STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAK­ENS

The Force is with it

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Fa­mous cameos in­clude Si­mon Pegg, stars of The Raid and (pos­si­bly) Thomas BrodieSang­ster as an Im­pe­rial of­fi­cer.

Well, we thought we may as well say what we thought…

re­leased OUT NOW! 12a | 135 min­utes Di­rec­tor JJ abrams Cast Har­ri­son Ford, Mark Hamill, Car­rie Fisher, John Boyega, daisy ri­d­ley, Os­car Isaac

This really is un­charted ter­ri­tory – not since 1983 has a trip to that galaxy far, far away been a gen­uine jour­ney to the un­known. Yes, the ex­act route we were tak­ing in the pre­quels was a mystery, but the key facts – Anakin turn­ing to the Dark Side, the Em­peror making a land grab for ev­ery­thing – were al­ready set down in Star Wars gospel. So watch­ing The Force Awak­ens – a Star Wars movie where you ac­tu­ally have no idea what’s com­ing next – is a slightly un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence.

Luck­ily, it’s also a to­tally ex­hil­a­rat­ing one. Episode VII is such a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the orig­i­nal tril­ogy that it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how it could have turned out much bet­ter. Af­ter three years of ever-grow­ing hype, JJ Abrams has pretty much nailed it, making a film that’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously rev­er­ent to the source ma­te­rial, yet pre­pared to strike out on its own and be its own thing.

Walk­ing that tightrope was ar­guably the movie’s big­gest chal­lenge. It would have been so easy to sim­ply make this a cover version of Star Wars’ great­est hits, to re­play clas­sic mo­ments with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in new sit­u­a­tions. And in­deed, there are plenty of mo­ments in The Force Awak­ens when the echoes of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy are so loud as to be deaf­en­ing: droids that are cru­cial to the plot; gi­ant, planet-smash­ing enemy in­stal­la­tions; a small, wise alien with a hot­line to the Force; a bar pop­u­lated with a won­der­fully imag­i­na­tive alien menagerie. But then, ev­ery time you think you know where it’s go­ing, the movie goes off and glee­fully turns your expectations on their heads. The re­sult is that The Force Awak­ens is gen­uinely full of sur­prises.

From pos­si­bly the finest, most ur­gent open­ing of any Star Wars movie – one that comes with a beau­ti­ful nod to the orig­i­nal film – The Force Awak­ens makes you feel you’re be­ing taken on a jour­ney, where the char­ac­ters’ ac­tions have gen­uine con­se­quences. As with A New Hope and The Em­pire Strikes Back, those first steps on the desert world of Jakku, where run­away Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) lands in the or­bit of scav­enger Rey (Daisy Ri­d­ley) and ball droid BB-8, feel like a life­time ago once the fi­nal cred­its roll, be­cause so much has hap­pened in be­tween.

The story is al­lowed to evolve or­gan­i­cally, via a se­ries of in­trigu­ing McGuffins (Luke

Dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how it could have turned out bet­ter

Sky­walker!), and with­out re­sort­ing to too many of the lu­di­crous twists of fate that bogged down the pre­quels. While the movie has the chal­lenge of kick­start­ing a plot that’s laid dor­mant for 30 years, it never re­sorts to in­fo­dumps, drip-feed­ing key info at the right mo­ments. Three decades may have passed since the sec­ond Death Star went kablooie, but there’s a def­i­nite dra­matic through­line here, 38-year-old char­ac­ter arcs that are more than ten­u­ous the­matic links. Most im­por­tantly, The Force

Awak­ens to­tally trans­ports you to an­other galaxy, making you forget about the real world for two hours. You fre­quently find your­self with a grin wider than Nien Nunb’s jowls as the Mil­len­nium Fal­con does some nifty aer­o­bat­ics, or Han Solo and Chew­bacca ban­ter like they’ve never been away. There are more laugh-out-loud funny lines in the first 15 min­utes of The Force

Awak­ens than the pre­quels man­aged in six hours, with the char­ac­ters bounc­ing off each other in a way we haven’t seen since The

Em­pire Strikes Back. You’re in­stantly re­minded how won­der­ful

Star Wars can be when putting mem­o­rable peo­ple (and aliens) at the fore­front of the ac­tion is a pri­or­ity. And be­yond the fun and the hu­mour, The Force Awak­ens man­ages to be gen­uinely mov­ing at times – it’s a hardy soul who won’t find them­selves with a bit of dust in their eye when Han and Leia re­unite for the first time – and it isn’t afraid to put you through the emo­tional wringer. Abrams the di­rec­tor ex­cels here, know­ing all the right but­tons to push and when to do so. As a self-avowed Star Wars fan, stay­ing suit­ably ob­jec­tive must have been one hell of a chal­lenge.

