Culture, Film

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: the Force Awakens movie posterI just spent two hours watching J.J. Abrams playing Star Wars Greatest Hits – The Video Game, while Disney try to sell me shedloads of merchandise. Riding a wave of childhood nostalgia is all very well, but this is strictly by-the-numbers, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, replay-by replay. It’s like watching a rock band re-union retirement tour – and a tribute band at that.

A disappointing Kasdan screenplay has been hacked about by committee to a point where nothing actually fits together and the whole plot is a muddled re-hash of bits we’ve seen before. There are some beautiful CGI landscapes, the space-going Battles of Medway with X-wings and TIE-fighters are frenetic, the prospects of new Jedi and light-sabre duels thrilling, but poorly carried out.

Thirty years on from Return of the Jedi, and the Jedi haven’t, erm, returned. The Empire is gone, the Republic is weak and we have a Facist, Dark Side coalition of killers, loons and hired guns building massive military capability to overthrow democracy. Sound familiar?

In a push for ethnic diversity we have a black dude in one of the white stormtrooper suits; John Boyega’s deserter Finn is a neat idea for a new character, escaping from the latterday slavery of the crypto-Fascist First Order, only to fall into Oscar Isaac’s resistance movement, trying to get secret maps hidden inside cute ‘driods to safety.

To do that he has to escape a desert planet that isn’t Tatooine (it is, really) with a scavenger, Rey (a scene-stealing Daisy Ridley), find the resistance led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), by way of stealing the Millenium Falcon; what do you know they’re picked up by smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, on the run from gangsters.

It’s deja-vu all over again.

Including the cantina scene. With the whimsical jazz quartet in the corner. And a patron, Maz (Lupita Nyong’o), playing a Yoda-lite mentor-figure.

Boy, this check-list is getting long.

Soon they’re breaking into massive weapon bases to destroy the king of all Death Stars, the rebels – sorry resistance – mount a torpedo run through massive steel canyons, there’s a big explosion and a light sabre fight. It’s all in the trailer. And episodes one through six.

The Star Wars universe is lovingly recreated by Abrams with a lot of CGI (mixed results) a lot of practical effects, prosthetics and animatronics (mixed results), and no originality whatsoever. It has his signature kinetic action sequences, imported from MI and Star Trek, but those do not a Star Wars make, young padewan.

The real plot is to find the missing Jedi master, Luke Skywalker, before Sith assassin Kylo Ren; a mission to re-ingite the Jedi flame, a sort of new-New Hope

Ridley (Mr Selfridge) and Boyega (Attack the Block) are superbly sparky and engaging as our new leads, almost wiping away the dismal Portman-Christiansen partnership of Phantom-Sith. Rey and Finn are the redeemers of this huge JJ-Disney pudding and might make it worth seeing VIII and IX.

Man-of-the-moment Oscar Isaac (Transcendance) puts on a flashy, Pacino-like panto performance as ace pilot Po Dameron – but should we expect the other Teletubbies to appear in the next two movies? Can’t be any more camp than Antony Daniels’ irritating C3PO.

Among the old stagers, Harrison Ford is having a blast reprising his Han Solo stand-up routine, Carrie Fisher struggles, and Peter Mayhew returns as Chewbacca, with more pathos and charisma than most of the cast put together.

The problem, apart from the script, I realise, is with the villains. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a spoilt brat with anger management issues, really not helped by taking off his mask (how does his hair spring up perfectly coiffed like that?). The ghost of Christiansen returns.

Supreme Leader Snoke, another Andy Serkis (The Hobbit) mo-cap performance as a blurry CGI hologram blown up to Jack the Giant-Slayer proportions, is merely rent-a-villain in Palpatine’s chair. Game of Thrones‘ heard-but-barely-seen Gwendoline Christie is morphed into an armoured Flash Gordon villainess. So Domhnall Gleeson (Calvary) tries to fill the void with a shouty, wild-eyed loon, General Hux, delivering Nuremburg speeches to massed stormtroopers. Subtle this ain’t.

It’s better than Phantom Menace (most things are), but it’s no Guardians of the Galaxy, no Man of Steel,  no Winter Soldier and no Dark World. ‘Marvel’ four, ‘Disney’ nil. And I ain’t buyin’ no plastic toys, neither. RC

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Genre: science fiction, fantasy
Rating: PG
Running time: 2hrs 16mins
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie,Joonas Suotamo, Pip Andersen, Simon Pegg, Kiran Shah, Pip Torrens

About Robin Catling

Robin Catling gained degrees in both arts and technology which led to a diverse portfolio of employment. A freelance systems analyst, project manager and business change manager for the likes of American Express, British Airways and IBM, he moved on to web design, journalism and technical authoring. He has also worked in film and television, both behind and in front of the camera, including productions by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. A qualified three-weapon coach, he runs West Devon Swords teaching sports fencing to all age groups, and in recent years qualified with the British Federation of Historical Swordplay to teach medieval and renaissance combat in the Historical Western Martial Arts.


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