Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)

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WARNING: POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

After nearly a decade, the Star Wars franchise blasts back on to the big screen in J.J. Abrams‘ long-awaited episode seven.

The film is set some thirty years after the death of the Emperor and follows the search for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has gone into self-imposed exile after the failure of his attempt to resurrect the Jedi Order at the hands of his apprentice, now named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who was seduced to the Dark Side of the Force by Snoke (Andy Serkis), the Supreme Leader of the First Order that arose in the aftermath of the galactic civil war and is attempting to restore the Galactic Empire. With the Senate of the New Republic refusing to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has gone back underground and is the General in command of the resistance within the First Order’s territory and is supported in a deniable fashion by some elements of the New Republic. To some viewers dismay, the original trilogy cast are secondary to the plot and this is very much a ‘passing of the torch’ film, with the new characters taking centre stage as it focuses on Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega), a defecting Stormtrooper, who meet on Jakku after Finn helps resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape from the Star Destroyer he was being held prisoner on, and how they all are swept up in the search for the last Jedi.

As with all Star Wars films, the effects are stunning and the action fast passed and thrilling, but my prejudices against Abrams’ story telling abilities remain very much intact as the plot is a rehash of episode four with Lawrence Kasdan‘s writing efforts seemingly limited to ensuring the original trilogy characters remain true to form. Of the original trilogy characters, it is Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who drives a lot of the action forward as we learn that Kylo Ren is, in fact, his and Leia’s estranged son, Ben Solo. Because the plot is a reworking of episode four, we could see very early on that Solo was the Obi-Wan figure and that he would meet his end at the hands of Kylo Ren in the same way that Obi-Wan died at the hands of Darth Vader. Even so, his death is a genuinely shocking moment as, even though we all saw it coming, it was still a surprise to see that the writers and studio had the nerve to kill off such a popular character.

There are a lot of plot holes and gaps in the storyline such as how Han lost the Millennium Falcon, how the First Order came about and why they’re not using clone Stormtroopers who are programmed for obedience, and who Snoke is and how he came to lead the First Order. I know that there is a trilogy of novels being written by Chuck Wendig to bridge the gap between episodes six and seven, but there’s no guarantee that all of the fans will read them which means the pressure is now on episode eight to deliver a lot of this back story. Having said all of that, the writing is very well done with well-rounded and likeable characters, good action set pieces and an excellent lead in to episode eight in 2017.

One of my biggest gripes with the writing is that it was stressed that this would be a new storyline for the Star Wars universe and that it would not have anything to do with the story lines in the extended universe novels, and yet it certainly borrows from both the Heir to the Empire and Fate of the Jedi series so much so that I have to wonder why they didn’t just film those books. Even with all of the above mentioned flaws I’d still recommend going to see it, but, for me, this was a six out of ten movie that just about escapes being a ‘meh’ moment.

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