Release: 18th April 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last of the Jedi Knights.
Everyone has a story of where they were when they first saw A New Hope. Then, again, how they felt when Darth Vader uttered the truth about Luke Skywalker’s father. They even have an anecdote or two about the shattering disappointment of watching Episode 1 after many angst filled years of waiting. Now we will all have one more yarn, the first time we saw J.J. Abrams revitalise our beloved franchise with The Force Awakens. Mine goes as such…
I had avoided all trailers and gossip of the film for nearly two years. The release day came around, and I excitedly hurried to my local cinema. Not 30 seconds before John Williams’ righteous score filled the darkened room, some spotty, overweight 13-year old sitting next to me turned to his Dad and said; “You wait and see Dad, ****** dies in this one.” The fat little turd single-handedly ruined one of cinema’s biggest shockers, and simultaneously alerted me to the heartbreaking news that someone I held dear, would, in less than 120 minutes, cease to exist. Lucky for ‘Tory boy’, I am not trained in the ways of the force; otherwise he would’ve been feeling a seriously tight grip around that pimply double chin of his.
So everyone at Disney, and the entire internet, can breathe a sigh of relief. The curse has been lifted, Star Wars is safe again. Even so, some have accused Abrams and the Mouse House of simply re-jigging the plot of A New Hope, and filling it with new characters as a way of passing the torch. This may well be the case, but one might argue that The Force Awakens’ familiarity is part of its overall success. There is an air of nostalgia about the film, as it dances around impishly playing notes we can recognise, whilst all the while carefully tweaking the established formula; so that as things come to an uncertain end, we are willing and ready to accept the truth that things really do have to change. Had The Force Awakens come storming in ready to stand proud, there would have been an inevitable backlash. The blight of next level franchises is that we as fans don’t necessarily want to see new characters, but we can’t really take more of the old ones without getting bored. By muddying the waters and stirring the pot, Abrams creates a near perfect mix of the good old days and bright new future.
There is action galore, and it is quite clear that Abrams has walked a fine line between digital effects and practical ones. The majority of the work looks amazing, and the plot runs at breakneck speed. It is weird to think that Return of the Jedi takes nearly 30 minutes of Jabba-ring on before any of the physical stuff kicks in, because by that time in The Force Awakens, we are already on our third set piece.
The film’s biggest strength is its cast. Daisy Ridley starts off on a bum note, addressing new droid on the block BB-8 with a large side of over-acting. But she thankfully settles quickly into the role, and soon hits her stride in a wonderful double act with rising charmer John Boyega. Ridley’s Rey is a great role model for young girls, and possibly one of the more subtle feminist roles of the new Hollywood. The pair carry a hefty amount of the picture, and do so with such ease and grace, you can’t help but be super thankful for Lawrence Kaden’s great dialogue. Adam Driver does a fair job of slowly evolving super brat Kylo Ren into a total bastardo, and mega dude Oscar Isaac goes 70% Han Solo as Poe Dameron. The original cast were never renowned for their acting abilities, but rather for the chemistry of their characters. Unfortunately there is little of it here, and although Harrison Ford does his best to reach back, old Solo really does feel battered and exhausted. It is a shame, because it truly is lovely to see all the old faces again. You cannot help but wonder if the Rebel Alumus (see what I did there!?) is intentionally left out in the cold a bit because truth be told, this is all about making way for the newbies.
The Force Awakens borrows vast cues from Lucas’ awe inspiring mythology, and manages to slot itself into that world – as Ace Venture would say – like a glove. From the shimmering sunsets of Jakku to the vintage Himalayan Maz’s bar and then on to the familiar hallways of Starkiller base; The Force Awakens is a tour-de-force of beautiful production design. The only stinky thing our eyes have to indulge, is testicle-skinned computer graphic Supreme Leader Snoke. If I may indulge in a bit of poetry…He may well turn out to be the next Darth Sidious, but at current, old Snoke just be plain hideous…and not in a good way.
With a final act that promises to keep the mature cast in tow for at least one more picture, we may yet see some of the old spark again. But if Rian Johnson can make Episode VIII anywhere near as fun and entertaining as this one, then it probably doesn’t matter who lives or dies next time around; so long as there aren’t any gravy-veined fog horns sitting next to me when that one comes out.
Film Grade: A-
Soooo many glorious features! In fact, the material here is so good we refuse to spoil any of the details. They are visually rather shmexy as well. Just check out that slow-mo snow!
What we will tell you is that the blu-ray comes with ooodles of stuff, including a feature length Making Of. Prepare to learn the secrets behind one of this generation’s most anticipated releases. Whether you consider it frustrating or smart, Disney somehow manage to show snippets of materials that you’ll have to buy separately to see in detail, yet simultaneously make this feel like an exhaustive collection of features to celebrate the movie. Best of all this really feels like a ground floor journey into the film’s genesis. You’ll learn that Harrison Ford looked pretty overwhelmed on his last day of filming, Daisy Ridley is a total sweetheart, J.J Abrams really does feel the weight of this legacy, Brienne of Tarth has a hearty and intoxicating laugh, and The Force Awakens could have been three equally different and stunning movies.
The sheer magnitude of the project can be felt in every frame. All we need now is the entire tape of that table reading, and a director’s commentary.
Special Features Grade: A-
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it may well be bordering on remake territory, but The Force Awakens makes us feel young again. It is a big ol’ dish of nostalgia wrapped in a zety bun of pithy chemistry and awesome action.