Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Every generation has a story

A long time ago, in (what seems like) a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created Star Wars (1977), an epic space opera that more or less defined the existing Blockbuster. Throughout the subsequent years, Lucas continued the saga with equally groundbreaking sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) — these three films (Episodes IV, V and VI) constituting the original Star Wars trilogy. Some years later, Lucas modified these pictures, adding in numerous CGI shots while touching up imperfections, all of this leading up to the launch of a brand new trilogy, the Star Wars prequels. Between 1999 to 2005 audiences were given Episodes I, II and III, The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), flicks that were met with mixed reviews and middling reception from fans and critics; these films now considered far substandard to their pioneering counterparts. Criticism aside, each picture in the canon was a huge commercial successes, with Star Wars eventually becoming the fifth-highest-grossing film series of all time, having cumulated a combined ticket revenue north of $4 billion worldwide.

'Yeah, if you could all just surrender to the dark side ... that'd be great!'
‘Yeah, if you could all just surrender to the dark side … that’d be great!’

With a bitter George Lucas officially stating that he was ‘done and dusted’ with Star Wars, eager to put the series behind him, the Walt Disney Company acquired the rights to Lucasfilm (and all its properties) in 2012 for around $4 billion — pretty much the sum of space juggernaut’s box office returns — and soon after announced a new trio of Star Wars films (the first slated for December 2015), movies that would reset the stagnant cogs and propel a new franchise into hyperdrive. Whereas the initial saga chronicled the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, the possibilities here (and fanatical speculations) were endless — though Anakin Skywalker’s legacy was sure to live on in some way, shape or form. So here we are, December 2015, and I can safely affirm that the much anticipated The Force Awakens is the Star Wars experience legions of worldwide fanatics have long been waiting for, with this fitting entry soaring to the same towering heights of its much-loved trend-setting beginnings.

The Force Awakens takes place some twenty to thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi and opens on the desert planet of Jakku, with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) — General Organa’s most skilled pilot — sent to the barren landscape in order to recover a clue that could lead the Resistance (formerly known as the Rebel Alliance) to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill); a Jedi who’d gone ‘missing’ — Skywalker basically serves as a MacGuffin here, a vital piece of a puzzle that essentially gets the engine started. Alas, Poe’s mission is interrupted by the First Order (a military and political organization formed approximately three decades after the Battle of Endor). Led by the menacing Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe is taken prisoner but cunningly hides critical information inside his BB-8 unit (a sphere shaped astromech), which escapes into the desert during the shoot-out. BB-8 eventually rolls into a young woman who goes by the name of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who’d been stranded on the junkyard planet as an infant and has been waiting for her parents return ever since.

'Chewie, we're old'
‘Chewie, we’re old’

All the while, a stormtrooper FN-2187, who’s promptly renamed Finn (John Boyega), decides to grow a conscience. Involved in the aforementioned attack and having witnessed Poe’s capture, Finn sees an opportunity in the tattered pilot, one that could help him break away from the First Order Star Destroyer on which he serves. After hatching a harebrained scheme, Poe and Finn escape the Destroyer but crash-land back on Jakku. There, Finn and Poe get separated and Finn crosses paths with Rey when BB-8 notices Fin wearing Poe’s frayed Resistance jacket. Now Finn is forced to work with his new allies (if he wishes to flee from the First Order that is) as enemy troops return to Jakku in search of the runaway BB-8 unit that holds the key to Skywalker’s exact location. Perused by armed forces, Rey and Finn spot an old, run-down Corellian YT model freighter in a nearby depot and use it to escape. Soon however, its previous owner returns to reclaim his property, thus thrusting the troupe into a brand new adventure.

Ditching any blatant attempt to cater to the lowest common denominator, The Force Awakens looks and feels right, gelling well with the original trilogy, director J.J. Abrams, Star Trek (2009), showcasing a tangible, lived-in galaxy, one where the Resistance are backed by government support. Without any talk of trade disputes or senate debates, (knowing very little about politics, this mumbo-jumbo always confused the crap out of me), The Force Awakens is also the most action-heavy flick in the entire six film series, its rapid-fire momentum swooping from one superb set-piece to the next, pausing briefly for viewers to catch their breath, these time-outs used to fill in the gaps — we find out what old friends have been up to whilst learning a little more about the fresh faces occupying the screen. Furthermore this tactile universe has been impeccably realized by some excellent visual and practical work (Star Wars never looked so good) with filmmakers steering clear of components that lead the prequels so far off track, Abrams favoring in-camera effects over digital whenever possible, avoiding the cartoony CGI overload that weighed down Episodes I, II and III.

