My intention is always to keep my reviews spoiler-free, and this will be no exception.
Since January 2013, when it was announced that J.J. Abrams would take on the onerous job of directing Star Wars 7, Star Wars fans have held their collective breath. You could feel the nervous tension, mixed with fervent anticipation, as the lights dimmed at the packed midnight showing at 00:01 on 17th December 2015. Could Abrams deliver or would the Disney-powered hype dissolve in a lens-flared dissipation of metaclorians? Well, the wait is over and the result is in. And it’s a triumphant victory… prepare to be gushed at!
I would normally recap the basic plot at this point in my review, but to do so could potentially ruin some of the monumental twists and surprises of the story, which is both simple but Shakespearean in its breadth. The film has been a masterclass in marketing, throwing up feverish debate in the fan-world: why was Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) absent from both the trailers and the poster? Why is one of the heroes, Finn (John Boyega), seen wearing a stormtrooper outfit? Who is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)? No answers here, but all great questions skillfully answered through the screenplay.
So I will stick to the well-worn facts of the pre-publicity: that the film is set some 30 years after the historic events of “Return of the Jedi” (but still a “Long Time Ago”), and centres on talented yet frustrated starship mechanic Rey (Daisy Ridley) stranded in a dead-beat job on the desert planet of Yakku (which all feels nostalgically familiar to someone who is old enough to have been there at the start of it all). Through the intervention of a droid with an embedded secret (ditto) she is dragged into the workings of the Republic’s fight against a resurgent dark-side in the form of “The First Order”, going 100% Hitler including an alien Nuremberg-style rally that is all red, black and white.
What makes the film succeed is a strong emphasis back on story and character over effects (with the latter of course still being awesome). All of the acting is fine, with Oscar Isaac’s heroic pilot Poe Dameron being particularly strong and Domhnall Gleeson (“Brooklyn”, “Ex Machina”) almost unrecognizable to me as General Hux, mouthpiece to the First Order. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega both impress as the ‘unknowns’ in the cast, albeit with (particularly in the case of Ridley’s Rey) a few rough acting edges in some of the dialogue that will smooth with age and fame.
Rey is a wonderful female character at the heart of the film, the strongest role model for women in action films since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in “Alien”. Athletic and tough, yet still showing a feminine grace and beauty in her Greek goddess-inspired apparel.
It’s also fabulous to see the original trilogy cast again, all older and nicely wizened, with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) being delightfully crusty and only Carrie Fisher’s Leia perhaps suggesting that even with all the high tech that existed back then, they still hadn’t quite mastered cosmetic surgery. Even the inside of the Millenium Falcon – queue audience cheer as the rust-bucket hoves into view – looks like its had a chip-fat fire or ten too many and could do with the hire of a steam cleaner. (And Abrams judiciously resists the urge to lens flare it, which is a plus!)
What a treat also that the ‘hidden’ originals of Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Kenny Baker (R2D2) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) all had the chance to reprise their roles again. They are joined in the “I was in Star Wars not that you’d know it” club by Lupita Nyong’o (from “12 Years a Slave” and “Non-Stop”) as a sort of alien commune leader (reminiscent to me of The Simpson’s Professor Frink), Mo-cap expert Andy Serkis (“The Lord of the Rings”; “Planet of the Apes”) as supreme leader Snoke and the very lofty Gwendeline Christie (“Game of Thrones”) as the stormtrooper Captain Phasma.
In fact it’s almost impossible to criticize this film. It’s as near a thing to perfection as I could imagine. It has obviously been lovingly crafted by people (and a lot of British production talent) that clearly had to pinch themselves that THEY were getting to work on a Star Wars film. The script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt zings along like an express train, with some great snatches of appropriate humour delivering laugh out loud moments. It certainly avoids a lot of the cheesy lines that were one of the few things you could criticize the previous Star Wars masterpiece “The Empire Strikes Back” for.
John Williams delivers a stonkingly powerful score, with new themes for the new characters mixed with a nostalgia-filled return to the classic old themes, all deserving of a proper listen-to via the soundtrack album.
After this experience, I’m personally sorry that Abrams is not doing the next one too: Rian Johnson (“Looper”) has a challenge on his hands and a high-bar to reach.
I feared Abrams might make a cack-up of Jar Jar proportions with this one, but I am truly delighted to be proved wrong. I predict that all fans of Star Wars of whatever age will love it, and wish that Hamill, Fisher and Ford would all go on to star in Episodes VIII and IX. Fantastic cinema. Go see it, and ideally before any spoilers emerge.
Fad Rating: FFFFF.
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