Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the long-awaited sequel that re-ignites the Star Wars Universe with a seventh episode. After a successful Star Trek reboot, Spielberg-in-the-making J.J. Abrams was entrusted to deliver a film that picks up the story decades after the original trilogy, now existing within the Disney empire under the banner of recent acquisition, Lucasfilm.
A lot has changed since Harrison Ford last tag teamed with a wookie as famed odd couple, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Film technology and visual effects have improved drastically, everyone's got older and the pop culture phenomenon has become almost religious with artifacts now available at most major retailers. While the original films opened to mixed reviews, it's become heretic to say anything negative about the beloved Star Wars, just ask Simon Pegg.
Luckily, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a pretty solid sequel from J.J. Abrams, whose initials some jokingly suggested were for Jar-Jar. Abrams understands the legacy and sticks close to the look-and-feel of the original trilogy by purposefully keeping the visual effects to a minimum. It's not to say there aren't any visual effects, but the emphasis is on creating a universe and atmosphere with weight and reality, rather than sacrificing suspense of disbelief for overblown Roland Emmerich style action sequences.
The tip of the hat doesn't stop there with Abrams effectively compiling a collective Star Wars dream with a familiar plot line and many characters either reprising their roles or echoing those that went before them. History is repeating itself, but the overlay is fresh, the arrival of familiar faces is nostalgic and the new recruits are instantly likable and have enough clout to win us over with spirited performances.
"Star Wars is the bomb..."
The sequel deals with a quest to locate Luke Skywalker, now believed to be the stuff of legend. Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a self-sufficient, multi-talented young woman and parts scavenger, who joins the cause after becoming the protector of a droid, who holds the key. John Boyega arrives to alert and support her after irking his duties as Finn, a former Stormtrooper. Together, the three must find The Resistance and avoid the evil clutches of the ever-powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, and his henchmen.
Rey is a beautiful, capable and strong-willed feminine energy, who reflects the current desire for stronger roles for women in Hollywood. Boyega is a little clumsy but courageous and lovable as Finn, who is finding his feet in the real world with a similar appeal to Theo Huxtable. The two make an unusual and delightfully progressive pairing as they bump into the likes of Star Wars icons: Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The cast is further cemented by Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver, a new generation of acting talent, who lend their talents to Abrams. Isaac is quietly impassioned, Gleeson is powerful in short bursts and Adam Driver is intimidating as the Darth Vaderesque, Kylo Ren, until he removes his helmet.
The first thing you'll notice about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it's surprisingly funny. Despite impressive effects and its grand expanse of space and time, Star Wars has always had a slightly camp quality and Abrams uses this to find some laugh-out-loud funny moments. From inside jokes to blooding the next wave of stars, the sequel is very much in touch with its comic relief leveraging the laughs to make it a wholeheartedly entertaining experience.
While the story is captivating, it's an incredible balancing act of old and new, giving the new bloods enough time to ramp up with the old guard getting their place in the Sun. The Force Awakens is a true sequel, borrowing aspects from the previous six films quite liberally, but uses these to smooth over 40 years of changes. The overall effect is good, landing in a similar territory to Ant-Man in terms of tone and entertainment value and The Hobbit in terms of placement and expectations. At times, it does feel like "haven't we seen all this before?" and "where's the challenge?", but you're so drawn into the Star Wars universe by the small details that the tide carries you along.
You've got to applaud Abrams for this tightrope balancing act, the filmic equivalent of Philip Petit. Everyone's watching his work, he's appeasing old and new fans, bridging two film-making monuments and performing the same death-defying act without flinching or adding too many new ingredients. The end result is spectacular, mesmerising, well-acted, immersive, reverent and nostalgic. It isn't as emotionally resonant or mind-blowing as you'd like, may be a little too safe and familiar, and you do feel the run time, but these criticisms aren't enough to dislodge J.J. Abrams or The Force Awakens from the lofty perch.
The bottom line: Entertaining
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