Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Review

director: J.J. Abrams

writers: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt

starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver

genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy

released: December 16, 2015 (Australia & U.S.A.), December 17, 2015 (Germany & Greece)

We all believed that as long as George Lucas was alive, we wouldn't have the chance to relive the joy of old, to see something new come out of it or just to have the man not be involved with anything "Star Wars" related ever again. Some of our wishes did finally come true and Lucas sold off the "Star Wars" property to Disney. Though, in Disney's first outing they have proved that they didn't really know what to do and decided to go back to basics. Beat for beat, plot for plot and journey for journey. Make of it what you will, "Star Wars is back", literally.

story:

Years after the infamous destruction of the second Death Star off the moon Endor. The battle between the rebellion and the remnants of the Empire continues. With the First Order continuing the fight against the Rebels and attempting find and finish off the last remaining Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

Also in the search for Luke is the resistance who comes across the crucial information to his whereabouts and are now kept hidden in a little BB-8 droid. Who with the assistance of two young hopeful rebel fighters Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Will prove a formidable force against the First Order brigade and their dark Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

thoughts:

"It's like poetry... they rhyme". This is something that George Lucas had said during the making of the "Phantom Menace". It was in regards to the repetitive themes the series had and would come later to have also. Which to a certain point made the series somewhat unique. On the other hand it made it feel that we have now reached that point where too many things feel the same, are the same and should be called as it is. Being pretty much a fresh coat of paint on a old paint job that still looked good the way it was.

Start of SPOILERS! 

Many of the elements and plot devices in this film are the exact ones we saw in the first produced "Star Wars" film "A New Hope" and even from some of the other Episodes in the series also. Such as the recycling of planet types to look exactly like the ones we had previously visited. Such as the ice planet, forest planet and especially desert planet where the first chapter always begins on and of which the lead character on it has nothing to live for and who deep down wants to escape to do something more in their life and will come to have a connection to the force.

Additionally, both Episode 4 and Episode 7 have a death of a main mentor character in order for their to be motivation to fight in the future chapters. Then there is the cute droid character that replaces the other old droids and who happens to have the same exact mission with R2-D2 in "A New Hope". Which is to hide secret plans/info concerning the location of something important and to deliver it to the rebels. We can then even go on to smaller details such as the main villain sounding and looking just like Darth Vader and having by his side a Grand Moff Tarkin number two villain. As well as the third act being once more about a planet destroying mass genocide weapon that has to be destroyed by the rebels in the third act (both Episode 4 & 6 did this). Also lets not forget one more Canteen scene to check off the list of similarities! Which leads us to an early conclusion that everyone should come to realize after the film. That they experienced a remake of sorts, where the story elements and progression of it is beat for beat as with the 4th Episode of the Saga. With only minor changes here and there so it doesn't seem too obvious. 

Paying attention to these insurmountable connections between the films of old and new. It must be said that it goes to show that they went to infinity and beyond to remind us on what made "Star Wars" initially great and not attempt in the slightest to take a chance themselves at making something entirely new of it. Instead just going back to basics. With the three hero characters setup, the fight being again about the dark side and the light and the tragedy of a fallen hero that might or might not find redemption by the end of the trilogy. These beats as good as they are have been done before and only make me afraid of the future chapters. Which makes me only believe that the next film will be pretty much the training of Rey by Luke in the same fashion that Luke was trained by Yoda in Episode 5. Its just that the similarities to parallels to similarities show it to be a lukewarm hush hush remake. Most likely great for the newer generation, but confusing and repetitive for us older folk. Proving that the Disney/Lucasfilm dream team didn't have any new ideas and they just recycled the old ones for fear of fan backlash.

In my opinion, worse than the film's repetitiveness. Is that their was no real small moments between the characters that were desperately needed. Sure they were a couple of heartwarming moments between Leia and Han and a couple of others I won't necessarily out right spoil. But there wasn't more of them that I thought were integral to falling in love with these characters in the same way we did with the first film. As the film shows minor moments of emotion or antagonism between the characters but never goes fully into it. Such as Kylo Ren and General Huxley battle for Supreme Leader Snoke influence and Ray and Finn's developing relationship needing some clear cut moments to flourish. Reason for this is the great amount of impressive momentum and speed which the film excels at, but that also gets in the way of the interactions between the characters. Which are plenty enough maybe to get to know them and understand what makes them tick, but not enough to justify their emotion and drive for each other at many points in the film.

Moreover, I have an issue with Leia's reaction to the destruction of what I think was Coruscant or to the new republic location as many are mentioning online. But whether it was a new Senate or old Senate location. It supposedly was meant to be in significance the political and financial center of the Republic. Therefore why doesn't anyone reference its destruction in the film? This might sound too political and not important to the characters stories. But I think this was one of the few things George Lucas got right with the prequels. Is that he touched upon the internal mechanics of the galaxy that the characters lived in. He may had gone too far off the deep end in this attempt. But a little explanation was needed to this event's significance, the possible future repercussions to the galaxy because of it and what is the First Order's end goal.

And even though the film wastes a whole lot of time attempting to be "A New Hope". It is a substantial step up on a technical level from the prequels. Not only in that the effects are wondrous and literally being some of the best shown this year. But with the choice of Abrams and the production to go with a more practical approach of filmmaking. While also creating moments of comedy and action that are a marvel to see and with acting that feels wholesome and dialogue that in contrast to the work of Lucas sound authentic.

This total change of pace and planning from Lucas crazy vision of a non set environment, where nothing needs to be present and everything can be done with digital cameras, green screen, digital characters and in post production is now long gone. The overall production has most fantastically went back to how it used to be done in many circumstances and not only for it to look how it once did, but also because it feels aesthetically richer and more authentic. As a highly crafted puppet will always look more real than a visual effect and well built sets will always look more real than a green screen background. It sounds like simplistic kind of logic that any filmmaker should follow, but this isn't always the case.

Furthermore, they also allowed for many great character traits to be kept in and for an incredible amount of action momentum to be retained throughout the film. There is really no moment where you will feel bored or out of touch with what is happening on screen and it is a fun ride. 

Also the reason I mention the small moments. Is because the prequels made the characters seem too full of themselves, wooden and unrealistic. Here Finn is over the top at times and it feels honest, Rey is emotional and funny with her interactions with Finn, especially with the hand holding incident and many more scenes that could be mentioned indicate this change in tone. Such as C-3PO popping out out nowhere and Po Dameron saying he cant understand Kylo Ren through the mask. Moments like these make the superficial events around them feel real and palpable. Something that was lost with the prequels. Another marvelous example is the kicking off the two young lead characters to the film. With the scenes of hard labor and hunger of Rey on Jakku and Finn experiencing first hand the murder of unarmed and helpless civilians at the hands of a Stormtrooper platoon.

Last thing worth mentioning is the cast and the choice to go with mainly unknown actors for the new big roles of the series and the playing against type. Such as casting minorities and not necessarily going for the pretty boys (Adam Driver). Bold moves that paid off in both respects. Because the talent and performances of Boyega, Ridley, Driver and Issac are all great and prove to be the kind of actors that these big tent-pole films require to succeed.

verdict:

Enjoying "A New Hope" version 2.0 isn't difficult as it has all the attributes of a successful blockbuster action film. It's compromised of some of the best professionals in the business and is vastly entertaining for all age groups. However, no serious and meticulous work went into it, to differentiate it enough from how the saga first started off and to attempt to put a new spin on it. As new ideas potentially did exist, but were too risky to utilize them and jeopardize a multi billion dollar franchise.

Personal Rating:

review by Paul Katsaros

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