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Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

JJ ABRAMS has pulled off what many deemed impossible by delivering a Star Wars movie that recaptures the excitement of George Lucas’ original trilogy.

The Force Awakens is a thrilling cinematic experience that exhilarates on so many levels. It’s beautiful to look at, brilliantly acted, breathlessly exciting, frequently amusing, yet capable of delivering some emotional gut-punches that take it into the dark territory inhabited by The Empire Strikes Back.

In short, it’s everything that Star Wars fans left frustrated and let down by George Lucas’ own prequels could ever dared hope it could be – if not better!

That’s not to say that Abrams has crafted a completely perfect movie. There is a tendency to be over-reliant on the plot structure of the 1977 original, especially during the last act, which flies past being reverential and perilously close to being lazy.

But even then, Abrams and his co-writing team of Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, do have a certain amount of fun tinkering with the franchise iconography. The film has plenty of surprises up its sleeve, as well as the ability to subvert some expectations.

The plot remains largely under wraps and deservedly so. But it’s acceptable to reveal that it revolves around the central question of ‘where is Luke Skywalker’? Heading the search are a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley), a disillusioned Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), and a Resistance X-Wing fighter pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac), as well as former allies Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Standing in their way, meanwhile, is The First Order, an organisation born from the remnants of The Empire, who represent the dark side of the Force, and whose enigmatic leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is a warrior who has made it his life’s work to honour Darth Vader’s unfinished legacy.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Hiding among these characters are secrets galore and part of the fun in watching The Force Awakens is seeing how they unfold as well as figuring out the ramifications for everyone involved: both in this movie and those that will follow.

But far from feeling merely like an opening chapter, Abrams’ film also entertains on its own terms. It feels like a complete movie and boasts enough iconic moments to leave fans cheering with approval. And while some of these are too pivotal to the surprises in store to reveal, others – such as the rediscovery of The Millennium Falcon or the way in which Abrams integrates another cantina scene – are easily divulged as things to look forward to.

Indeed, so much of the pleasure of this film lies in the way that Abrams successfully fuses the old with the new, whether in terms of merging the state-of-the-art special effects with real backdrops to create a more authentic visual aesthetic, to the way in which he drops in visual references to films gone by. A desert sequence early on is stunning to look at, as Rey’s scavenger searches for prizes among the wreckage of fallen star-ships and Thai fighters.

Similarly, Abrams’ use of the series major characters is highly successful. Ford, for instance, rolls back the years as Solo and looks to be having fun exchanging witty verbal exchanges with Chewie, while Chewie himself gets a fair portion of laughs for the way he reacts to certain situations.

And yet, the film’s younger cast members, or its new band of heroes, land just as big an impression. Ridley, in particular, excels as the feisty Rey, whether giving as good [if not better] as she gets in the physical stakes and resisting any attempt to reduce her to a damsel-in-distress. It’s refreshing to find such a strong female presence at the centre of proceedings. Yet, there’s a vulnerability too, which also showcases what a good actor Ridley can be when opportunity allows.

Boyega also shines, expertly mixing off-the-cuff witticisms with an inner turmoil born from a desire to run from a past that has born witness to terrible things. And Isaac also excels as the plucky pilot Poe, whose presence may be limited, but who nevertheless paves the way for potential future greatness.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

And then there’s Driver. Tasked with filling the void left by the late Darth Vader, the young actor ensures that his Kylo Ren is a suitably imposing and intimidating presence; albeit one whose own personal demons and conflict make for a far more layered and thoughtful villain than many may have assumed. He remains a fascinating presence throughout, with Abrams using him brilliantly.

The Force Awakens is therefore a masterful piece of filmmaking that could, quite possibly, represent a tour-de-force for Abrams. It’s an event movie to celebrate and to savour… and to most definitely revisit again and again.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 136mins
UK Release Date: December 17, 2015