Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars VII: the Force Awakens

Unlike most films I’ve reviewed on this site, I wanted to purposefully wait a few days after watching this one before I attempted to write this one, so that I could have some time to chew (bacca) on things a bit first and hopefully, write a review that was as objective as possible. Ok, I promise that was the first and last lame Star Wars joke I’ll make in this review…

Also, kindly note dear padawan, that this review needs to come with a few disclaimers: Firstly, like most inhabitants of this solar system, I am a massive fan of the Star Wars franchise and because of that, this film is probably more subjective than most of my reviews (hence the aforementioned need for extend ‘chewing’ time). Secondly, this review hasn’t been checked for spoiler alerts, so, if you haven’t had time to watch the film yet, then this review is probably not worth the risk.

One of the challenges that I’ve discussed quite a bit in some of my previous reviews is that of working on a project with a deep and extensive heritage. And when it comes to heritage, there is probably very few film franchises that have more of a history than that of Star Wars. Not only does the film now span multiple generations of film goers, but it’s also probably the most successful sci-fi franchise that the film industry has ever seen. And that’s not even to mention the added pressure that comes with the franchise’s highly controversial Disney takeover and change in directors. It therefore goes without saying, that trying to keep everyone happy is such a massive improbability, that it shouldn’t even be an objective.

Rey's relationship with the other characters in the film is one of the central driving forces in the film.
But it’s exactly here where the Force Awakens’ greatest achievement lies, in that it comes very close to achieving that exact impossible feat – a film that ticks so many boxes, that it will please not only most fans of the original Star Wars saga, but also a whole new generation of wanna-be Jedi knights that are eager to now explore the rest of the Star Wars universe. Not only has director JJ Abrams delivered an amazing film that sets the stage for the next installments to come, but even more impressively, has managed to make the ‘aged’ films in the franchise (especially episode IV – VI) more accessible to the current generation of film goers.  

“Not only has director JJ Abrams delivered an amazing film that sets the stage for the next instalments to come, but even more impressively, has managed to make the ‘aged’ films in the franchise more accessible to the current generation of film goers.

To go into the detail of all the elements that make the Force Awakens brilliant could take a while, so instead, I’d rather use this review to highlight the key aspects that stood out for me:

Firstly, when it comes to delivering on the personality of the original Star Wars franchise, the Force Awakens delivers in spades: Fans are sure to appreciate the return of the series’ iconic ‘space comedy’ feel, which, in many ways did not materialise as well in episode 1 – 3, mainly due to horrible acting (yes, I’m talking about you, Hayden Christensen) and the less focussed story arc of intergalactic diplomacy and other political shenanigans. In Force Awakens, there is generally a greater balance between quirky dialogue and high action thrills, which all works even better due to the tight storyline and excellent pacing.

It might also be good to point out at this stage that this review is not intended as a list of reasons why Force Awakens is better than episode 1 – 3 and that the comparisons made are merely here to illustrate how much care was taken to ensure that Force Awakens does not only do justice to the franchise heritage, but in many respects, vastly improves on many of the individual films in the series.

The second standout triumph of the film is definitely the tight storyline and the way the cast amplifies it to even greater heights. If there was one aspect of the new film that everyone was very curious about, it was definitely to see who the new villain would be and how it would set the stage for the conflicts yet to ensue over the course of the installments to come. Enter Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver from ‘Girls’ fame) a layered villain plagued by personal insecurities that revolves around a complex search for a sense of belonging, issues with his parentals (who doesn’t) and most importantly, an underlining fear of not living up to the expectations set by his predecessor. The latter of which, also acts as a clever nod to the film’s very own risks of not living up to the reputation of the broader series itself. But thankfully, like the film itself, Kylo Ren manages to not only meet the calibre that came before him, but in my opinion, also becomes by far the most interesting and relatable villain that the series has ever seen. There is a sense of fragility and complexity in Kylo Ren that makes him mesmerising to watch and difficult to hate outright. In this way, he also becomes one of the most successful representation of the franchise’s overarching theme of the balance between light and dark,  proving that this balance does not only exist as the sum of different alliance groups, but also within the hearts of the individuals that make up those groups.

“But thankfully, like the film itself, Kylo Ren manages to not only meet the calibre that came before him, but in my opinion, also becomes by far the most interesting and relatable villain that the series has ever seen.”

Although I won’t go into the detail of the film’s other performances, it is important to also highlight the powerful performance of the film’s new female protagonist, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). There’s also great supporting roles fulfilled by ex-Stormtrooper Finn (played by John Boyega) and General Hux (played by Domhnall Gleeson, known for his role in Harry Potter). Not to of course forget about all the returning cast members from the original franchise, that do a great job in imbuing the film with a powerful sense of nostalgia, whilst also building a sense of anticipation for the films yet to come.

Kylo Ren is like most guys you've dated: Easily angered, insecure and a unhealthy obsession with Darth Vader...
And then, lastly, I need to address the criticism that the movie has been receiving about relying too heavily and directly on the plot structure of previous films and other borrowed elements from the original Star Wars saga. In my opinion, the film strikes the perfect balance between references to previous installments and completely original plot devices, which both ensures a pleasant nostalgic nod to the series’ heritage, whilst also effectively setting the scene for the franchise’s future installments.

In summary, considering all of the hoops that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has had to go through to please and live up to its seemingly unreachable expectations, I am confident in calling it not only one of the best Star Wars films ever made, but also, one of the best sci-fi action films I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next!

Highlight: Basically, any scene with Kylo Ren in it.