Thursday 17 December 2015

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review by Carleton Rutter

Directed by: J.J Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
​Strapline: There is no Strapline, it doesn't need one - it's Star Wars!!


So, in a nutshell?
Set 30 years after the events of The Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens launches a new chapter in this iconic movie franchise.

So, what are my thoughts?
A long time ago, in a city far, far away there was a movie called Star Wars that was released to an adoring public in the summer of 1977. Since that day to this, Star Wars has become the worlds most successful and beloved franchise of all time. There are movies, there are even franchises, but then there is Star Wars.

​​Capitalising on the success of Star Wars, George Lucas released The Empire Strikes Back (1980) directed by Irvin Kershner, it went on to become one of the most critically and commercially successful sequels of all time.

​To round off the original trilogy, The Return of the Jedi debuted in early summer of 1983. To many this was the weakest of the three original movies. It's actually the movie I probably know the best, given that I was 7 years of age when I saw it at the cinema. I have a soft spot for this installment but can see on reflection that the first two episodes were better. As we all know the original trilogy received in 1997 the "Special Edition" makeover and theatrical release. Which was an ominous sign of what was to come.

​Then in 1999, it all went horribly wrong. George Lucas decided to revisit his beloved universe to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. This is the one thing above all else that Star Wars fans wanted to see,  having grown up with the original trilogy. The problem was, well you know what the problem was, in a nutshell they were awful. (Episode I - mind numbingly boring, with one good fight, Episode II - a 2 hour PS2 video game and Episode III - the best of the prequels but still a huge misfire). So much has been written and said about the prequels that we pretty much know it all. Suffice to say they are to the Star Wars universe what Indiana Jones and Crystal Skull ​is to the Indiana Jones franchise.

​Anyway fast forward to 2015 and we have Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Set 30 years after the events of ROTJ, very little was known about the movie before it's release. We were however treated to some of the best trailers in the last decade (Especially the full trailer) offering a more physical, grounded look in the same vein as the original movies. Couple that with the fact that the original cast were asked back. To top all that off, the reins had been well and truly prized out of the hands of Lucas and handed over to J.J Abrams, Hollywood's go-to-guy for Sci-fi remakes (Star Trek, 2009). All this helped redefine the word "Expectation".

​So will 2015 be known as the year we finally got a new Star Wars movie worthy of the original trilogy, or shall we cock the trigger like it's 1999?

Well it's safe to say you can keep your gun (or blaster in this case) firmly in it's holster. Star Wars is back. The Force Awakens makes the prequels feel like nothing more than a bad dream. Gone is the wooden acting and over CGI'd environments. This is how Star Wars was always meant to look. Physical, dirty and real.

The following is my thoughts on the movie. This is without delving into elements of the plot, which I refuse to do as you need to experience this movie for yourself. However, suffice to say I will do my best.

Let's start off with the cast. Finally after the prequels, here we have a central cast who we can actually empathise with and whose causes we can get behind. The newcomers are excellent, Daisy Ridley as scavenger Rey in particular stands out as the one to watch. John Boyega equally acquits himself extremely well crafting a very likeable and funny character in Finn. Oscar Isaac who's star was already on the rise regardless of Star Wars is superb as X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. All three show that this new central trio will provide a solid base for a new chapter in this long running saga.

The dark side is equally well represented, Adam Driver impresses as Kylo Ren, a character whose raison d'être is cleverly revealed throughout the movie. As for the returning actors, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, they slip back into their iconic roles with consummate ease. In the case of Harrison Ford as Han Solo (Who has the largest returning part) I really had a sense of watching Han Solo once more and not Harrison Ford playing a caricature of an old role, which I did for Indy in Crystal Skull. Thanks to the script and chemistry between all on screen, old and new stars naturally gelled with each other.

So as I say I won't say anything about the plot, but I will say it really feels like a Star Wars movie. Deftly intertwining different characters, stories and locations à la Star Wars, Empire and Jedi. The movie also looks and sounds great and it was brilliant to see the trademark screen wipes being used to good effect.

As I mentioned at the start of my review, this new chapter has a very real feeling to it. This is thanks to Abrams et al. in deciding to employ physical effects over digital, and it pays off in spades. It really made me feel I was back in the same universe as I had last seen on the big screen as a 7 year old boy, as opposed to the three video games directed by George Lucas. The whole tone of the movie as well is very "Real world" meaning that elements of the force (Especially the dark side) when used felt real and sometimes shocking to watch. This is not to say CGI is not used, it is and it is used incredibly well and organically fits in with the physical elements of the movie.

The Force Awakens thankfully is also genuinely funny. Lawrence Kasdan's script is peppered with really great lines that put the forced and flat humour of the prequels to shame. The fact that this movie was written by the same man as The Empire Strikes Back means that fans of the original movies will enjoy the references to previous adventures as well as keeping a new generation of movie goers entertained as well. 

The movie is not without it's issues. Some points in the movie as well were predictable. It pays homage to the old movies which it was always going to, but at times it felt that some scenarios and scenes were literally lifted off the pages of the script of the original movies, especially Star Wars itself. The movie does happen at a fast pace, as Abrams had 30 years of history to cram into a movie that was only 2 hours 15 mins, an extra 15 minutes would have helped to serve a few back stories and fleshed out the characters.

On a casting point, there are a few misfires. Domhnall Gleeson's portrayal of a character called General Hux I felt was little OTT and lacked the gravitas the role required. No offence to the actor but his role called for an older actor. Also, with the introduction of the franchises loveable new droid BB-8, our trusty duo are left a little sidelined. Finally at least on first viewing I felt the score by John Williams was good with some iconic themes weaving in and out, but did not find that it stood out as as score in its own right. It's perhaps that I was wrapped up in what was unfolding on screen but I left it lacked it's own signature tune.
But these issues do not detract from the fact this is a fantastic movie and by the end you had to prize me away from a galaxy far, far away. Roll on Episode VIII, 2017 cannot come soon enough! 

My Rating 

Star Wars The Force Awakens is a rousing return to form for a franchise that was nearly killed by it's creator. It is a thrilling slice of cinematic filmmaking that did not disappoint. Finally we have a movie that fans of my age and above can be proud to call a Star Wars movie, whilst entertaining the hell out of today's generation. The movie proves that once again "Old School" is best.

So treat yourself this Christmas and get ready for the ride of the year, "Chewy, we're home".

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review by Carleton Rutter