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[Joint Review] – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 18th December 2015
 
Director: J.J. Abrams
 
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan - J.J. Abrams - Michael Arndt [Screenplay] - George Lucas [Characters]
 
Cast: Daisy Ridley - John Boyega - Oscar Isaac - Mark Hamill - Harrison Ford - Carrie Fisher - Adam Driver - Lupita Nyong'o - Andy Serkis
 


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Posted December 18, 2015 by

 
Full Article
 
 

Kevin’s Perspective:

Let me go out and say that regardless of what we say as reviewers, or at the risk of so much as sounding a fan boy, you’re going to go see Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. My fear was exaggerated when I felt that this could end up as The Phantom Menace: Part Deux but I’m happy to note that the seventh movie in the epic space saga trumps the prequel trilogy combined.

That said, you have to understand that The Force Awakens is just one of many grand schemes that Disney has in store for us, the best description I would put this movie is designed to gain new a generation fans in the younger ages whilst retaining a familiar audience, the like of us who watched Return of The Jedi on VHS. With the high expectation of finding itself in creating a new arc, TFA intends to follow on an already established story that seems familiar yet in its greatest endeavor there’s something missing, the magic that cemented the Original Trilogy’s status. The best way to describe The Force Awakens would be A New Hope: The Remix. Consider this review spoiler free.

It’s not a bad film in most respects, the cast hold their own, the sequences are great and without a doubt plenty of praise goes for the technical elements of the film but my main gripe with the story, which picks up in the near future after the events in ROTJ. The progression of the film seems to have elements taken straight from A New Hope and reworked in this new story and while it pays homage to it, it may have dedicated itself entirely to the fourth film. There was after all fears that this could play out from the last three films that, George Lucas made with good intentions, which I’ll explain in a bit. The prequels didn’t work at explaining the far reaching stories running parallel with Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side.

So we may have to forgive The Force Awakens for not doing anything different. There are so many loose ends that don’t get tied up especially for people who are hungry to learn why there’s a new sense of good vs. evil, who are these new characters are and what new directions they were heading in, which I’m sure will get addressed in Episodes 8 and 9.

While I can’t reveal where the Skywalker arc follows, I can tell you that J.J. Abrams has done well in combining casts, both old and new. There’s this connection you feel when you see Chewbacca, Han Solo and Princess, now, General Leia on screen for the first time retaining the same spunk but wiser that time has made them to be. Fresh faces, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac who play the characters, Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron respectively, can turn the film from its darkest moments by providing light hearted segues when you least expect it. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is menacing and if the trailers are anything to go by has serious anger management issues that stem from the Dark Side. Except to see other familiar faces as well and if you’re wondering whether that new ball droid is of any substance in this film? Let’s just say it BB-8 will warm your heart.

Traditionally Star Wars has been something of legacy that passes from one hand to another and no one knows this better than Abrams, who has merged such a diverse cast and found ways to create the start of relationships between the new characters.

Visually, Star Wars reminds the fan in all of us, the spectacular contrasting landscapes between lush green planets, the tundra and the dreary harsh landscape of Jakku. Interestingly, Jakku plays out in such a way that often gives Rey characteristics we see in Luke before he begins his adventure and there’s going to plenty times to spot references and “Aha!” moments throughout the film. You’re going to hear the familiar tones of John Williams’s music that you know and love.

I wouldn’t go as far to call The Force Awakens a fan service fest, George Lucas giving his seal of approval (begrudgingly I can imagine) says that it was the Star Wars Movie that the fans were looking for and in that moment of admission, I would think that this wasn’t truly what Lucas has in mind. J.J Abrams seems to have gotten all points right except there’s more to it than just lightsabers, space battles and the Force and that’s where I’m torn about the prequel trilogy as it existed to provide a deeper cover to the internal struggles of empires and republics which were meant to be something that could be a great visual opera. Of course, with all that happening in his grand vision, things fell apart and fans truly felt he was turning to “the dark side.” However, at the end of it, Lucas set out to create something different.

