Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After the so-so Spectre and the dismal Mockingjay: Part 2, I am happy to reflect on a film that exceeds expectations! Of course everyone was wondering how faithful to the heritage of what has gone before this film would be - whilst still developing the Star Wars universe, the story and the characters. J J Abrams accomplishes the task with ease and panache. At 135 minutes long I didn't feel any point was slow or that it dragged. Yes, aspects of the plot and the devices were predictable and repeats of scenes from the first six movies - but that is precisely what gives it continuity and a sense of connectedness to the original George Lucas (Episodes IV, V and VI) films from 40 years ago. If we didn't have TIE Fighters and X-Wings, Light Sabres, Jedi, good people and bad people, it simply wouldn't be Star Wars!

Without giving anything away of the story, what worked particularly well for me was how the original characters were interwoven with the situation 30 years on and how new, younger characters were introduced to set up a run of films that can see them grow and develop as they attempt to once-and-for-all defeat the Dark Side. Carrie Fisher as General Organa, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker all reprise roles they last played in 1983 - and it seemed to me that their length of time on screen was directly related to their acting ability. It was good to see them again - changed, yet the same.

There are subtle visual updates, new planets to enjoy, great new animatronics and the predictable CGI which every now and again stands out as not being organic to the scene. It is great that this film was made in the UK and wonderful to see extensive use of the Forest of Dean and the former US cruise missile airbase at Greenham Common near where we used to live. Derwentwater in the Lake District and Skellig Rocks in Ireland also made a welcome appearance. Add in the deserts of Abu Dhabi and New Mexico and the frozen wastes of Iceland and you get a wide range of vivid, contrasting and engaging landscapes.

The central core of the story is good versus evil - no surprises there. Who will be the saviour figure this time who will redeem not only the good but challenge the bad to come over to the light side? What is wonderfully surprising is the creation of a new kind of droid - BB8 - that is so human in its bleeps, expressions and movements it makes you feel like you want to take it home as a pet.

Episode VII of the saga was never going to break any astonishing new ground in terms of how we understand the basic premise of the Star Wars plot or universe. It could so easily have become bogged down in trying to be everything to all people whereas instead it simply moves the story along a notch in an engaging, action-packed and believable way. New characters and worlds are introduced in a sympathetic way. Whilst the Dark Side seemingly no longer possess the menace of Darth Vader, it does possess sufficient menace to keep the good guys busy. Believe the hype - Star Wars is back. Go and see it! I'll give it 9/10.

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