Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Modern Version of What Fans Have Always Loved

SWTFA-IMDBSet to break every box office record that has ever existed in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams’ contribution to the Star Wars universe appears to be a gamble that has paid off in spades. An often stunning, fun, and deeply exhilarating film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is likely as good as it gets in Star Wars, delivering much of the power of the original in a modern, yet somehow nostalgic, incarnation.

Premise: Thirty years after the defeat of the Empire, The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy. With the help of the Resistance, only a reluctant and unexpected group of heroes can stop them. Result: The Star Wars film we have been looking for.

Harnessing the power fanboys everywhere (their hopes, their fears, their terrifyingly obsessive attention to detail), Abrams has created a Star Wars film that is as close to the original in look, feel and result as the original. It is quirky and yet sophisticated, combining action and comedy with the grandeur of a galactic storyline much as the originals did.

Episode VII avoids the pitfalls of Episode I-III, where modern techniques and technology all but swallowed the power of the originals, smothering the story beneath layer after layer of unwanted CGI and hackneyed story/dialogue.

Instead, Episode VII has a completely modern delivery that is much closer to the impact of Episodes IV-VI, using state-of-the-art technology sparingly, or disguising it in results that feel enhanced but somehow also reminiscent. Future and beloved memory unite in one elegant dance, preserving the majesty of the original while somehow enhancing it.

And all this while delivering a wonderful cast of characters both old – Han Solo (Harrison Ford), “General” Leia (Carrie Fisher) and even C3PO- and new – Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) all of whom blend together magnificently.

SWTFA-AlphacodersOf course, as a film, there are still reasons to be reproachful, even if these are more nits than standard criticism. First, audiences not quite as familiar with the Episodes may find themselves experiencing quite the unanticipated déjà vu, as Episode VII has our protagonists scrambling to prevent a Death-Star-like monstrosity from destroying them all in one, horrific swoop: why the rest of the Universe just lets this be built is incomprehensible. Although, this very fact serves as the metaphor for the film itself – a more modern, bigger, more terrifying version of its former self and yet still maintaining the feel of the original.

This is further evident in the neglect of certain parts of the film. The Republic’s almost cameo introduction feels more like twenty minutes better edited or spent elsewhere. All the while, there is hardly any explanation for a First Order-Resistance rise again. It’s the exact same thing; who doesn’t anyone notice this?

Second, some of the antics on screen come off as trying too hard. The lines and generally flimsy plot are often overlooked due to the nostalgia factor in the originals – it was a painful fact that did not escape scrutiny in I-III, films that had all the cheese and none of the gravitas. Thankfully, this film avoids that pitfall with power of its own (as already explained), and so avoids much of the disaster, although some characters (namely Finn), take a bit of time to come to boil.

There is not so much acting in this film, as in all the Episodes, as there is performance. Ford is wonderful again; reprising his role as an old dog finding his long-lost master is endearing, while also illustrating a cinematic reality: some people are born to play certain roles. Fischer is either restrained or quite literally sedated. Appearing more as a wardrobe with a head perched solemnly atop than a genuine person, she skulks from scene to scene with all the energy of last week’s lasagna. And yet, it is impossible to desire anyone else.

Boyega, for his part, harnesses both comic relief and urgency as long lost friends come home for stories of old times – initial trepidation breaks way to unfettered connection. Isaac, again, is wonderful, even if this role required far less of him than he is capable of delivering.

BB8-gamespotThe real breakouts, however, (other than a wonderfully emotive BB-8), are Ridley, Driver, and Gleeson. Ridley is wonderful from start to finish; star quality hovering on screen, she delivers the emotional complexity as well as the required action of the role with aplomb.

Driver, as one of our story’s villains, is surprisingly good in this role, a Darth Vader-lite horror. Surprising not because he somehow overcomes a previous dearth of skill, but because he is able to harness it for a role that is unusual for him; this departure, instead of being a casting catastrophe, pays off handsomely as he delivers.

Gleeson, while also departing from his typical role, is far from a surprise. His Hux is terrifying and complex, and his rivalry with Kylo Ren believable. For the first time perhaps, the non-Sith leadership of The Dark Side has a voice worth listening to.

In the end, Episode VII is a triumph. It is exciting and fresh while being respectful and reverent. And it is the sign of a great film that it leaves its audiences titillated for what’s next.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

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