Friday, 18 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along the help of the Resistance.

Has any film ever promised so much by giving away so little? Ever since we got our first look at The Force Awakens over a year ago, the secrecy surroundings its plot only served to increase our expectations even more. This film is the 7th chapter but also the first film in what's now being called the "sequel trilogy"; which means that The Force Awakens picks up years after Return of the Jedi (1983), the third release. This series grew quickly into a phenomenon, most crucially a sensibility that is now rooted in the human being. Star Wars has gone beyond the sci-fi genre, to its own kind of intergalactic almost-Arthurian quest and romance. J.J. Abrams may not have the powers of God nor the scale of an Empire builder like George Lucas but he turns out to be what the franchise needs: a "Star Wars" fanboy and a pop culture genius. It seems fitting that this new instalment is directed by one of our own that has this desire to transport the viewers - to return us to a wondrous, childlike state of moviegoing innocence. You can see why Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to hide their spoilers, it's very interesting and pretty fun discovering the character played by Lupita Nyong'o or learning some of Han and Leia's family secrets, which I will not reveal here. 

This movie serves its function, which is to transition from one universe to another along with these younger characters. Appealing women and men whose victories, scars, goofiness and decency reminds you that a pop mythology like Star Wars needs more than odds to sustain it. The Force Awakens is modern, diverse and female-empowered that its predecessor. While there's an undeniable pleasure in the return of actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher - particularly Ford, whose return to Han Solo is fully present and committed; the new characters truly stand out as intriguing additions to the adventure. 

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are worth the ticket price alone. You'd assume they'd starred together in a trilogy before. I can't speak highly enough of their dramatic and even comic ranges. Most importantly Daisy Ridley is not a sexual object for nerd to fantaisies about. Gone are the days of golden bikinis boys! She's a thinker, a doer and a strong-willed rebel fighter also able to rewire devices on any spaceship: a terrifically capable character who addresses some of the gender imbalance that has long been an issue in Star Wars. Her presence is exactly what the part calls for. She emerges as the star of the show particularly when she dodges all attempt to confine her character to the role of damsel in distress. Rey's character development matches the film's rapid pace, almost as if Abrams and screenwriters couldn't wait for her to reach her full potential. 

Poe Dameron starring Oscar Isaac nails the goofy and irreverent tone of the series. An outstanding pilot and charming soldier, this is the sort of character Anakin should have been before his fall to the Dark Side in the prequels. Plus, Kylo Ren is set to be a villain that could rival Vader himself with a lofty presence, booming voice, fits of anger and this red lightsaber everyone has been talking about; but he never reaches the enigmatic statues of Vader's early appearances, he has nonetheless the potential to become a lasting icon of villainy in his own right. However, the less said about his villainous cohorts the better: Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux seems neither frightening nor useful while Andy Serkis' large CGI Supreme Leader Snoke feels more like a throwback to those forgettable prequels than anything. On the plus side Abrams' Stormtroopers have a bit more smarts to them than we've previously seen. 

When Han Solo and Chewie come on, I had a feeling in the cinema I haven't had for a long time: not knowing whether to burst into tears or into applause. Harrison Ford really looks like he had a blast, he's just a guy having fun on the set of a Star Wars movie. An all together splendid Harrison Ford who, unlike original co-stars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, has a full fledged, roaring leading role rather than a cameo. He has been here before and his 'It's all true" speech featured in the trailer, is a highlight of the movie. In fact, what is intriguing about this moment, though, is that it isn't just about the character or Abrams acknowledging the events of the first three movies: there's a deeper core for Han Solo here that justifies his return and makes for a more poignant reunion with Leia. This texture above all else is what J.J. Abrams repeatedly gets right in this film. 

J.J. Abrams hasn't made a film only for true believers, he has made a film for everyone (well, almost everyone); but as the Star Trek reboot, he figured out what generations of Star Wars fans want and gives it to them. The very first line of dialogue can be read as the perfect message for the old-school fans. In a film that consciously echoes the narrative shape of the original trilogy, they achieved to remain faithful to it in terms of light, colour tone, shadow use and truly epic design. The magic has been rediscovered, and it's at this movie's centre. Still, there's more than enough to make this movie feels like its own creature. Nevertheless in Abrams' hands there is a shift in tone that brings the material closer to the feel of Steven Spielberg film than George Lucas. 

Primary satisfactions of this sharply paced and lively blockbuster, is the obvious care that has gone into every aspect of the production: from the well-balanced screenplay and dominance of real sets and models over computer graphics to the casting, a limitation on self-reference and the thoroughly refreshed feel of John Williams' brilliant score. Indeed, the most crucial component of the movie's design is undoubtedly Williams' still-enveloping score, from that thrilling trumpet-like first blast over the opening text scroll, to the majestic flurries of feeling the music generates as it accompanies the characters on their journey. If I was forced to go negative on this film, I would probably say that it had one or two many set pieces taking up time that could be used for exploration of the characters inner life. But the flaws don't really matter because this film has such a tremendous heart - and also threatens to break yours several times over. It's still just a movie. But it's a fabulously entertaining and beautifully crafted movie though. One that nods to the past but stakes a big claim to the future. They actually get the balance right between light and dark, comedy and drama, CGI and practical effects and obviously the old guards and the new. For impressive stretches J.J. Abrams achieves the action-packed alternating between stately landscape compositions and insane camera movements as the situation requires: a series of beautifully evocative images on iconic moments from the saga yet adding style and new substance. 

Especially this exultant and thrilling ride in the Millennium Falcon; This aerial display plays like the natural evolution of George Lucas' ambitions that drove him to innovate in the original Star Wars. the sequence is a high point, not just in this film but in the series and cinema history in general. The pace remains fast without ever being overly frantic. Plus, Abrams doesn't mind quoting old movies as Harrison Ford runs toward the camera with a massive round monster bearing down him, Indiana Jones style. The Force Awakens doesn't take itself too seriously! Don't get me wrong, there are many "serious" moments, it just threads that one liner like a Star Wars movie should. Lastly, The Force Awakens takes off with a battle and closes on a meaningful moment of quiet. The very ending which was filmed on the extraordinary Skelling Michael off the western coast of Ireland is wonderful and sets things up perfectly for the next instalment.

Overall, Abrams created a contemporary blockbuster which also feels timeless. More importantly The Force Awakens is a beautiful way to restart the franchise and set up the next two episodes. We are left with a head full of mysteries and a heart full of feels. Star Wars is back and this is just the beginning. 

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