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)
Star Wars has been a worldwide phenomenon for almost 40 years now. From that moment in 1977, when those two spaceships engaged in battle appeared on the screens of cinemas, the story has inspired, thrilled, and touched a great number of dedicated fans, with new ones emerging even on present day. The original trilogy became part of cinematic history by its groundbreaking special effects, its engaging and well loved characters, its familiar, and yet original concept and, of course, the masterful music of John Williams.
16 years later, the first film of the so called prequel trilogy was released to the world. The events depicted in those films predated the events of the original trilogy, in an attempt to deepen the lore of the Star Wars universe by exploring the life and origins of Darth Vader, unquestionably one of the most iconic villains in the history of films. The films went well at the box office, but reception by both fans and critics was mixed, mostly due to the excessive use of CGI, poor story decisions, and George Lucas' dominant role in the creative process: He directed and wrote all three films by himself, and proved that a great storyteller isn't necessarily a great screenwriter. After the prequels, the expectations of the fans regarding a sequel trilogy, depicting events taking place after the original films, weren't that high anymore. In a way, the magic was gone, and that 'feeling' that fans of epic stories seem to experience when the spectacle before their eyes meet their expectations just wasn't there anymore.
"Do or Do Not. There is no Try."
From personal experience, I can assure that the feeling is back. The Force Awakens is the long awaited 7th part of the Star Wars sage, and the beginning of a new trilogy. Taking place approximately 30 years after the Return of the Jedi, the film brings back beloved characters, introduces us to new ones, and does it in such a clever, entertaining and moving manner that its position among the franchise's greatest accomplishments is probably already established.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan (who penned the saga's arguably best film to date, The Empire Strikes Back, as well as The Return of the Jedi), Michael Arndt and J.J. Abrams, and directed by the latter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fresh story with a very familiar structure: Without going into details, the film bears many similarities to A New Hope, while at the same time it manages to stand out as something new. The well written script and the beautiful direction are used as means to convince us that old and new can be blended into a powerful hybrid. It is a blend which can move the old fans by messing with their nostalgia, by paying tributes to the original trilogy, and by feeding them with new information to get excited about, while at the same time it can provide the needed thrills, spectacle, character development and smart storytelling to get potential new fans hooked.
There is a very thin line between paying homage to a predecessor and plagiarizing, but fortunately, the Force Awakens passes the test: It can be compared to a new building which has a familiar but nonetheless timeless design, solid and indestructible foundations that ensured it will not crumble, and is also beautiful to look at. The charismatic leads of the film, along with old characters we know and love, contribute a lot to that success of that design. They give life to the story, and convince us that it's worth waiting for more to come. The new parts are all portrayed very convincingly by young and promising actors and actresses, with two of them standing out: Daisy Ridley's portrayal of Rey, and Adam Driver's performance of Kylo Ren prove that hero and villain archetypes can be modified in order to meet modern standards. Driver's character specifically is a brilliant, exaggerated take to the conflict that exists in all of us: Instead of being painted in black, his psyche is grey, making him much more interesting than the average generic bad guy. He is a three dimensional character who, like Rey, is still evolving, creating space for many future possibilities. John Boyega's Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron also add freshness and enrich the story, and the familiar faces of the original trilogy will satisfy the new viewers, and potentially bring tears to the eyes of the more sensitive 'veterans' of the franchise.
"It's True. All of it."
Another contributing factor to the film's inevitable success is the return to practical effects. The locations are real, there are sets instead of green screens, and the creatures and costumes are just gorgeous to look at. From the cute droid BB-8 (who plays a major part in the story), to the random background creatures, like an unknown species of bird knocking its beak on metal, or an alien creature waiting in queue to get his meal while carrying a cage on his back, everything and everyone look convincing, organic, and they also provide a connection to the first three films, which also relied on more practical means to build their universe, albeit for different reasons. The CGI in the film, even when not used subtly, never gives the feeling of watching something lifeless or unconvincing.
The score of the film, while not reaching the heights of A New Hope, or The Empire Strikes Back, manages to blend in with the scenes and enhance them. John Williams hasn't lost his touch, and perhaps his new ideas will evolve along with the events and the characters that they accompany.
The film is not without its faults, though, but fortunately they are very few. Some lines, taken from the original films, were obviously used for fan service and the inducement of nostalgia. Many times that strategy succeeded, but there were occurrences where the lines fell flat. Also, there were one or two characters who could have been more developed, or have a little bit more screen-time, but at least we have two more episodes to wait for, and so there is still time for them to shine.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very well made, clever and fluent film, which (along with the rest of its merits) accomplishes two important things: It completely overshadows the prequel films, and it brings back the 'feeling'. The thrill of watching something that will stay with you for the rest of your life, and will grow with time. The Star Wars universe has expanded once more, and this time it felt natural, and it felt right.
The Dark Side. The Jedi. They are real. And they are not going away any time soon.