Sunday, 20 December 2015

REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS




A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away….

 
(Well, it was not that long of a time, probably about 15 to 20 years ago, and it was in a local diner near where I used to live)
 
Myself and a few friends were having drinks and talking about the most random thing imaginable. An interesting question was raised. The question:-

“What is or are the most popular entertainment entities which can be instantly recognizable throughout all cultures and among all ages of people anywhere around the world?”
 
The question does sound somewhat intellectual and obviously very debatable. We all came to the conclusion of three entertainment entities; the late pop singer Michael Jackson, Disney’s cartoon character Mickey Mouse, and the Star Wars films. As this is a film review, I will of course write about Star Wars. Let me start again.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away....

....a young filmmaker from Central California name George Lucas had the most random imaginable idea of creating a world set in the farthest regions of outer space which consist of various types of people who engage in territorial wars and the quest for domination. Lucas pitched the idea to various major film studios in Hollywood and received many rejections. His idea was deemed absurd, crazy, non-profitable, and the list goes on.

However, 20th Century Fox Studios had faith in his idea. The studio funded his idea which eventually became the film called Star Wars (1977). The film became a surprise box-office hit, received many award nominations, established the actors in iconic roles, managed to conquer the world of toy merchandising, complimented by critics and audiences worldwide, and eventually led to five more movie sequels under the name Star Wars. All six films were very profitable garnering billions of dollars at the box-office. Most importantly, the Star Wars film series created a very solid fan-base and cult status worldwide. As the years go by, Lucas decided to sell the rights of his creation to Disney for a whopping $4 billion dollars.


George Lucas directing the first Star Wars film in 1976 for release in 1977.

Walt Disney Studios announced that more Star Wars films will be made under their funding. Fearing the Star Wars films will be totally rebranded, the fan-base start voicing their doubt and objections. However, the studio gave the assurance that the intellectual property of Star Wars will remain intact as how George Lucas envisioned it many years ago. As an unconventional release date (usually Star Wars films are released during the summer season) of 18 December 2015 was set, the anticipation for the past two years leading up to the seventh has been nerve-wrecking. Yes, I consider myself a fan of Star Wars.

18 December 2015 has finally arrived (17 December for me here in Malaysia). The title of the seventh Star Wars film is called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The task of helming the film from the director’s chair is the critically acclaimed J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8). Stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Anthony Daniels reprises their roles since the last 6th film in 1983. They are joined by newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in the lead roles. Rounding up the entire cast are Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Gwendolyn Christie, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’O, and Max Von Sydow. The writing duties were undertaken by Abrams, veteran Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt. Abrams is also a producer on the film with Kathleen Kennedy and Bryan Burk.

Star Wars is no doubt the most beloved movie franchise in cinema history. There is one rule I apply when watching movie sequels of any kind from any film series. I will view the film from two perspectives; as a fan and as a non-fan or someone who is watching it for the first time. How will the latest installment fare? Do read on…

Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford)



Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Skywalker now General Leia Organa

Droid R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)



SYNOPSIS:
Set 30 years after the events of the last film, when the Rebel Alliance managed to defeat the evil Galactic Empire, war is still on going in the galaxy. The Rebel Alliance is now known as The Resistance and is led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). The heroes from the battle 30 years ago Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 are still active fighting in the Resistance. However, a new evil faction which are remnants from the Galactic Empire called The First Order has emerged with an evil plan. Together with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a Starfighter pilot, a former Stormtrooper soldier from The First Order named Finn (Jon Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) a scavenger from the planet Jakku, The Resistance battles The First Order which is led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson).

Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn are the new leads

SCRIPT:
Cleverly structured and innovative. It has been 32 years since the last Star Wars story was told on film in 1983. The hunger for new storylines from Star Wars fans has been building for a long time. When fans were expecting a story continuation, The Force Awakens was something else different entirely. The script became a story which honoured the previous Star Wars films in a unique way and at the same time managed to create a new storyline at the same time. The new film parallels the real life 30 year absence by setting the story also 30 years after the last film. What most interesting is how parallels became a theme in the script. There were a lot of references to the old films which Star Wars fans will surely notice when they appear. Such references range from plot and dialogue to surprise twists and scene settings. Fans will most certainly reminisce at the many nostalgic references being conveyed throughout the story. I believe the decision to design such a story is to keep the massive fan appetite for a new story satisfied. For the fans, if you think the surprise revelation from a certain villain to a certain hero was huge, The Force Awakens has an even greater surprise twist than what occurred in the fifth film The Empire Strikes Back. By this time one might think, do I need to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate The Force Awakens? Absolutely not. Amidst all these parallels, references, and homage there is a story which is easy to follow and very exciting. The dialogue is kept understandable with less scientific jargon compared to previous films. The plot is straightforward and gets to the point. Again, another interesting aspect of the script is the addition of some comedic moments. The previous films were not known to be funny therefore this really surprised me and most certainly the fans will feel the same way. I think The Force Awakens has the most comedic moments compared to all the previous six films combined! I feel this is a wise decision on the part of the writers as not only it would make the film more interesting, it would make non-fans more engaged and relatable to the film’s story. As a fan, I hope these plot holes are resolved in the next film installment. There was good enough backstory and characterization for the roles which is good. The fans will be familiar with the characters but the non-fans may find it hard to understand at first. Despite what I think is a very good script, there are some flaws which I will explain further on down in the review.

