REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
By Martin HIckes
WATCHING the latest instalment of the much-lauded Star Wars franchise is a bit like witnessing a 21st C version of your favourite classic car.
While you fondly remember the classic marques from the past, there are always one or two new features which jar a little. For many, Jar Jar Binks, in the late 90s prequels ,was too much the dangling digital fluffy dice of the franchise, if we reflect on such, using the rear view mirror of cinematic hindsight.
Nevertheless, you accept such knowing that whatever product is produced, it will go down in history.
George Lucas’s attempts to create three prequels to his original Star Wars trilogy only met with partial success.
While financially successful, they were critically lambasted for being too far removed from all that compelled us to see the original Star Wars movie back in 1977.
With the possible exception of the third of the prequels, the Revenge of the Sith, which brought a Faustian darkness to the series, both The Phantom Menace and Attack of Clones were in truth just a few notches above mediocre.
The reboot of any favourite franchise always brings with it audience clamour; too often such enthusiasm is muted on viewing the final product.
Thankfully, JJ Abrams’s The Force Awakens – effectively the film which continues after 1983’s Return of the Jedi – is entertaining right from the start – and above all a non-cluttered type of movie.
Too often, dear George in the past has got out his digital palette brush once too often and literally over populated his films with too many cutesy creatures and background happenings. Gungans toppling off an array of walking monsters; robots shaped like push-head pins clanging into metallic objects etc; goggled creatures with heads like melted cheese scraped off the bottom of the oven, racing around in galactic gizmos. While clever, such digital paraphernalia has only served to show how good the CGI process is and little else.
The Force Awakens benefits greatly from not having these digital mosquitos buzzing around its main characters. Instead,the excellent John Boyega and Daisy Ridley provide fresh interest to a story which is still all about the backstory.
JJ Abrams directs with aplomb, and above all a fast pace; and while the story is very derivative – Max Von Sydow gives a digital map to our heroes which will reveal the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, which then somehow manages to end up in the cranium a new tiny bowling ball of a droid – it never fails to hold your attention.
Naturally, the best bit occurs at the entrance of Han Solo (a first rate Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca. It’s so easy to associate Ford with Indiana Jones that one tends to forget how good he was as Solo. Both characters have similar nuances but seeing him in 2015 reminds us why we all fell in love with Solo back in 1977.
One weakness in the plot perhaps lies in the confusion as to what happened to the much vaunted Galactic Empire.
Recalling that in the Revenge of the Sith, we learned that the stormtroopers were once a clone army created by the Galactic Republic (the goodies), only to see them defect en masse to the dark side (the new Empire as was – the baddies), we now learn that the stormtroopers seemingly serve a new regime called the First Order, - a sort of Continuation Galactic Empire we can only presume. Only this time sporting a natty new logo and emblem and even more down-in –the-mouth helmets. One can only presume the galactic God of Star Wars lost the mould for the cheery stormtrooper look at some stage in the past. The wedge shaped starships look much the same.
What then is the First Order, and by whom is it ruled we might ask?
John Boyega plays a stormtrooper who has become jaded by the machinations of the First Order, 30 years after the fall of the Empire, and who through chance decides to help Rebel pilot Po Dameron to get the secret map to the Rebellion/New Galactic Republic forces in order to track down Luke, who we are told has was last seen on some remote island trying to conjure up a Jedi army.
Along the way he meets scavenger Daisy Ridley, and the chemistry between the two works well. So much so that the film could probably have continued sufficiently without the added bonus of our returning old heroes - in order, Ford, Fisher and Hamill.
Along the way we learn that Solo and Leia’s son – yes son – has gone rogue and has become a major player in the First Order. A lot has happened in 30 years.
Remembering your intergalalctic genetics, Vader/Anakin was the Chosen One who had major intergalactic globules of the Force running in his veins. Unwittingly siring Luke and Leia via Padme (Natalie Portman), who also carry a version of Vader’s voodoo, it seemingly makes sense that Leia, through some sort of cosmic conjugation, should pass the Force on to their son.
But alas, it’s the dark side of the Force which reawakens – hence the title – and a masked Kylo Ren (Han and Leia’s tortured son) – who could pass for a Jihadist wielding a crucifix-style light-saber – kneels before the shattered mask of his grandfather (Vader) and vows to continue his dark work.
The grand arc of the first six films was about the reverse Messianic like fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker – from little boy of promise through to twisted though well meaning husband and then to trapped Sith Lord.
Like most good tragedies, his story has good intentions at the heart of such. Anakin, if you recall, was plagued by dreams predicting that his wife Padme would die in childbirth.
Fooled by the Emperor into thinking that by turning to the dark side he could save his wife, and bring her back from the dead, Anakin descended into that strange thing – evil driven by the desire to do what he thought was right.
At such moments, there’s always a point of awakening when the good character as was realises how far down the dark side he has unwittingly travelled in the pursuit of what he feels is right.
This occurs to Anakin when he finds his burned and black shrink-wrapped body in the ebony survival suit that is Vader’s bio-machinery; only to be told by the Emperor that his wife died in childbirth. Family problems run through the whole franchise.
The success of this new final tranche of what we are told will be a trilogy – a third trilogy as it were – depends probably on how well Lucasfilm and Disney go down this well-trodden route.
Will we see the fall and redemption of Han and Leia’s darkened son –( such a nice couple- how can they produce such a renegade) – and does Luke – that other Force bearer – also have children who might carry out such a deed, completing the Force-fed family circle?
Some have speculated already that Daisy Ridley’s character Rey might be, unwittingly, Luke’s daughter. Luke’s long lost lightsabre magically gravitates towards her at a moment of Force induced crisis hinting at the possibility. Surely there remains the possibility of Luke coming out with the line: “No, I am your father…” to what might be his long lost daughter. Cue the Imperial March horns.
Star Wars Episode VII is really just a scene setter for what we can only presume will be enthralling Episodes VIII and IX, due out in 2017 and 2019 respectively. But it is a technically brilliant film as you might expect, and one which, in combo with its forthcoming counterparts, will hopefully match the original trilogy over time for galactic thrill and far flung family intrigue. You still miss Darth though.