Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens (thirteenth-pass)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (thirteenth-pass / 2D)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. J.J. Abrams / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

This is a busy time to be a Star Wars fan. There's so much new content being released at the moment that it's east to forget the impact that Episode VII had in 2015. Back in the day (engage OLD MAN MODE) there was a three-year gap between movies, but here we are on the eve of the fifth cinematic entry in four years, halfway through the second season of Resistance and the first of The Mandalorian on the small screen. So the chance to revisit a Star Wars in its natural environment - the cinema - is one to be grasped with both hands.


The Force Awakens holds up well as a very fresh-faced reintroduction for civilian audiences who hadn't been in the Galaxy Far, Far Away for a decade (or potentially longer). The film is more 'gee-whiz', closer to the Original Trilogy outlook that Lucasfilm were trying to channel for those viewers left unimpressed by The Adventures Of Young Anakin. But even for the seasoned Star Wars fan, TFA was an early sign that they're in familiar territory and that there'll be few unpleasant surprises in store now the franchise is in new hands.

The visual effects, cinematography and lighting are closer to the filmmaking of the Prequel Trilogy*1, with the sound design and score evoking its 1970s/80s predecessors. By JJ's own admission, the film is about recycling the Original Trilogy, either structurally, thematically or just repurposing hardware from the galactic civil war. whether that's redesigning the white armour of the Stormtroopers or converting a felled AT-AT into a scavenger's home, TFA is about skewing nostalgia. Just... not too much. Not yet.


But for fans old and new, there's no doubt that the events they're watching are taking place in the Star Wars universe they know, because the creators, cast and crew have such reverence for the source material that they can't help throw their all into making it work.

And yet there are also things we see for the first time, here; TIE Fighters and X-Wings plunging into combat in a planetary atmosphere, a hologram which doesn't seem to emit its own light, blocks out light behind it and even creates shadows as a result. There are also a few neat little twists to stop things becoming too predictable (because when we saw the first trailer's glimpse of the Falcon-chase through the desert, who among us imagined that it wouldn't be Han and Chewie at the controls?).


Not only does TFA expand on the cinematic universe beyond Return Of The Jed, it also primes the fandom for new tales on new planets (no matter how familiar they may appear, all of the locations in this movie were new in 2015), essential for managing assumptions with Lucasfilm's projects to follow.

As much as it's difficult not to love The Force Awakens, it's a very safe movie. Designed to reassure the casual cinemagoer that all is right (that's the first line of dialogue, for crying out loud), to shepherd them back into the fold with nostalgia for the classic movies they love, while bringing the aesthetics up-to-date. Disney's plan here was not to take risks. Because as we're about to learn, the last thing people want from their Star Wars is risk*2...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Warses.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you can, yes.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Going to assume you've already got this by now but yes.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, to be fair.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Only if you're wrong, obvs.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: This is Star Wars.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 No matter how much the publicity material delighted in banging on about 'the old ways'. JJ Abrams has gone on record to say that for one shot in the Falcon, they lengthened Harrison Ford's hair with CGI due to scheduling discrepancies. Yes, you read that right. [ BACK ]

*2 Which is bad news for Hasbro in that regard. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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