A lot of films released in 2015 have had a lot riding on their success. Jurassic World reinvigorated the public’s penchant for genetically engineered dinosaurs once again, yet Terminator: Genisys sadly fumbled in its attempt to take the Terminator franchise in any interesting direction. Successful or otherwise though, all these reboots and re-awakenings have all been leading up to this – the return of the ultimate movie franchise, the godfather, so to speak, of Hollywood blockbusters. Star Wars!
Director J.J. Abrams is no stranger to taking an existing series or idea and retooling it for a new generation, what with his radical and fun take on the Star Trek series in 2009 and 2013. But unlike that beloved sci-fi franchise, Abrams is very much a dedicated Star Wars fanboy at heart, a fact he has admitted a great deal in press interviews. With that in mind, could fans at long last have the new Star Wars movie they’ve been desperate for since The Phantom Menace was first announced way back in 1993? In short: yes!
Make no mistake, Star Wars Episode VII is very, very enjoyable. In many ways, it has a lot in common with the story beats of A New Hope, but the script by Abrams, Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) is smart enough to turn those familiar beats on their head, ensuring the film keeps that classic feel whilst also delivering some decent twists and shocks along the way. There’s also very little in the way of Trade Federation negotiations and blockades to muddy the waters, thank the maker!
The new characters, in particular John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey, are also fundamental to the success of the film. Imbued with humour, warmth, courage and a few interesting character flaws to boot, these are heroes who will no doubt encourage and inspire generations of children for years to come. Rey, in particular, is a breath of fresh air – a strong, independent and interesting leading lady, resourceful and not driven by a romantic subplot that lesser movies would have ultimately pushed her into. And as for BB-8? Adorable!
The new villains are also interesting, complete with the moral complexity and uncertainty that made Darth Vader such an iconic villain way back when. The Empire is gone, but the First Order takes its place, a similar entity, but one very much of the new. Kylo Ren is a truly fantastic creation, complex, insane and occasionally sympathetic, but ultimately a real boo-hiss screen villain we come to love to hate! The fact that his story is far from over by the credit scroll is enough to get us excited for Episode VIII.
Of course, fans will be most looking forward to the return of characters we haven’t seen in years. Harrison Ford as Han Solo gets much of the screen time (as does Chewbacca), but when Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill do eventually show up, its done in a way that doesn’t feel as though the writers are simply throwing them in for the sake of nostalgic glee. This is a plot driven movie, and the classic characters serve the plot, not the other way round.
The Force Awakens is a pleasing blend of old and new, not just in terms of characters but also in its use of practical effects and sets, lending the production a real timeless feel. Unlike the CG-ridden prequels, you really feel as though The Force Awakens could have been made the same year as Return of the Jedi. The design of the universe is pleasing in its simplicity and its diverse visuals, whilst the grander action set pieces are directed with absolute precision. The lightsaber battle(s) in the climax are particularly inspired – fast and furious, but simplistic and realistic (well, as realistic as laser sword fights can get!). Add in the superb score from John Williams, and you have all the makings of a Star Wars classic!
Of course, there are flaws – there’s a fair few useful coincidences cropping up that cheapen the story slightly, whilst some of the newer characters like Captain Phasma and Poe Dameron aren’t as fleshed out or utilized as much as we hoped. But for all it’s (minuscule) flaws, there’s no getting around the fact that J.J. Abrams has delivered the Star Wars movie fans have been waiting for all these years.