With J. J’s helming, The Force Awakens however seems to like to stay in its comfort zones and it makes it a very safe film. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t one of those films that hangs on to every thread of a New hope but, I’m one of the few who expected something different but it’s all set up in this balanced air tight story that sets it up for future films.

Ending on a light note, the Star Wars: Force Awakens is a testament that will capture hearts and make us all feel like children again. The cinema at which I saw it at had grown men and women sing the theme song, laugh, cry, and get shocked. It was special connection that gives the film a human that will awaken us all.

Written By:

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Kevin Sebastian
@NoxVoyager
Freelance Contributor

 

Tim’s Perspective:

It was just over three years ago when I was sat watching BBC news that I heard Disney had brought Lucasfilm for $4bn and I remember my thought process clearly.

“Oh wow…does that mean a new Indiana Jones?…wait, STAR WARS!”

As soon as this idea entered my head I saw the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen relay this message.

“BREAKING NEWS: DISNEY HEAD ANNOUNCES STAR WARS EPISODE VII”

I immediately ran upstairs and began to phone my friends and loved ones to tell them all the good news. It was the start of one of the longest waiting periods of my life, one that was full of theories and speculation. Even as the casting was announced and the trailers dropped the film still managed to keep its secrecy. So was it worth the wait?

Yes. Yes it was.

Now, this is a non spoiler review so don’t worry about me giving away any big surprises, however it is so rare in this day and age to have a major blockbuster be released without knowing a single thing about it I feel compelled to warn you that from this point on I will be talking about story beats and plot points (otherwise there is not much point to this review) so if you want to go to the cinema completely fresh stop reading now.

The story takes place thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi. We are introduced to our new heroes and I fell in love with them instantly. The chemistry between the actors is perfect. I particularly enjoyed the exchanges between Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s Finn and it is a relationship I hope they explore more of in future installments. Daisy Ridley’s performance of Rey is also wonderful as the actress manages to convey both vulnerability and strength within a few moments of meeting her. Also I can quite safely say that Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is now my second favorite Star Wars villain (after Darth Vader of course). His character undergoes the biggest arch of the movie and it is surprisingly him that provides the most emotional story elements.

In fact it is quite a while before we see our first familiar face. A good choice as it lets us establish our new heroes without the cast of a legends shadow but as soon as a certain character walks into frame the nostalgia kicks in and it truly feels like a Star Wars movie.

Some may call it fan service but as a fan it was exactly what I wanted. No cameo or appearance felt shoe horned in at the cost of narrative. Everyone has his or her place and valid reason for being there.

Visually the film feels more akin to the original trilogy rather than the prequels, which is relief for most fans, but it still maintains it’s own distinct flair. As much as I enjoyed J.J Abrams Star Trek movies I felt that the space scenes were too quick cut and I feared it would be the same for this but I need not of worried. Each of the iconic vehicles has enough “glory” shots that you could pause the film during any of its many dogfights and chases and be granted a screenshot fit for a bedroom wall poster. In short, the movie is beautiful to look at.

Script wise the film is instantly quotable. For the most part dialogue is natural and free flowing but sometimes the exposition feels a little jarring and this is where the nitpicking begins.

I think there are a few plot points that could have been a bit more epic in execution. Big moments and revelations that could have been saved for later in the runtime, or even for the sequels and could have been built up for a bigger bang. Instead they feel a little bit wasted but to go into specifics is to venture into spoiler territory.

I also felt the reveals of Max Von Sydow’s and Andy Serkis’ characters were a little underwhelming and they are the only aspects of the film where all the secrecy harmed it slightly as they did not meet my expectations from three years of theories and musings but again these are all nitpicks.

Finally there a fair few plot holes. Coincidences can be explained as “the way of the force” but there are some questions that go unanswered. That is not to say we won’t get those answers in Episode VIII and IX so it is nothing to really get upset about.

All in all Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a wonderful first step back into a world we all know and love whilst establishing a solid foundation for its future. It is an experience I didn’t want to end and I think Episode VIII is where the filmmakers are likely to take more risks, a thought that both terrifies and excites me. I cannot wait.

