Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a film review by John Rivers).

January 2, 2016 | By | Reply More

After some three years of waiting, speculation and rumour ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ finally arrives on cinema screens. Created at a cost of $200m and reuniting Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill alongside a new cast of characters, the film had a lot to prove. This is simply the biggest franchise re-launch of all time and, at the time of writing, the film has generated some $1.3bn dollars of revenue. This is already a quarter of what Disney paid for the acquisition of Lucasfilm.

Also worth remembering that $37m of that production budget comes from the UK taxpayer. George Osborne negotiated a deal with Disney to bring the production to the UK and invested in the film. As such ‘The Force Awakens’ is actually considered both a British and American film. Tax incentives aside, ten years of creating the ‘Harry Potter’ movies has made the UK a now highly viable production centre.

I would argue that you can see the money on screen. Not only is Han Solo the key returning character for the movie, justifying the $10m-20m Ford allegedly received for the movie but the film also contains seamless CGI and model work. This was the movie that director JJ Abrams promised would utilise more practical effects, distancing itself from the prequels and consciously trying to make a return to the techniques and values of late seventies and early eighties. For the most part this true, with the exception perhaps of some tentacled nightmares that Han and Chewie are trafficking looking like something that was largely computer-generated.

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Another thing the film has distanced itself from was the swathes of explanatory dialogue that were found in the prequels. ‘The Force Awakens’ is lean and quick-paced. ‘Faster, more intense’, as George Lucas might have said. As such it feels a lot like ‘A New Hope’ regardless of the similarities in story beats, macguffins and super-weapons. This simplicity is a key advantage for bringing onboard new audiences, my seven year-old nephew loved every minute of it.

Helping matters enormously are three stand-out performances from newcomers to the saga. Daisy Ridley as Rey conveys confidence, pragmatism, immense sadness and anger all wonderfully. John Boyega as Finn is brilliant as a man on the run, but has a revelation that makes him want to do the ‘right thing’. Both of these actors jump off the screen and sparkle with just as much charisma as Ford and Fisher did. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the First Order’s Dark Side enforcer, broods, bullies and agonises over his choices and desires. His voice, expertly controlled from behind a mask, itself a fetishised tribute to Darth Vader, is threatening and frightening. In the second half of the movie, these three actors shine.

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By contrast, the first half of the movie is almost single-handedly stolen by BB8, the best example of the ‘practical effects’ push. He’s cuter than R2D2 without being soppy. The fact that I can talk about a remote control robot in these terms shows you the personality that they’ve managed to convey. Put simply he’s a joy to watch on screen.

Other great actors aren’t as well utilised. Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, Andy Serkis and Gwendoline Christie all get limited screen time, hopefully we will get more from these actors in later movies, there’s nothing wrong with their performances apart from perhaps Gleeson, who is a little weak.

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Ultimately, ‘The Force Awakens’ throws up a lot of questions, all of which will be debated for the months to come before May 2017 and ‘Episode VIII’, but for now it’s worth luxuriating in the film’s epic visuals, thrilling chase scenes and majestic score. ‘Star Wars’ is back and it’s the best thing it could be: very entertaining and lots of fun.

John Rivers

02 January 2015

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Category: Films, Scifi, Star Wars

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