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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 16, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Force Awakens PosterI would like to start my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh instalment in the classic space opera that arrives after years of almost insanely high anticipation, by saying that the film is a lot of fun.  And that’s exactly what I was expecting.  Fun.

No, Episode 7 is not a life changing experience like some hardcore fans will inevitably expect, but it provides solid and thoroughly satisfying blockbuster entertainment, while paying tribute to the original trilogy in a lot of really genuine ways.  I enjoyed it, and I think that’s enough to make it an almost unqualified success.

And don’t worry about spoilers, because I’ve already been sworn to secrecy, and wouldn’t think of revealing too much.  What I can safely say is that this new adventure takes place about thirty years after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.  The Jedi Knights have all but disappeared, and the Force has essentially become a myth, allowing a new dictatorship to take hold in the form of fanatical Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, an army of stormtroopers who consider themselves disciples of Darth Vader.

To help protect the galaxy, a search has been put in place by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has gone missing.  The heroes on this journey are Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a pilot and resistance fighter whose companion is an adorable little ball droid named BB-8, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a junkyard scavenger on Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega), a reformed stormtrooper who has abandoned the Dark Side.  Without saying how or when they enter into the story, it also feels good to revisit old friends like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his lovable wookie co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), as well as everyone’s favourite droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2.

Daisy Ridley does a strong job of carrying the film, proving herself as a capable action star, and Adam Driver seems to be relishing every moment of being evil.  John Boyega is also quite solid, bringing a likeable presence to a somewhat underdeveloped character, and Oscar Isaac is excellent in his few brief scenes, even if he seems underused for an actor of his caliber.  Harrison Ford does exactly what we want him to in reprising the role that made him a star, spouting quips like the best of them and also revealing heart beneath his gruff exterior.  It’s just great to see him back in character.

Director J.J. Abrams not only proves himself as a fine choice to bring this new saga to the big screen, but also shows that he is clearly a fan of the material.  The set pieces are all spectacularly pulled off, using modern special effects that really pop, while still retaining a charming old school feel.  The production design offers a nice sense of scope, and there is a lot of eye candy throughout.  It’s also worth seeing in theatres just to hear the classic music of John Williams blaring all around us, and once the lightsaber battles start up, it’s hard not to be in awe of the glowing blades and feel like a kid all over again.  There are enough moments like this to make the film quite successful at what it sets out to do.

But for all it gets right, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a perfect film.  The narrative often feels derivative of the original saga, which makes it easy to see where the story is going once the numerous twists and familial relations start to be revealed.  At times it seems more like a a greatest hits of the series, relying a little too heavily on familiar elements and story beats to stand entirely on its own.  It’s not that these things don’t work or aren’t done well here, because they often are, just that the film doesn’t really break any new ground.  It’s more of a nostalgia kick, and it works perfectly fine as that.

So where does this latest chapter stand alongside the rest of the series?  Well, fans will be pleased to know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is better than the prequels, which understandably left many audiences feeling jilted, even if it still ranks a notch below the beloved original trilogy.  But even though this seventh instalment can’t quite match the iconic stature of the first three films, which will always hold a special place in my heart no matter what, it still feels very much in tune with the tone and feel of them, from the costumes and practical effects to the moments of humour.  And that’s a good thing.

It’s all familiar, from the opening scroll that stretches out into the stars to the cantina scene filled with a multitude of different alien creatures, but there’s also something comforting about this familiarity.  This is what we want from a Star Wars movie.  And with series creator George Lucas essentially shut out of the creative process, and Disney now owning the keys to the franchise, it’s heartening that Star Wars: The Force Awakens manages to capture enough of the original’s magic to keep the story going forward.

It’s breezy, light on its feet, and incredibly entertaining throughout the surprisingly brisk 135 minute running time.  This is a movie for fans who want to revisit some of the best elements of the original trilogy through a story involving old and new characters, while washing away the bad taste left behind by the prequels.  Go expecting something fun, and leave having been thoroughly entertained, with hopes that the eighth instalment will take this new trilogy in even deeper directions.  Things are off to a good start for this branch of the Star Wars saga, and will hopefully only go up from here.

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