Pew! Pew! Pew!
Pew! Pew! Pew!

On a narrative front, the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), J.J. Abrams, Super 8 (2011), and Michael Arndt, Oblivion (2013), borrows all the best elements from the Star Wars library, bringing back those rudimental nuts and bolts that validate and verify the series’ essence. We have fierce blue-on-red lightsaber duels. There are mountainous sand dunes with haunting imagery of fallen star destroyers and sequences where TIE fighters and X-wings engage in ground combat, scenes that stand to be equally unique yet strangely nostalgic. And in place of the Death Star, we now have an ‘upgraded’ Starkiller Base, an enormous planetary warhead armed with a super-weapon that’s housed within its snowy terrain, capable of obliterating entire star systems. Seeing as The Force Awakens shares so many parallels to its ’77 ancestor (in some regards, what we have here is a beat-for-beat mirror of the original film), those who know the story well will most likely be able to forecast proceedings early on which could defuse a few of the film’s surprises; though this latest outing does find time to add fresh ingredients to its somewhat recycled formula. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Abrams spends a lot of time laying out the groundwork for what’s to come, we’re still fundamentally left with a hefty, emotional, exhilarating and heartfelt opener (one with plenty of action, laughs, thrills and chivalric romance), signalling a return to form for the galactic melodrama.

In any case, the sight of Harrison Ford stepping into the shoes of iconic smuggler Han Solo will surly please giddy fanboys who’ve waited over 40 years to see Han and his best friend/first mate Chewbacca (played once again by Peter Mayhew) reunited on-screen. That’s not all, Carrie Fisher returns as Leia Organa (now no longer a princess), Anthony Daniels delivers a hearty laugh as the fussy, worry-prone cyborg C-3PO while Tim Rose reprises his role as the military commander Admiral Ackbar, a character I never thought I’d see up on the big screen again — these players recalling a real sense of history, scars from the past and the battles lost and won. In terms of newbies, relative unknown Daisy Ridley delivers a knockout performance as Rey; an abandoned young woman who learns about her powerful destiny and matures into the strongest female character the Star Wars universe has ever produced. John Boyega is equally as well rounded as the deserter stormtrooper Finn with the actor retaining the same sense of magnetism he exhibited in 2011’s Attack the Block. Elsewhere, Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina (2015), looks as though he’s having one helluva time playing T-70 X-wing pilot Poe Dameron with a contagious sense of glee in his eyes.

'Over a hundred million dollars in ticket pre-sales ... no way!'
‘Over a hundred million dollars in ticket pre-sales … no way!’

A terrific Adam Driver, Frances Ha (2012), embodies the masked adversary Kylo Ren, a member of the Knights of Ren, who is perhaps the most conflicted baddie the dark side has shaped thus far. Pledging his allegiance to a twisted Darth Vader mask this cloaked madman possesses Jedi-like skills yet acts in a petulant manner, mainly when things don’t go his way with Driver’s intense performance suggesting that Kylo Ren is one messed-up dude. Viewers don’t get to see much of Ren’s head honcho, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), doing his motion-capture thing), but his brief appearance indicates that this guy poses a much larger threat than that of the Emperor. Game of Thrones (2011) actress Gwendoline Christie dons an intimidating chrome plated uniform as the hard-nosed Captain Phasma, her face pretty much concealed for the entire picture. Rounding out the cast is Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (2013), as the fully GCI Maz Kanata, a thousand-year-old pirate who runs a cantina for smugglers, travelers and other riff raff in her castle, the profoundly wise Maz possibly rising to become the saga’s new Master Yoda.

What we ultimately have here is a film with renewed energy, a rebirth of the Force so to speak, as the seventh Star Wars chapter successfully captures the series’ former glory — something Lucas’ prequels failed to do — reigniting the franchise for generations to come. With all the right attributes, including an rousing score by John Williams, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) — the 83-year-old composer amalgamating themes from the original trilogy with fresh signature tunes — and director Abrams (a long-time sci-fi devotee) melding the old with the new, The Force Awakens helps usher in the next era of Star Wars films; boy is it a great time to be one with the Force. So, whether you cued around a couple blocks in 1977 to get tickets or crashed a website in 2015 to secure a seat, this one’s for you!

Ready to storm cinemas!
Ready to storm cinemas!

Be sure to stick around for a post credit scene featuring everyone’s favorite Gungan military officer/politician, ‘meesa’ Jar Jar Binks. Just kidding! If I ever have to endure another line like, ‘ohh, maxi big, da Force. Well, dat smells stinkowiff,’ I may need a blaster to vent out frustration.

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released through Disney Australia