It’s why en­tic­ing back Star Wars’ orig­i­nal trio of stars (along with Chewie, C-3PO, R2-D2 and a few other old friends) was so cru­cial to the movie – they’re the bedrock on which The Force Awak­ens is built. They never feel like they’ve been crow­barred into point­less cameos in the way C-3PO and R2-D2 were in the pre­quel tril­ogy. Plenty of wa­ter has flowed un­der the bridge, yet the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Han and Leia is picked up in a place that makes sense, and the old chem­istry is still there. Har­ri­son Ford in par­tic­u­lar is won­der­ful in the role that launched him as a mega-star, the old Han Solo twin­kle back with a vengeance. Pulling on Solo’s jacket for the first time in 32 years, he looks way more com­fort­able than he did repris­ing his other most iconic role in In­di­ana Jones And The Crys­tal Skull, yet the old scoundrel charm is bol­stered with ex­tra world-weari­ness, and ir­ri­tabil­ity, all that ex­tra mileage clearly hav­ing had an im­pact.

But The Force Awak­ens isn’t really about the old guard, and it’s a tes­ta­ment to Abrams and his writ­ing part­ner, Em­pire Strikes Back scripter Lawrence Kas­dan, that come the end of the movie, you care about the two new leads nearly as much as char­ac­ters you’ve known for over 30 years. Finn and Rey aren’t just re­treads of Star Wars char­ac­ters we’ve seen be­fore – their cir­cum­stances and traits are en­tirely new. Boyega has gen­uine movie star charisma as Finn, while Ri­d­ley, in ar­guably the most chal­leng­ing role in the movie, plays Rey with a mix of gritty, sur­vive-at-any-cost in­ge­nu­ity and wide-eyed won­der. Hon­ourable men­tions should also go to a pair of fel­low new­bies: the pi­rate Maz Kanata (a fun mix of wise old sage and com­edy re­lief, played by a per­for­mance-cap­tured Lupita Ny’ongo) and BB-8, who – with apolo­gies to Wil­son from Cast­away – is un­doubt­edly the most en­dear­ing sphere ever to fea­ture on screen.

The bad­dies also emerge from The Force Awak­ens in credit, which is quite a feat con­sid­er­ing they have the un­en­vi­able task of pick­ing up the man­tle from Darth Vader – a fact that the movie tac­itly ac­knowl­edges. The First Or­der turn out to be the Em­pire­plus. They have the same mil­i­tary aes­thetic and hard­ware, given a 21st cen­tury up­date, but their Stormtroop­ers can ac­tu­ally hit their tar­gets, and they’re way more bru­tal than their Im­pe­rial pre­de­ces­sors – one nighttime as­sault on a vil­lage is gen­uinely chilling. In Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), they have an amaz­ing fig­ure­head, part petu­lant kid (his tantrums are spec­tac­u­lar), part dan­ger­ous, ma­nip­u­la­tive Dark Side war­rior. It’s easy to see why Dis­ney put him front and cen­tre of their mar­ket­ing cam­paign. It’s just a shame that Cap­tain Phasma (Gwen­do­line Christie), with that al­ready iconic sil­ver Stormtrooper ar­mour, isn’t given more to do.

But for all it gets right on the sto­ry­telling front, the main rea­son The Force Awak­ens feels so Star Warsy is the look and feel of the film. From the Stormtroop­ers and TIE Fight­ers to the tac­tile alien land­scapes, this is how a mod­ern Star Wars movie should be. Much has been made of Abrams’s ef­forts to get back to a more prac­ti­cal style of film­mak­ing, es­chew­ing the CG-heavy look of the pre­quels, and it works. In fact, the pup­pet crea­tures are gen­er­ally more suc­cess­ful than the com­put­er­gen­er­ated ones (Maz Kanata is the won­der­ful ex­cep­tion), though the dig­i­tal ef­fects ex­cel when it comes to the space­ships, as Abrams shoots the Mil­len­nium Fal­con, X-Wings and the rest in ways that make your heart soar.

Why not the full five stars? We’d have liked to see more of the un­der­used Os­car Isaac, whose Poe Dameron has the po­ten­tial to be a great, Han Solo-ish pi­lot; for such an im­por­tant char­ac­ter, First Or­der pup­pet­mas­ter Supreme Leader Snoke (a mo-capped Andy Serkis) isn’t re­alised as well as he per­haps could have been; and the movie’s big shock char­ac­ter death isn’t given the weight and res­o­nance it really should have.

But The Force Awak­ens is as good as any­one could have re­al­is­ti­cally hoped, and sets things up beau­ti­fully for Episode VIII. Abrams asks plenty of ques­tions that’ll be both­er­ing us for the next 18 months, as we re­watch and an­a­lyse the movie to death to work out what it all means. Rian John­son, it’s over to you… Richard Ed­wards

This is how a mod­ern Star Wars movie should be

Right Guard users, ob­vi­ously.

“Don’t pinch my hel­met again!”

Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood would have cacked her­self.

BB-8: got balls.

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