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron

ACTING:
Solid and impressive. Since the film announced the return of previous cast members who have reached old age, the new actors joining the film became a focus of attention. Ford, Fisher, and Hamill eased into their roles of Han Solo, Princess Leia Skywalker, and Luke Skywalker respectively really well. As I expected, the audience in the theatre I was watching erupted in claps and cheers the moment they appeared on screen. However in my opinion, they were outshone by the new actors which consist of a mix between established actors and newcomers. I am impressed by the performance all the new actors playing the main roles. Daisy Ridley was magnificent in the female lead role of Rey. For an actress who is making her feature film debut, she really made her presence felt was immersed fully into her character. John Boyega as the male lead did extremely well. He provided some comedy as a balance to Rey’s seriousness as a character. I am also impressed with Oscar Isaac role. Although Isaac was merely a supporting one, he gave a memorable performance in a critical role to the film. Speaking of memorable, a popular film series is not as good if it does not have a memorable villain. In the previous Star Wars films, the main villain was a character named Darth Vader. I think even non-fans of Star Wars must have at least heard of him. In The Force Awakens, a new villain is introduced by name of Kylo Ren played by actor Adam Driver. Darth Vader was an iconic character and Driver has some very big shoes to fill. I am delighted with his performance as he gave a magnificent and menacing performance as the main antagonist of the film. He brought a different level of intensity to his villainous role compared to Darth Vader. However, I would have loved to see more of Gwendolyn Christie who plays Captain Phasma. Although she plays a supporting role, I hope her character gets more developed in future films. The introduction of BB-8, a new robot droid is really awesome. Just like how R2-D2 was lovable in previous films, you would probably form a likeness for BB-8.

Adam Driver as main antagonist Kylo Ren

FILMING:
Stunning and spectacular. Director J.J. Abrams is no stranger when it comes to making successful projects. Earlier in his career, he is known more as a writer and a producer for television having being responsible for such hits as Lost and Alias. He eventually made the transition to film with successful hits such as Super 8 (2011) and a film adaptation of popular television series Star Trek (2009). Abrams films has generally been praised in particular Star Trek, which reinvigorated the movie franchise by respecting previous Star Trek films and gaining new audiences. I believe this is why Abrams was hired, to bring new life and new meaning to Star Wars. With that in mind, he most certainly did. Abrams’ directing approach, dare I say, had more style and excitement compared to previous films. He made the film feel fresh for both fans and non-fans alike. The cinematography was beautiful and the shots were creative. The editing was fast and snappy making it exciting and thrilling almost all throughout the film. Just like all the previous films, the visual effects is again spearheaded by giants Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) which is owned by Star Wars creator George Lucas. The very first Star Wars film in 1977 gave birth to the establishment ILM and since then has been responsible for many successful films and pioneered the visual effects medium. ILM did amazing visual effects work on the film while retaining a feel of the old film from the 1970s and 1980s.

Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams on the left in discussion with fellow co-writer Lawrence Kasdan

PACING:
The Force Awakens has the best pacing among all the seven films. It started well in the beginning and immediately brings you into the galaxy far, far away of Star Wars. At times the film felt just a little slow but it is quickly countered with fast paced action scenes. The film builds up to a great climax, one which will no doubt be historical.

Filming in the Abu Dhabi desert. J.J.Abrams directing Daisy Ridley

DOWNSIDE (THE DARK SIDE):
The Force Awakens not only became Star Wars film I hoped it would be but it also became the film I feared it would be. J.J. Abrams applied the same nostalgic approach in writing and directing the film as he did on Star Trek. Even though The Force Awakens is better in many ways, it felt unoriginal. As I mentioned earlier in the review, this film has parallels and references to previous films. In fact, I feel there were close to maybe 60 or 70 references in total. It is unoriginal because it took scenes from the previous films and make for ‘friendly’ for the modern audience. As a Star Wars fan, I ended up keep guessing which films these references were borrowed from. At times, it felt a little bit distracting. Another downside is for the non-fans. Once in a while, you might yourself lost amidst all the homage which Star Wars fans can relate.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his Stormtroopers
 
UPSIDE (THE LIGHT SIDE):
For the non-fans of Star Wars, there is good news. There is a high chance you will enjoy the film and don’t need to know any history from the previous films. I do still recommend you watch the previous films in order to have an even greater cinematic Star Wars experience. I will list the titles of previous Star Wars films at the end of this review. For Star Wars fans, I don’t think I need to tell you the upsides about The Force Awakens. When I watched the film in theatres on opening day, the crowd cheered and clapped when the Star Wars logo with its identifiable theme music appeared at the beginning. This is followed by more cheers and claps, maybe about 20 more or so, during scenes or shots where certain characters and props appeared. My experience watching The Force Awakens with such an enthusiastic crowd will certainly be remembered for a long time.

BB-8 says hello to Rey (Daisy Ridley)

OVERALL: 
As I come to end of this review, I realized that it is the longest movie review I have written. It has been a long time since the last film so I guess the review should be long too. LOL! But really, I wanted to make my review suitable for both Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans because I feel The Force Awakens is appealing for all ages. It is certainly a must-watch and do-not-miss kind of film. Go see it in the big screen instead of the small screen on television. You won’t regret my recommendation.

The person responsible for creating the Star Wars universe
 
RATING:
9.5 out of 10 – as a Star Wars fan.
9.0 out of 10 – if I am watching Star Wars for the first time.

 

 

 

Previous Star Wars films (in order of release year):-

1)     Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
2)     Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
3)     Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
4)     Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
5)     Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
6)     Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

 

 

1 comment:

  1. I find the movie lacks originality and element of surprise... It's almost like watching Star Wars Episode IV-VI

    ReplyDelete