Now, as the after buzz starts to fade let the speculation for Rouge One : A Star Wars Story begin…

Written By:

my head

Tim Buckler
@BlockBusterMan
Tim’s Fortress Of Solitude
Full Contributor

 

Katie’s Perspective:

Let me start with a confession. I am actually not a huge fan of Star Wars. Much to the dismay of my partner, several of my closest friends, and colleagues, I have never thought of the original feature and its two sequels as anything more than some fun space films that used to be on all the time at Christmas when I was a kid. Much like The Beatles’ music, I understand and respect the ground-breaking impact Lucas’ trilogy had on popular culture – it just wasn’t particularly my cup of Flameout.

This means I am happily free of the PTSD many carry from the memories of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and The Revenge of the Sith, but, being something of an insider these days, it was still a very long and tense wait to find out whether the four-billion dollar punt Disney took acquiring the sci-fi behemoth would result in a glorious, phoenix-style rebirth, or a fandom meltdown on the scale of the Death Star explosion. It was going to take a brave man indeed, to shoulder the responsibility of hitting the reset button on one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, and that man was J.J. Abrams. Having created long-running series Alias and Lost for Disney/ABC, and credited with breathing new life into the other greatest space-based property of all time, Star Trek, Abrams seemed an obvious choice for the task. But how did he do?

On Wednesday 16th December, those of us lucky enough to secure a golden ticket to the European premiere of possibly the most anticipated movie in cinematic history were about to find out…

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 22.52.07 Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 22.52.15

From the opening moments of The Force Awakens, it’s obvious that Abrams has (successfully) strived to recapture the aesthetic and feel of the original trilogy, as well as the humour and authenticity which are so lacking from the much-maligned prequels. There is a sense of weight to this movie. The arid landscapes, sweeping vistas, the use of puppets and real explosions in place of CGI and VFX, all combine to create an intoxicating cocktail of nostalgia, and the first-time wonder fans experienced watching this kind of world-building in the late seventies and early eighties. Abrams demonstrated his affection for sci-fi and monster movies from that era in the brilliant Super-8, and once again he manages to distil the ingredients that attracted a loyal and global fan base almost forty years ago, and blend them into something which feels both familiar and fresh all at once.

In terms of plot, it is – deliberately – very similar to A New Hope. Repression of the masses by the Galactic Empire (now called The First Order), a rebellious, freedom fighting faction, a young protagonist, separated from their family, discovering their powers for the first time, a cocky young pilot, and concealed information leading to the whereabouts of a ‘secret weapon’ (in this case the self-exiled Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi Knights). Set around thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the escapades of Leia, Luke, Han, Darth Vader et al have passed into legend, until a young scavenger called Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds a droid containing a map to Luke’s hiding place, stashed there by a fighter pilot called Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) before he was captured and tortured by The First Order. She is joined by Finn (John Boyega), the former Stormtrooper who helped Poe escape before they crash landed on Jakku. Finn and Rey are discovered by Han Solo and Chewbacca, after stealing the Millennium Falcon, and the new blood teams up with the familiar old guard to fight the new face of the dark side, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that in the spirit of Star Wars, nothing is clear cut when it comes to differentiating between good and evil, light and dark, especially as family ties and secrets have a way of becoming super complicated (just ask Luke and Leia!) The Force Awakens is both a continuation of the original tale, and a passing of the mantel to a new generation. While there is much to satisfy the most ardent fans, it also stands alone as a fun and engaging sci-fi adventure. There are moments which didn’t quite work for me. The script felt a little clunky in places, and some of the references come across as a little too knowing and self-congratulatory. While much has been made of Rey, a central character, being a young, self-sufficient woman, I occasionally felt the need to keep reiterating this came at the expense of believability. Would she really feel the necessity to insist Finn let go of her hand while fleeing from a hail of deadly laser beams? But these are minor quibbles.

Ridley makes a decent lead in her debut feature, although I couldn’t help fixating on her uncanny likeness to Keira Knightley, both in terms of looks and performance style. John Boyega, last seen in the fab Attack the Block, is warm and accessible, and Oscar Isaac is assured and charismatic as Poe. Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong’o feel a little wasted, and Andy Serkis’ turn as the computer generated giant and supreme leader, Snoke, feels out of place among the practical effects and prosthetics. I would like to have seen a bit more emotion from Carrie Fisher, although her transformation from bikini-clad regal space totty to powerful matriarch and leader is a welcome development. The return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo is a highlight, and Domhnall Gleeson gives a brief but quietly menacing turn as General Hux. But special mention must go to Adam Driver who imbues Kylo Ren with a humanity and vulnerability which ultimately makes his actions all the more horrifying.

