The days that many movie fans have been waiting for all year has finally arrived, Star Wars is back in theatres! And with such massive hype and interest, can the series be revitalised, or has the Force been lost for good?
So as promised in the title, there will be no story or character spoilers in this review, so forgive me if it all sounds absurdly abstract. It’s pretty difficult to describe a movie without ruining the surprises for those who will be checking it out this weekend. I got to see this on Thursday night in a surprisingly, not sold out screening. A word of advice though – if you are queuing up for your tickets and people are coming out from a previous screening, BLOCK YOUR EARS. It seems the one thing being asked of fans to keep quiet hasn’t spread to everyone, so be ready for that.
The furthest I will go into describing the movie is that it takes place several decades after the fall of the Empire, as we follow a young Scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). She is struggling to make ends meet, but is very intelligent and as you would expect, yearns for more from her life. She gets swept up in an epic Galactic adventure with faces both new and familiar, as the battle to take on a new evil begins.
And there you are, as simple and spoiler-free a synopsis as you’ll find anywhere I hope. But this is a Star Wars film after all, you’re not going to have to pay super-hard attention to follow the narrative. With access to the money vaults of Disney and director JJ Abrams, it is a new take on an old and still beloved franchise.
And starting with the “new”, this is actually the biggest praise I have, the film is spectacularly captivating to look at. It makes me think of other powerhouse films to see on the big screen such as “Avatar” or “The Lord of the Rings”. Everything is lavish, epic, and perfectly tuned to keep your attention all the way through. As far as a cinema-going experience goes, this is right up there as being one of the very best I have been to. For the entire first act I was constantly smiling and just enjoying the ride. It is a visual buffet that you never get full from eating at.
Another very relieving thing you will notice on the screen is the blend of both digital, and practical effects. Oh, what a joy to see this after the Green Screen-infested Prequels! On-location sets, effective props for the characters, wonderfully detailed scenes, and alien costumes that have that mix of absurdity, and awesomeness. These little details make it so much easier for the audience to take the film seriously, and immerse into it with no barriers. And the digital work is as you would expect from Lucosfilm, top tier. Even though much of what you see is familiar, it looks much more detailed, and more importantly, feels like it has weight. Like that giant ship really is crashed and has been swallowed up by the dunes. I would bet that some of the big scenes are not too far off from the original concept art, because they just have that feel of wonder and scale.
The script certainly tries hard to keep along the path the Originals made. Cheesy at times, but fun and enjoyable. There’s also some of the Abrams comedy that we saw in the first “new” Star Trek movie, and you know what? Especially in the first act, it works damm well. It is very active comedic delivery as the scenes itself is progressing while you get the jokes. It helps to ramp the tempo up at times where it is required. Sure there were some unfunny moments or jarring results, but on the whole, I liked it.
Performances? Well, the new blood brought in here were very good choices. Daisy Ridley is supreme in sequences where she has to deliver her story with almost no dialogue. She stands up to the action scenes really well, the costume design is (maybe) the best in the whole film, and she translates across a lot of emotional depth. John Boyega feels like he should have been given more to go with. Don’t get me wrong, the dude’s great. But… his character at times feels at odds with who he is supposed to represent character trait-wise in the film. The returning actors are a sheer joy to see return, and all deliver their performances to as good a standard as I could have expected. Even some genuinely moving scenes. I would have been happy if they were “okay” but wow, they put on a great show both individually and as a team. The rest of the cast including the likes of Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, are perfectly acceptable. There isn’t any necessarily bad acting going on in here, so if that is a worry, you can rest easy.
Without spoiling the story, what can I say about it specifically? Well, it is dramatic, action-packed, emotional, intense, funny, a true Space adventure, epic, evolving, and a hell of a lot of fun. Sound good? Great, let’s move on then.
And by move on I mean, let us now enter the point of the review where I must be honest. Which may end up in pissing off some fans. But look guys, I have to be honest. The last time people left a Star Wars movie in biased approval was “The Phantom Menace“. Let us not have that happen again, and just let the opinions be what they are – an opinion. That’s all. You can either scoff or agree, or even be neutral to what I say, your choice
So….. here’s the deal. When we say this is a “new” Star Wars movie, that is not entirely true. You will notice as you are sitting in the dark theatre being entranced by the big screen, that some shots and locations are very… familiar. And then the story becomes very familiar, as do some character arcs, and effects, and props, and set designs. Can you see where I’m going with this train of thought?
The film lacks truly original design. We may spray piss and vinegar at the Prequels, but things like the ship designs, locations, and costumes were all new. Where as here, it doesn’t feel like much has changed at all in the few decades that have passed. It is all prettier, that’s for sure. But it is like seeing an old friend as an adult and realising they have barely changed from their teenage looks. And in a film, it feels very odd. I can think of a reason for why this happened – Abrams was told by the higher executives that it was more important to make a film that won fans back onto their side, instead of a new looking universe. The focus was on a safe, level ground for the next movies to develop from. Is that a good, or bad idea? Well, that’s entirely up to the viewer, you will either like it or not.
Personally, I did like it, mostly. After all, a lot of the designs from the Original Trilogy are trademarks for the franchise as a whole. If it ‘aint broke, why fix it? And it is VERY nostalgic in that warm, cosy way you want nostalgia to be.
Another series of problems I had cannot be discussed unfortunately since they hover very near spoiler territory. But it mostly boils down to things not being explained properly, or even at all. The film lacks a fair bit of development for the new world we are witnessing, leaving a whole heap of questions that honestly, only needed some very short scenes to resolve.
On a last note, I should mention the location of the final scene, filmed at Skellig Michael off the coast of Co. Kerry in Ireland. I was in the area when they on the island shooting. And oh holy mother of sweet fuck, it is GORGEOUS. It will probably be the most memorable scene of the film for you, not because of what happens, but for how incredibly beautiful the scenery is. It is the perfect, perfect jaw-dropper of a location to finish on.
So, with all that sad and done, how does “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” fare? Well, it is nowhere near perfect, there are problems in the writing, problems in the design choices, problems with how certain elements are bound together. As a film, I would give it one rating. But as a film experience? Well on that front, it rates extremely well. I was enjoying every bit of it despite my issues, it is fucking MEGA. I would have been happy with it being just good, but it is a movie you do not want to miss at the theatres, especially on a big-ass screen. And best of all? Star Wars is back, it has some solid ground once again to work from, and I cannot wait to see where they go from here.
As a movie (8.5/10)
Seeing it in the Theatre (9.5/10)
Thanks for reading!