Released: 17th December 2015
Directed By: JJ Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
‘Nothing will stand in our way. I will finish… what you started.’
The chilling words of a fresh and imposing intergalactic threat. But a mantra that could so easily have been embraced by the top-tier executives at Disney and their own supreme ‘chosen one’. In the year 2005, we witnessed the culmination of an indifferent prequel phase. For all their sporadically stunning swishes of a lightsaber, The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith collectively suffered from perfunctory CGI-heavy spectacle and awkward exposition that left many fanatical fans slumping in their cinema seats, wanting to scream ‘NOO!’ in the style of Star Wars’ most iconic antagonist.
The trilogy left the reputation of its once-cherished creator George Lucas tarnished. A much adored series plunged… Into Darkness (Sorry Star Trek fans!). In a modern cinematic landscape bombarding audiences with visual splendour and spoilerific sneak-peeks, this is a much-anticipated Episode shrouded in secrecy, now steered by a fantastical action auteur who thrives on toying with the powerful forces that be.
Already feeling the ‘Wrath of Khan’ through a distinct lack of clarity on his part, director J.J Abrams faces up to the daunting challenge of reinvigorating a $4 billion investment, as it enters exciting and uncharted territory whilst intertwining the beloved remnants of past glories without slipping into blatant fanboy plagiarism.
Set 30 years after Return Of The Jedi, from the outset, The Force Awakens displays a glorious sense of purpose fused with a fearless confidence. In newcomers Daisy Ridley’s Rae and John Boyega’s Finn, we have the poignant parallels of a seemingly slight Jakku-based scavenger and a morally-torn ‘fighter’ both questioning their own purpose and place in the galaxy.
In more pressing political matters, the responsibility of leading the latest charge lies on the broad shoulders of Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, a highly regarded fighter pilot complete with a wisecracking wit, that would make ‘homeward bound’ Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (voiced by Peter Mayhew) salivate.
Whilst the bond between beloved brother/sister Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) remains strong, the forming of a deadly alliance threatens to be just as potent. Tortured by the daunting expectations of living up to the infamous name of Darth Vader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is an unnerving pawn in the agenda established by the steely dictator General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Abrams’ clear intent to drive a sleek narrative at a breakneck pace like a well-trained X-Wing fighter, has consistently served him well with his previous forays into franchise territory. Tackling whilst adding to a respected mythology, in lesser hands, the expansive ensemble struggle to register and the mysterious plot threads threaten to never bind.
The Force Awakens first and foremost, serves as a sensational homage to Episodes IV-VI. A back-to-basics emphasis on practical effects laying the foundations, the painstaking craft of the stunning worlds and inhabitants (the show-stealing BB8 a delightful addition) created is thrillingly evident.
Gone are the weightless backdrops. Welcome an involving and immersive cinematic experience, which is merely accentuated by the crowd-pleasing visual motifs (enter the Millennium Falcon!) and the instant imprinted quality of J.J’s dizzying direction, coupled with the dialogue of series veteran Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt’s beautifully constructed script.
Always impactful whilst varying in their respective screen time, the original trio of Carrie Fisher’s Leia, Mark Hamill’s Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s Solo instill this entry with an often spine-tingling and superior sincerity, with the mere early infancy of shared scenes possessing a poignant power. Affecting with a word. Devastating with a look or gesture.
For all the wondrous nostalgia, it’s the enthusiasm of introducing a new generation of fully fledged characters that truly elevates ‘Awakens from being wholly derivative. Its original feisty female born into royal prestige, Daisy Ridley’s grounded Rae is a terrific counterpoint whose interactions with the infectious charismatics of John Boyega’s Finn are assured in their consistent light-hearted nature.
A trait easily applied to Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron whose wholesome heroics impress, yet it’s the compelling complexities of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who is the standout, with his ‘loose-cannon’ demeanour creating an almost frightening atmosphere whenever he graces the screen.