“This is a rescue!”
We all hoped that ‘Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ would not sink to the depths of the prequels. I can confidently say that it doesn’t. If I’d have written this review straight after seeing it, I probably would have agreed with most of the early critics: ‘TFA’ is a four or a five star film! It captures what ‘Star War’s is all about, something the prequels singularly failed to do (bar a few scenes here or there). It gave me similar feelings of exhilaration to when I first saw the original Star Wars trilogy, all the way back in 1997. However, after overcoming those heavy feelings of nostalgia, I can say that there are flaws that prevent ‘TFA’ from being a great film.
(I’ll stay away from spoiler territory here as much as I can, although it’s almost two weeks since ‘TFA’ was released. Even though it’s the quickest film to reach a billion dollars at the box office, there must be some people who haven’t seen it (and I’m not talking about the Chinese!))
I left the cinema feeling elated. Star Wars was back, and it’s better than ever! Think back to the original Star Wars, and how one felt after watching it. There was so much unresolved, so many plot strands to consider, and so much space in the narrative to let your imagination run wild. That’s what the prequels failed to do: everyone talked so much that nothing was left to the imagination. The verbose script, rather than the visuals, told the story. In ‘TFA,’ however, they complement each other in rather wonderful ways. A superb example of the visual storytelling in ‘TFA’ is the introduction of Finn, a StormtrooperHe refuses to fire on innocent villagers on the planet of Jakku. We don’t need words to understand his emotions, even if his face is hidden by a mask. In Rey’s introduction, the same applies: barely a word is spoken, but as she gracefully explores a downed Star Destroyer, we are shown her character. In Kylo Ren, we have a villain that can possibly hope to match the menace of Darth Vader. Within the first few minutes of the film, we are shown his lack of compassion and his great ability to use the Force. We don’t need to be told anything: we are simply shown it.
That’s a credit to Abram’s direction: he rarely puts a foot wrong in the first hour or so of the film. Everything is shot perfectly, and the camera is rarely static, always roving about. A chase involving a classic ship is balletic and mesmerising; the camera flips upside down and twirls to follow the chase. It is a wonder to behold. We hear funny quips, hilarious repartees, and exposition that don’t bore us to death. Fortunately, the film doesn’t slow down to introduce us to classic characters Han Solo and Chewbacca: they leap headfirst into the action without an overbearing introduction. From the first half or so of the film alone, this film is Star Wars done right.
“I’ve lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people”
It’s the second half of the film that doesn’t live up to the first half. That’s not to say it’s disappointing, but it definitely lacks the sparkle of the first half. No battle scene manages to conjure up as much excitement as the aforementioned return of a classic ship. Characters appear and disappear with abandon, just like certain plot threads. Some plot threads are rushed through. Exposition reigns over visual storytelling. A sense of bloat threatens to overcome everything. And something feels…strange about it. Maybe it’s how closely it treads to the story of ‘A New Hope.’ Maybe it’s how much it relies on nostalgia and winks to the audience.
All of the above could also be my over-critical mind examining something that I watched two weeks ago in an overly harsh manner. I had a blast watching it. For one, I laughed louder and harder throughout the film than I have for any proper comedy this year. It’s genuinely funny, for one. Everyone harps on about the use of practical effects in ‘TFA,’ but they do make a difference to the entire film. You only miss them when obvious (and strangely mediocre, in some cases) CGI invades the screen. Although we aren’t even told the names of some of the planets we visit, they all feel ‘real’ and lived in. That’s something the prequels neglected to achieve. There’s a sense of time and erosion to the various locations, rather than overtly green screen canvases splurged with CGI. There are far more positives than negatives to ‘TFA.’
“I’ve always hated seeing you leave”
‘TFA’ may stick too closely to the narrative structure of ‘A New Hope,’ and rely on callbacks to the original trilogy (and there is even a mention of a clone army…I shuddered!). The second half of the film may not hold up to the brilliance of the first half. But, overall, it’s an incredibly enjoyable film. I’ve had time to review the film in my mind, but as the credits hit in the cinema, I wanted to applaud. By sticking closely to the original trilogy, Abrams have given us what we wanted: a literal return to form. We moaned that the prequels lacked the spirit of the original trilogy, so Abrams has taken the safe route. ‘TFA’ is a great introduction to Star Wars for those who have never seen it before, and a very good re-introduction to Star Wars fans. It’s quite easily the third best Star Wars film of the saga.
VERDICT: 7/10. A funny, thrilling ride through all of the Star Wars tropes that we know and love. Familiarity may breed contempt in most areas, but it put a massive smile on my face for most of the film! It may slacken off in the second half, but you will be never less than entertained.
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