8 droid who flees the scene while Poe himself is taken captive.
While BB-8 manages to discover a local scavenger girl named Rey and quickly falls under her wing, Poe manages to escape from the clutches of the First Order with the help of rookie Stormtrooper FN-2187 after he disagrees with the ruthless slaughter Ren instigated on Jakku. Dubbed Fin by Poe, the two of them scramble back towards Jakku in order to locate the droid and his vital information - with Ren and his troops never too far behind...
General Leia Organa
Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams & Michael Arndt *
Release Date (UK)
17th December, 2015
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
I admit to feeling a little nervous about the release of this film, having been thoroughly burnt by the pretty-but-soulless prequels. But if anyone can revive a franchise, J.J. Abrams is the man I'd trust to do it and he has done himself proud here. Wisely choosing to shoot as much of the film as possible without CG allows The Force Awakens to use the same sort of model shots the original films used. There is a strong sense of decay here as though this universe has carried on being inhabited all this time - ships look rusty and the landscape is peppered with the burnt-out remains of Star Destroyers and X-wings. Much like the original achieved, Abrams has managed to create a believable universe in one movie - although, you could argue it's one that we're all familiar with.
As good as it is seeing the old gang back together, it's the new faces that hold your attention the most. Ridley is superb as Rey, arguably the new star of the series going forward and it will be interesting to see how her character develops over the next few films. Boyega also does a fine job as the Stormtrooper suddenly realising that he's a baddie and switching sides. As the story rumbles on, you almost forget how good the film looks - the action scenes are better than any in the original trilogy (although you can clearly see where they've been influenced by them) and the film's scope is grander than before as well. There's a palpable sense of tension as the Resistance gets ever closer to flirting with its own annihilation.
- At the time of the film's release, Hamill was older than Alec Guinness was for his first appearance as Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.
- The name of the super-weapon developed by the First Order is Starkiller. When Lucas originally wrote the screenplay for Star Wars, Starkiller was going to be Luke Skywalker's original surname.
- The Stormtrooper that Rey practises her new-found Force powers on is played (uncredited) by none other than current James Bond actor Daniel Craig.
What's not to like?
Surely not, I hear you ask? The immediate reviews in the UK (where the film has been out a day or so already as I write) have been universally positive and five-star ratings across the papers. But I'm not swayed so easily (I paid for my ticket, after all!), nor am I merely relieved to find the film better than any of the prequels. Yes, there's no Jar Jar Binks to ruin your fun and there is no sign of the astonishingly wooden Hayden Christensen anywhere either - be thankful for both. It's a proper Star Wars film, after all.
But perhaps that's the problem. The film mirrors A New Hope almost too closely - Jakku looks a lot like Tattooine to me, BB-8 is a cuter R2-D2 but essentially fills the same role, there are Stormtroopers looking for a droid in the desert... OK, that last one might have been Spaceballs but you understand my point. As the film goes on, I became more and more aware of how similar the two films are until it got to the point where I could reasonably predict what was coming - even the plot twists. I also wasn't convinced by Driver's performance as Ren - granted, it may be too early in this character's arc to truly understand him but there was a slight whiff of Hayden about him, especially when he starts trashing terminals in a tantrum. Hopefully, he'll improve and there's no reason to suggest why he wouldn't. We've still got another two movies to go yet - which also means that this film lacks a genuine sense of closure as well. No-one expected A New Hope to lead to a sequel and it had a noticeable conclusion but these days, everyone knows that there'll be another film just around the corner...
Should I watch it?
Absolutely - the film has all the action, drama and effects that long-time fans of the series will instantly recognise and welcome back like a long-lost favourite toy. It's almost surprising how much better it is to the three prequels, seeing as George Lucas himself directed those. But The Force Awakens is a magnificent tour de force, reinvigorating the series with fresh characters and storylines - but sadly, not ideas. It's not perfect but you won't leave disappointed.
Great For: the fan-boys and fan-girls of the world, anyone who hated the prequels, action fans
Not So Great For: people who don't do sci-fi, anyone who suffers from motion sickness, Internet rumour-mongers
What else should I watch?
Were the prequels really that bad? Certainly, the first two weren't stellar entries - The Phantom Menace might have been OK with better actors and without that accursed Gungan but Attack Of The Clones was poor, throwing its storyline away in a blaze of confusing digital effects and having Christensen play the most powerful Force-user in the galaxy as a love-sick, stroppy teenager with issues. But Revenge Of The Sith somehow overcame these and other faults (like the use of the word "younglings") to turn itself into a dark and bitter end to the prequel trilogy, giving action fans some impressive lightsaber duels to savour.
Of course, none of these films are a patch on the original trilogy which had none of the excessive and all-consuming CG that Lucas used, instead relying on trusty model work. A New Hope might have kicked everything off with its unforgettable baddie in Darth Vader and incredible sequences like the Death Star assault but personally, I prefer The Empire Strikes Back. Even without the most widely discussed plot twist in history, the film is a gripping chase through asteroid fields as well as a brutal war film on the icy world of Hoth before becoming an epic duel between good and evil in the bowels of Cloud City. By the time Lucas got around to doing Return Of The Jedi, the merchandising dollars were beginning to dictate decisions such as the too-cute-by-half Ewoks. But even so, the film is a wonderful blend of action and drama with the sort of finale fans had been craving all along.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox