25 December 2015

Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens


"Luke Skywalker has vanished." No mention of taxes or blockades to be found anywhere. While not a significant sentence, those four little words signal that the prequels are a thing of the past, and a wave of relief washes over the faces of spectators in the dark auditorium. It's been thirty years since the events of Return of the Jedi, but the Rebels haven't had much time to rest. While the Empire vanished with the death of the Emperor, power seeks a vacuum, and the void is filled by The First Order and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The only whereabouts of Luke's location are inside a BB-8 droid that ends up in the possession of young Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey yearns for more but is trapped living as a scavenger on the unforgiving desert landscape of Jakku. This droid tasked with finding a reclusive Jedi offers her new purpose. Sound familiar? References to the original trilogy are sprinkled heavily throughout the film, and while the consistent call-backs restrict The Force Awakens from breaking out in its own right, it fits in perfectly with what Star Wars serial structure. And, to be honest, after the plight of the prequel trilogy, some reminders of A New Hope can be forgiven.

The cyclical handoff from generation to generation has been an ever-present theme of Star Wars, The Force Awakens merely validates that the theme will be continued. The script, penned by Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams makes the events of the original trilogy a lived-in myth. A scene where Han tells Rey and Finn (John Boyega) that the force, Jedi, and the Rebellion were "all true" almost shouldn't have been in the trailer because letting that scene unfold for the first time in theatres would've been truly special. Harrison Ford, a man who clearly isn't the most reverential of Star Wars fans, gives perhaps his most energetic performance of the last decade.

Acting has never been a strong point of any Star Wars, yet this is only the second Star Wars film after Empire Strikes Back to be sold first and foremost on its acting. Audiences just met these new characters, but they already feel iconic. Oscar Isaac, Boyega and Ridley all have an absolute blast taking part in a global phenomenon, and that infectious energy just bleeds into every aspect of the picture. Yet Awakens isn't afraid to go to places that tug the heart either. As Rey extends a lightsaber to a hero reluctant to rejoin the battle, the pleading in her eyes almost breaks the audience. If that moment doesn't, then the look of fear and sorrow that follows definitely will.

Industrial Lights and Magic has been spread thin between the Marvel pictures and other work, but the ILM team spared no expense in creating the most photo-realistic CGI onscreen of the Star Wars saga. The thrilling aerial sequence where Rey and Finn pilot the Millennium Falcon to evade TIE fighters is maybe one of the best scenes 2015 has to offer. The camera follows the Falcon through every flip, dive and tight squeeze in a downed Imperial Destroyer. The escape doesn't drive the story, but it serves as a character building moment where Rey learns how to be a pilot and Finn hones his skills at the blaster.

For the first time in years, the mindset going in to the next Star Wars sequel isn't "Well, hopefully, the next one will be better." Viewers are actively anticipating the next chapter of the saga. The questions that lay unanswered at film's end are intriguing and watching where Rey, Ren and Finn will go next is an awesome prospect. 2017 might seem like it can't get here soon enough.

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