For a series that was a self-contained hero’s journey told in three films, Star Wars has some serious legs. The sequel that wasn’t needed, but was nevertheless desperately wanted and so very welcome now that it’s here, arrives fully aware of the cultural legacy and responsibility it has, especially in light of the problematic George Lucas prequel trilogy. So J.J. Abrams, already adept at reinterpreting a classic in his two Star Trek films, doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel with STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Instead, he does the complete opposite, structuring this seventh instalment in the exact same manner as the 1977 original.
It’s all there: the dissatisfied First Order stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), who feels destined for something more, the cocky Rebellion pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the isolated desert dweller and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), and the dark lord of the Force, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Yet Abrams and cinematographer ally Dan Mindel quickly plant their flag with their own visual flairs (and of course, flares), faithfully recreating the look and feel of a film that could have been made 30 years ago, but with the benefits of modern technology in both practical and special effects. There’s a recognition that these effects are partly what Star Wars is about, but it’s mostly about family, the verbal and humorous interplay between the central triptych, and the most dysfunctional family saga in the galaxy. Only because the proximity to Lucas’ prequels demands a comparison, what Abrams and his team have remembered is to bring the joy back to the cinema screen, a presence we have not felt in a long time. A long time.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS trades on the good will of the familiar, from the cheer-worthy opening crawl through to old faces and props that loudly wink at us, and the stellar John Williams score that quotes themes from his work in the 1970s and 1980s. There are so many moments that will have fans wanting to leap to their feet in ecstasy, and we probably will each and every time. Yet the most encouraging aspect of this latest entry is how strong the new elements are, with relative newcomer Daisy Ridley a formidable force (all puns intended) as the strong female lead and de facto hero of the piece. Both Boyega and Driver add a ton of layers to the complex relationship between the light and the dark, while Oscar Isaac is every bit the rogue that Han Solo ever was. There are no tax embargoes or complex senate committees, and in fact there is very little in the way of subtext at all. This is pure Saturday matinee fun, reminding us of what a cinematic experience feels like.
2015 | US | Dir: J.J. Abrams | Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt | Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow | Distributor: Disney | Running time: 135 minutes | Rating:★★★★★ (10/10)