Saturday 19 December 2015

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Year: 2015
Director: JJ Abrams
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max von Sydow.

Synopsis is here:

This is going to be a difficult one to start. So I’ll go with the large revelation first. I’m not a Star Wars fan. I admire their technical prowess. I respect their position they hold within mainstream cinema. To a point. However, as a film goer who did not watch these films at a young, impressionable age, I do not hold Lucas’ space opera as the benchmark for nearly all cinema. Watching the hype of The Force Awakens take hold of my social media feeds, general media feeds and my workplace was more irritating than encouraging. I now have more understanding of how non-football fans feel during every World Cup.

My dismissive views of the saga will feel, to some, that I shouldn’t review the most anticipated film of the year, nee decade (Revenge of the Sith was 2005). I myself find it annoying that in order to be part of popular cultural conversation, I must now binge on T.V show seasons within a day, have general knowledge of Kim Kadashian’s movements and hold a view on Star Wars. A view that if not perversely uncritical and overwhelmingly positive, then death threats are abound.

It’s safe to say I went into my Saturday morning screening with a sense of trepidation. I dread to think how JJ Abrams must have felt with the pressure to deliver a film which must be considered as perfect to many people. Especially with the sour taste of Lucas’ over digitalised prequels.
I may not hold Star Wars as the cinematic standard and you won’t find me hastily slapping The Force Awakens on any end of year lists. I will say, however, that JJ Abrams has delivered an enjoyable, progressive and light entertainment.

There’s a lot of pleasure to be taken from The Force Awakens, mostly because Abrams keeps hold of many of the things that Star Wars’ does well. The impressive world building, the strong sense of scale and scope and some truly wondrous visuals. This is combined with an eclectic and spirited cast who sell film’s emotional beats and crummy expositional dialogue with aplomb.

The eye candy and characters do well to cover up the fact that plot wise, the film hasn’t too much to say. Abrams may have been wise to keep much of the structure of A New Hope and doesn’t deviate wildly from elements as he did previously with Star Trek (2009). Unfortunately, while the film reminds us of the archetypes and motifs that fans will feel comfortable with, the lack of risk taken leaves us with a narrative that feels a little flat and mildly predictable. The film also has that irritating issue comes with a lot of modern franchises in that, if you have not immersed yourself within the universe, then filling in the dots can feel cumbersome and confounding.

What The Force Awakens misses with a truly engaging story (I did zone out a few times), delivers with the fact that everyone involved gives it their all. There are moments in which Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher appear to age backwards in front of our eyes. It’s certainly clear that Ford feels more comfortable here than he did with those crystal skulls. It’s Abrams’ blooding of the new guard that is the most eye opening. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are both given moments to shine and run with things with the right amount of vigour. Adam Drivers off beat speech rhythms makes him perfect for his role of Kylo Ren. It’s also a performance that’s far more emotive than expected. The same can also be said for Lupita Nyong'o who’s Maz Kanata has a moment that holds the type of gravitas that we’d only expect from the aforementioned Ford and Fisher. As for Oscar Issacs? Well, that guy is just made of charm.

Much like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), the cast also highlights the need for progressiveness within the modern blockbuster. The film’s diversity never feels shoehorned and despite the narrative issues, provides fresher perspectives and stronger representation. Ninjas Kanata helps highlight just how tone deaf Jar Jar Binks really was. Meanwhile Boyega and Ridley playing center stage holds the possibility to pay dividends for younger audiences, such is the forward thinking by Abrams.

Indeed, that’s the point with Star Wars. The film will appeal to fans young and old, but its set pieces, colour and toys should delight a new generation of young sci-fi fans. More so than Lucas’ prequels. The drab trade federations and midi-chlorians aren’t found here. Only Millennium Falcon thrills and lightsabre duels. The film’s oddly named characters and planet hopping will unlikely change the minds of more hardened non-fans. However, The Force Awakens kept this non-fan entertained from start to finish. Even if I’d need Wikipedia to remember the character names. I still don't consider myself a Star Wars fan. But consider my viewpoint somewhat softened.