The Force Awakens delivers thrilling set pieces, emotional punches, and stunning cinematography. It’s a feast for the senses, the sound design and John Williams score as gorgeous as the visuals. The final lightsaber showdown set in a snowy forest is especially beautiful. Delighting fans and critics alike, this is one reboot which lives up to the hype, paving the way for numerous new spin-offs and expansions while remaining true to its roots. The force really is strong with this one.

And if an adorable BB-8 toy isn’t top of your Christmas list this year, you must be dead inside!

Written By:

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Katie Young
@Pinkwood
Katie Young – Author
Facebook
Freelance Contributor

 

Lestat’s Perspective:

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a fierce love for Star Wars; yes even the prequels. The original series changed my life and the prequels, despite their many, many flaws, opened up a world of imaginative possibilities for me.

Yet, instead of revelling in the hype about the new Episode VII that was announced the moment Disney bought over the rights of Lucasfilm, my heart sank. I didn’t want a new Star Wars. Much of the enigma of Star Wars came from its creator, George Lucas, and his firm secrecy surrounding the making of and story of the film. The new studio leaked as much information, sometimes too much about the film.

Add to that the addition of director JJ Abrams and I had resigned myself to the thought that this was going to be yet another sucker punch for the fans. Abrams’ Star Trek was far off the mark from originator Gene Roddenberry’s message – worse still, his adaptations of the characters made them much less likeable (or watchable).

With trepidation and angst I headed to the pre-screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens; months of avoiding trailers, TV spots, interviews, etc. had shielded me from the main plot, but I was well aware of the characters, especially the inclusion of some characters of yore.

Little did I know then that the mere sight of those immortal words, ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away’ would be so overwhelming, that despite myself I would get drawn in and sucked into this world that I really love. With a myriad possibilities of an unknown story waiting to be discovered, the opening bars of the familiar theme signalled the power of Star Wars was back and stronger than ever.

I can’t bear to share any details of the plot because all of it is worth a revelation. From the glorious opening sequence immediately marking the tone of this new franchise to the many smaller intimate moments between the characters, TFA ticks the necessary boxes that make it a fitting entry into the Star Wars cinematic galaxy.

The new members of the universe are worthy successors to Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Billy Dee Williams. I scoffed at the casting of Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac in the film, but I readily admit I shouldn’t have. Driver is excellent as the internally suffering Kylo Ren and Isaac, despite his far more curtailed role, is a humorous injection of unbridled fun. I want to see more of his Poe Dameron.

It’s fantastic to see the zero-to-hero arc being handed over to a woman, that too to an unknown actor. Daisy Radley is effortless as Rey, be it during her action sequences or during her character’s more searching moments, but she still has a long way to go to capture the charisma and presence of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. I have no doubt that her Rey will soon become just as enigmatic.

The most outstanding actor in the film is John Boyega. I suppose I always knew he would be the standout, but just how much we would fall in love with his Finn surprised even me. He portrays his character’s crisis of conscious while also embracing his understandable awkwardness. He never looks to be burdened by the role of lead actor in Star Wars; he has far to go and I assume Hollywood will give him his due and we’ll be seeing lots more of him everywhere soon.

The only let down among the youngsters is Domnhall Gleeson. His inability to effectively channel the Imperial leaders of the past six films means he comes across as over the top, hamming up his performance in an effort to lift his presence. It seems especially at odds with the subtler more personal performances of the new entrants.

I can’t get through this without saying the addition of several original cast members adds to TFA’s creds as a true Star Wars film. It’s saying something that the original cast felt it worth their while to get back into the roles of characters they hadn’t visited in over 30 years. And it’s mesmerising to see these fantastic actors not miss a beat when it comes to reprising these roles.

