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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

December 25, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Actors: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford

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Synopsis: Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on far-off desert planet, Jakku, comes across a droid who possesses a map which could locate reclusive jedi, Luke Skywalker. The newly ascendant imperial ‘First Order’ attempt to track down the droid as a means of eliminating Luke and quelling the ‘Resistance’, but Rey and defecting stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega), avoid their attacks, helped by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and some of the ‘old gang’….

Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is the unquestionable zenith of today’s age of homogenised, ‘fanboy’ blockbuster cinema, where the children of “Generation X” (the late Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties) are now “the movers and shakers”, the prime creators and consumers of today’s popular culture. It’s a multi-faceted paradigm really: for every bastardised concept like the cynical trotting out of three new Spider-Man re-brands in a dozen years, the idea of a Batman vs Superman movie, and Sam Mendes’ middlebrow GQ-ification of James Bond, there are some genuinely bright minds out there like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams – crafting highly reverential and literate odes, not only to all these various superhero and fantasy mythologies, but to the phenomena of those mythologies. Having been privy to Abram’s own, generally commendable re-calibration of the Star Trek universe, I even opined that he’d be a decent option for any retreading of the Star Wars universe, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much when the only thing stopping me falling ‘head over heels’ with this otherwise admirable entrant to the series is that it’s just a little too sanitised, a little too guilty of packing and project-managing a ‘product’ to within an inch of its life.

Still, that very ‘management by committee’ has led to a lot of sage, sensible decisions in The Force Awakens’ execution which make it a significant step-up from George Lucas’s execrable Prequel trilogy. First, Abrams and co have assimilated the lesson that CGI and technology in its own right is no guarantor of a richer fantasy world, and that one only need reference the low-fi delights of Star Wars itself, to see that the key to a successful fictional realm is not in the abstract, but by making it ever more real and concrete: hence creating worlds of tangible geographies (ice planets, deserts, forests, lakes), and in trying where possible to make the different creatures actual ‘real’ entities rather than the “Ja Ja Binks” effect made risible in The Phantom Menace when Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are so blatantly talking to a blue screen because their eye-lines with Binks are a good foot out! All this makes it slightly puzzling why Abrams has gone for the grand villain of the whole shabang, Supreme Leader Snoke, as an absolutely crap piece of motion capture technology that looks like a really hammy and inflated version of Voldemort or a ropey monster from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The rest of the action passes along enjoyably enough. Making the film in essence a revamping of the A New Hope (and even to a lesser extent The Phantom Menace) territory of callow hero from an unlikely backwater being thrust into the middle of an epic galactic struggle is sensible enough, and having the presence and dramatic lineage of three characters the Prequel Trilogy wasn’t afforded the luxury of accessing – Han, Leia and Luke – definitely adds gravitas and audience expectation to proceedings, plus helping condense the narrative pressure on the new, younger characters. My only final quibble is that Abrams seems to have gone ‘all guns blazing’ on this first episode, almost mining the whole franchise for its best bits (Han’s confrontation with Kylo Ren has a definite Luke-Vader Empire Strikes Back staging and feel about it, and Rey seems to have been thrust suspiciously quickly into hallowed Jedi territory – something Luke only ascended to toward the end of The Empire Strikes Back). One only hopes there won’t be ‘the law of diminishing returns’ about the next two episodes. Still, Abrams ends it all on a polished enough sweep as Rey appropriately tracks down her mythic mentor on some epic expanse of coastline, and the film has certainly succeeded in its calibrated bent to hook the viewer in for future instalments. (December 2015)

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