So it has now been six months since the release of the seventh Star Wars film, and indeed given that it is now out on DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Download etc, and also given that today is the May the Fourth, I think it is a good time to re-engage with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Given the low bar that was the Prequels, where we just caught up in the notion of “it’s better than them, well that means it was a fantastic film”, or now with some distance and time (and the dulling of nostalgia) will we find it does not live up to the hype we placed on it? So of course just to be clear there will be full spoilers in this article, so if you have not watched it then now is the time to go make some tea and contemplate the universe.
Before we start I should explain my experience with Star Wars, because it may or may not colour my opinion in your eyes. My first time seeing Star Wars was the original trilogy on VCR on a small cathode ray TV. Sure the picture was small, the sound was not great, but you could feel the power of the story, the themes, the iconic score by John Williams, you felt that this was something special. So when the Special Edition came out in cinemas, of course, I went, and when the Prequels came out, I was there. In fact the Prequels are one of the reasons that I am writing this, because I originally really liked them, the effects were amazing (for their time, however, they have not aged well at all), John Williams was back with the score and whether you like or hate the Prequels you can’t say the Battle of Heroes wasn’t some of his best work, and all the Jedi were there, tons of them, and there was so much promise of more. Of course, as the Prequels went on, it became clear that they were not going to live up to the promise, and when you go back and watch them today you can’t help but cringe as you realise that ‘This, this is Darth Vader, really’. Of course, there were the problems with the story, there is no great divide, no emotional core, in the end, it was just a wasted opportunity. So the question I am asking today, is The Force Awakens the same, did we just get caught up in the hype, because I know many friends that really disliked the film, is it worth the 4.5 out of 5 stars I gave it in the first review?
My original review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The short answer is yes, the long answer is yes with some reservations. So let us talk about what did work because in my opinion there is a lot of this film which really does work. One of the great things about The Forced Awakens is the cast, the casting in this movie should have won an award because this was some of Nina Gold’s best work. The three core actors Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) & Oscar Isaac (Poe) all work brilliantly with each other, and with the rest of the cast, and in their hero standalone moments. Daisy brings a sense of enthusiasm and wonder to the film as Rey which is infectious, you see the world through her eyes, as she is almost like a fan, someone who is versed in the old stories but seeing them for the first time in person. Of course when she finds out that she has a connection with the force (indeed the force awakens in her…) it leads to some of the best scenes in the film, not only can Daisy rock enthusiasm, but when it is time to step up and kick ass, she kicks ass. John brings a different energy as Finn, he is running by the seat of his pants in a world he does not know, and this kind of chaos is really well captured in his performance. Also, he has some of the best physicality in the movie, which you can see when he plays off BB-8 and Rey. Oscar brings some real experience to the core three as Poe, and you can tell this as he has some of the best delivery in the entire film, but as well as being the embodiment of sass, he is also really relatable, let’s be honest he is someone that just about anyone would want to be friends with and I am glad they did not kill him off like they planned. Outside of the core we also have Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Domhnall Gleeson (Hux) & Andy Serkis (Snoke) who all work well as the bad guys. Adam brings a real sense of pain and torment as Ren, which is actually really interesting to watch both in and out of that helmet. In some respects he is playing a moody teenager, a critique levelled at the personification of Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels. But while ‘Annie’ was a petulant teenager like a whiny Joffrey, Kylo is someone who actually has an understandable conflict tearing him in two directions, and you feel that in his performance, especially in that scene, you know the one I am talking about. Of course, the old cast is there, though only Harrison Ford has any real screen time, with a couple of snippets of Carrie Fisher, and no, a pensive stare into the distance before you cut to a helicopter pan does not count.
Of course, the special effects were top notch, and the move to try and build more practical sets augmented by CGI helps give the movie a better feel than the Prequels. John Williams’ score is more reserved than many of his previous film, but it works with the tone of The Forced Awakens. Also, the film is really funny at times without descending into JarJar stupidity.
So I think I have established that there is quite a lot that I liked in the Force Awakens, but with that, there were some more problematic aspects, at least for some, and of course the first thing we have to talk about it is the story. So let’s be honest, to say that The Force Awakens was an homage to A New Hope would be too kind, it is for all intents and purposes a reworking of A New Hope (or if you are being uncharitable, a cut and pasting of A New Hope). Now for me that was not a problem because I could see what the studio was doing, it was a peace offering to all those ‘fans’ that felt that they were betrayed by the Prequels, and it was also bringing the films back to their core, so they could move forward into this new era. This being said, I can really see how this would be a problem for you if you did not like the story, and I have spoken to a number of friends that point to this very issue as to why they did not like it. Indeed, I don’t think anyone didn’t roll their eyes when they revealed a super, super, Death Star, and discovered that there was just one location that could be blown up to destroy it all. To be clear, though, if Episode 8 is just a rehash of Empire, I will not be impressed.
Another problem is the world building, now look I know you are about to say ‘spending too much time world building was one of the major problems of the Prequels’, and yes you would be right, I teach Politics for a living and even I got annoyed with all the rubbish in the Senate. However, The Force Awakens suffers from a different problem, not enough world building. Who are the First Order, what relationship do they have with the Empire, Who are the Resistance, why are they not part of the Republic, what the hell has happened in the last 30 years? Now before you tell me they have explained this in comics and novels, I will say, no, I should not have to read supporting documents to understand a film, and come on, the Star Wars films have a perfect narrative device to give that information to the audience with their title crawls at the start of the film.
Of course there are the other issues like completely wasting the talent of Gwendoline (Brienne of Tarth) Christie in a completely useless character of Captain Phasma, of all the people on that planet who should not have dropped those shields she was the one, indeed I think they will need to do a bit of work to make the First Order more than space Nazis and to give them some character. Also while we are on the topic of wasting talent I have to agree with Cinema Sins, you have Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and you don’t do anything with them, come on. As well as this, there are only so many coincidences one can accept before things start to stretch too far, I mean everyone could find the Millennium Falcon bar the people looking for it.
So as I said in the start with time and distance have I changed my thoughts after declaring “Sing Hallelujah!, Sing it, Sing Hallelujah!, Sing it, yeah, Sing Hallelujah! … Sing Hallelujah!” in my original review? Well maybe a little, but not significantly, there are some things that become more annoying on a second viewing, though that could be said for a lot of films. In the end am I excited for Rouge One?, yes, am I excited for Episode 8?, yes, am I excited for a lot of other sequels/franchises coming up?, no *cough* Justice League *cough* so it must be doing something right.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – J. J. Abrams
Written by – Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams & Michael Arndt
Based on – Characters created by George Lucas
Music by – John Williams
Starring – Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels & Peter Mayhew
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13