Review: Star Wars – The Franchise Awakens

So… Star Wars. It’s back, and with a cosmic bang. The nostalgia strikes as soon as the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” emblazon the screen, and it never lets up. This is sometimes due to a slight over-reliance on callbacks to the original trilogy for subject matter: there are scenes which clearly draw inspiration straight from ones we’ve seen before in the original, be it a simple line of dialogue, or some disappointingly blatant copies of entire set pieces. Independently, these scenes are very enjoyable, yet when looked at in the context of the whole saga, they may have played it a bit too safe in serving fans the Star Wars they were looking for. Nevertheless, there’s plenty here to set fanboys and fangirls salivating.

Abrams and co. were burdened with the monumental task of continuing this beloved franchise, not only with a good film, but also one that both pays respect to what’s gone before and also feels new and fresh. This has been done with remarkable aplomb and really does marry those two agendas nicely. It’s somewhat darker in tone than previous instalments, but that darkness mirrors a new, even more fierce dark side, and pierces the film’s somewhat fuzzy, nostalgic feel. This really feels like it will play back into what the fans have been asking for, certainly moving away from what made the prequels as unpopular as they were, partly by bringing back the same beloved characters, ships, themes and more, but also injecting fresh new content that builds and evolves beyond that simple craving for nostalgia.

The acting is largely good, yet there will be quibbles about the lack of attention paid to minor characters. Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and Lupita Nyong’o are some of the highlights, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren offering a villain worthy of stepping into Vader’s considerable boots; Andy Serkis stands out with a fantastic motion-capture performance as the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke. The returning veterans, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, in particular provide some very respectable – if slightly less energetic – performances on par with those seen in the original trilogy, and with which fans will be very familiar. There are however some slightly disappointing areas, such as Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who is almost entirely absent, and Domhnall Gleeson as First Order General Hux, which in itself wasn’t a bad performance, but seemed a slightly odd casting choice for the character. The newcomers, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega provided some surprisingly proficient performances (being their first major feature film) even if there are areas of somewhat distracting overacting, but the progression of their acting mirrors the advancement of their characters, allowing them to seldom look out of place alongside their more established co-stars.

As expected from a blockbuster of this magnitude, the visual effects were stunning. There were some exceptional single take shots, with a visual highpoint being the sweeping, almost water-colour images of Starkiller Base and other planetary landscapes. The practical effects certainly weren’t to be outdone by the CGI, however. Many of the aliens seen throughout the film were actors in suits (some more obviously than others), and of course there were hints of the trademarked puffs of smoke following an impact of a blaster bolt. The sound editing was also first rate, highlighting another phenomenal John Williams score. It provides a perfect blend of classic themes and new melodies which also helps to bring together those two elements cinematically.

The many themes of what made Star Wars so popular over the years are still very prevalent in this newest instalment into the saga. A sense of family, which has been such a focal point of previous Star Wars films is a key aspect of this new episode, yet sometimes it feels like it takes an unnecessary backseat to various set-pieces or other plot points. This blurs our focus slightly, distracting us from potentially more engrossing aspects of the film, but is a minor issue with what is a tonally magnificent epic.

The Force Awakens is not without flaws, yet it definitely provides on a greater level than simply a serviceable follow-up to the beloved originals. This is without doubt a must for anyone who enjoys Star Wars, and highly recommended for those who simply want a good fun blockbuster to entertain themselves with this Christmas.

Matt Bolland


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