A film like this is thin on plot yet rich with meaning. It draws on the history of the original trilogy while expanding on the universe. I think it’s a bit of a shame that the extended universe of books and comics wasn’t adapted, but that universe has its own set of problems and most likely the writers just weren’t able to go through it all. What does that mean for that universe? I’d rather not think about it.

JJ Abrams finally does justice to all the hype that surrounds his name. I’m still not sure one man should have been given the reign of rebooting both the pillars of sci-fi film and television, but where he hasn’t put a foot right with Star Trek, he seems to have his head on straight for Star Wars.

He pays a lot of homage to the six precursors of this film, a little too much I would say. The best moments are actually his original scenes with their own visual angles and meanings. I especially felt that the few development scenes juxtaposed with music from the original scenes worked best, tugging at your heartstrings while moving the story forward.

What Abrams wasn’t able to capture, however, was the unmistakable rhythm of Lucas’ scenes. In Lucas’ films (including the ones directed by others), the climactic sequences dealt with intermingled plots following different characters in separate locations – it’s a cinematic signature so unique to Star Wars (not exclusive, just unique) that its absence is really felt in TFA as it immediately shows up the uneven pacing of the story. I kept thinking of how some sequences could have been tighter and perhaps if Lucas wasn’t such a pariah and meddlesome, his input could have benefited the film.

At the end, however, when you walk away, you do so with a fulfilled and heavy heart. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a truly remarkable and overwhelming experience. For two hours you’re back in a world that you never want to leave, discovering new characters while meeting old ones. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (more like bawl, actually) and you’ll be mesmerised. Apparently, we needed a new Star Wars.

Written By:

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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
@EnsignLestat58
Freelance Contributor

 

Michael’s Perspective:

The Galactic Empire lives on, mutated into the even more hateful First Order. The Resistance, formally the Rebel Alliance, is desperate. Their greatest hero, Luke Skywalker, has been missing for years. X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron is tasked with picking up Skywalker’s trail, information the First Order is eager to intercept. This frantic search soon involves several more personalities, some legendary, others with destinies untapped.

The Force Awakens arguably can be labelled a remake. For an instant you may think, “This again?” but only for an instant. The adventure is too rip-roaring for it to matter. The direction, the pace, the quality of the characters and locations overpower any feelings of derivativeness.

Fresh faces meet old blood. John Boyega’s deserting Stormtrooper FN-2187 (aka Finn) is an emotional and lovable idiot, initially paired with Oscar Isaac’s pilot extraordinaire Poe Dameron, all whooping pluck and swashbuckle. Also, Poe’s personal droid BB8 will no doubt be a most sought after toy this Christmas. Of the new faces, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver make massive impressions.

Ridley’s Rey is terrific, a hard working hard dreamer, coloured deeply by her abandonment issues (tactfully hinted at, kudos again to the writing and direction.) Ridley plays off Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren in some excellent confrontations. Ren is a destructive, volatile yet self-deprecating concoction. His artificial voice, crisp and bassy, and his Vader-esque mask show his idolising and sense of inadequacy.

The return of the scoundrel, Ford/Solo has not forgotten how to swindle and swagger. Over the years the great smuggler has become slower and kinder and, against the new talent, Ford is their greatest competitor for your affections.

Several characters, some of them iconic, fall victim to the movie’s “Marvel Syndrome”, having too many characters and not enough screen time for all.

It is wonderful to appreciate the cinematography here after the lifeless, digitised prequel trilogy. Rey, Finn and BB8 scramble across deserts, castle taverns and dense woods. To see these real worlds will inspire kids to run to their nearest green, grove or underpass and have mock lightsaber battles of their own. Just like the trailers and talk promised, these locales are filled with living, breathing extras, be they Stormtroopers, X-Wing pilots or one of a plethora of alien robot thingamajigs.

The speculation can end. For anyone with just an inkling of admiration for Star Wars, you will be made to feel like a wide-eyed, drop-jawwed kid again. J.J. Abrams has awakened a long treasured and turbulent franchise and punched it into hyper-drive.

Written by:

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Michael Keyes
Silences Band
@mkjk1990
Full Contributor

 

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