On Star Wars

Screenshot_2015-12-18-01-49-47-1.pngI haven’t written a film review before, so forgive me if it’s a pile of tat, but I saw the new Star Wars film (The Force Awakens) tonight, and felt inspired to do so.

First – let me assure you I have attempted to include no spoilers in this review.

I don’t go to the cinema as often as I’d like, and I am not generous with my praise.  As far as iconic franchises go, I admit that Star Wars is quite a long way down my top 10.

I feel far more anticipation before a new Bond film than I did tonight, but I do understand how excited fans were to see this, given the long wait and, I would suggest, the disappointment of the 3 prequels.

As such, I went tonight with moderate expectations. I hoped I would enjoy the film, but I didn’t have much emotional capital invested in the way I did, for example, when the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out (and blew me away).

Disney pulled off a masterstroke by handing the directorial reins to J.J. Abrams. There are few who can match his record of producing hits in such a wide range of genres with all the elements that Star Wars demanded.

His back catalogue includes Lost, Fringe (think the X Files, but taking itself much less seriously), and Gone Fishin’, which show that he can do drama with a touch of charm and humour; while Armageddon (OK – it was cheesy), Cloverfield and Mission Impossible III demonstrate that big action spectaculars pose no problem.

Perhaps the deciding factor with Disney, however, was the way in which he handled the re-launch of that other much-loved intergalactic space opera, Star Trek, in 2009.

That had many of the same issues that this film had.  Trekkies are no less obsessive and demanding than their counterparts who adore Star Wars and there would have been massive pressure to produce an update without losing the charm and character of the original.

And now I have seen both films, it is impossible to escape the parallels between Abrams’ Star Trek and The Force Awakens.

Both show huge respect to the original visions.  He did not dare to tinker, for example with the iconic ships in either franchise.  The Enterprise still looked just like the ship piloted by William Shatner and, despite the opportunity for upgrading offered by the 30-year plot gap, the Millennium Falcon is exactly the same ship that helped destroy the second Death Star.

Both films work in some of the characters and actors from the originals too, and do so without over-sugariness.  A particularly nice touch is that even though advances in technology mean it is no longer necessary to have an actor operate droids, Kenny Baker – the actor who sat inside R2D2 in the original trilogy – was employed as “R2D2 Consultant” for this re-boot.

Plot-wise, Abrams was far less restricted here than he was with Star Trek as in that case, he was dealing with a prequel that explained how Kirk, Spock, Scotty etc came together.  With Star Wars VII, he had far more freedom to devise a fresh, original story.

Without giving too much away, however, he didn’t stray too far from the familiar with The Force Awakens.  In fact, the film has been criticised for being rather too derivative.  There are plot twists and surprises, but it can’t be denied that the story follows the same general direction as (at least) one of the 6 which preceeded it (I won’t say which).

What is definitely an improvement for me is that the acting, in particular by the two new heroes Rey and Finn, played with some aplomb by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, is streets ahead of anything offered in episodes I to VI.

Their emotions are believable, and their characters develop smoothly and consistently, whereas I always felt that Annikin, Luke, Leia et al were rather one-dimensional and forced to change to enable the plot, which is surely the wrong way around.

When even actors of the calibre of Ewan McGregor and Alec Guiness can only combine to produce the wooden, priggish killjoy that was Obi Wan Kenobi, the joy and energy shown by Ridley, Boyega and the supporting cast, most especially Lupita Nyong’o (as Maz) and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), is nothing but a breath of fresh air.

Harrison Ford looks to have had a whale of a time reacquainting himself with the Star Wars galaxy, despite breaking his foot in the filming, and there were several laugh-out-loud moments – some involving Han Solo and Chewbacca (as you’d expect) but also from major and minor characters alike.

Even C3PO – who to me was the Jar Jar Binks of the original trilogy (i.e. the “comic relief” character who turned out to be simply annoying) – was actually  funny!

The big disappointments for me were, Hux aside, the baddies of the First Order (which seems indistinguishable from the Empire led by Darths Sidious and Vader), most especially the much-trumpeted “first female baddie”, Captain Phasma, who was pretty much a spare wheel.

Too much was revealed too soon about Kylo Ren, the Darth Vader fetishist with the very cool firy light sabre, and not enough about the new (very) Big Baddie, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Sirkis).  However, we are promised two more films, so I am sure Snoke will come into his own before too long.

Despite those shortcomings, and the derivative plot, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and may well take the unprecedented step (well, at least since E.T.) of returning to see it again!

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

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